Legacy Tree Onsite: Genealogy Research at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Whether you’re heading to Washington, D.C. for a vacation or family history research, your trip is not complete without a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Founded on the premise of being a “permanent living memorial to the victims of the Holocaust” by an act of Congress, the Museum opened to the public in April 1993. Located just a short distance from the National Mall, the austere façade welcomes those seeking to gain knowledge on this tragic chapter in world history.
For others, a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum goes beyond the visually and emotionally moving permanent exhibits. Nestled on the second floor and at the end of the museum’s suggested patron route, is the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center.
The Center offers patrons digital access to a variety of resources, including databases and oral histories, via five computer workstations. All are welcome to utilize the computers to “check out” family names. Two main digital collections offered are the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database and the International Tracing Service records. Researchers should note that these collections encompass both Jewish and non-Jewish persons.
How is a Holocaust Survivor Defined?
The Museum honors as survivors any persons, Jewish or non-Jewish, who were displaced, persecuted, or discriminated against due to the racial, religious, ethnic, social, and political policies of the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945. In addition to former inmates of concentration camps, ghettos, and prisons, this definition includes, among others, people who were refugees or were in hiding.
The Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database is a unique compilation from various historical documents and materials in the Museum’s extensive archival collection.
Post-World War II Immigration Resources
The digital portal to the International Tracing Service (ITS) records is another unique Museum resource. As the only location in North America, the Museum has access to the ITS’ digital archive. The physical location of the archive is in Bad Arolsen, Germany, and contains more that 150 million digital images pertaining to victims of Nazism.
For many who are interested in their family history, an immigrant ancestor is often no closer than a great-grandparent who chose to travel to a new homeland in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. However, about 70 years ago, a new facet was added to traditional immigration patterns with the post-World War II exodus of Central and Eastern European peoples.
At the close of the war, many people from Central and Eastern Europe found themselves far from home or “displaced” and separated from other family members. In an effort to assist and reunite families, the Allied Powers created a Central Tracing Bureau to handle the inquiries received. Records confiscated during the war were also deposited within the ITS collections. Using the records placed on deposit within this new Bureau, the archives of the International Tracing Service offers the ability to search for documentation for those displaced after World War II.
Until 2007, the ITS archive was closed to the public. In November of that year, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum gained access to digital images and the Central Name Index (CNI). This index is the primary finding aid for the collection to the 50+ million entries for approximately 17.5 million people.
The three main components for research are: Displaced Persons Registration Cards, Care & Maintenance Files, and Tracing & Document Files.
Displaced Person Registration Card (DP-2): One of the first forms issued by the Allied Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F) upon entry to a displaced persons camp or assembly center. On the front side, basic personal information included name, birth date and location, parent’s names, desired resettlement destination, languages spoken, religion, and residence in 1938. Often, names of family members and other notations are also found. The reverse side often contains notes on medical assessments as well as inoculation history and military muster dates and locations if relevant.
Care & Maintenance Files (CM/1): Files were created for displaced person to determine assistance eligibility. The files are much more descriptive than the registration cards and often contain details on a person’s work experience, education, family members and biographical information. Unfortunately, not all of the files are extant. However, all family members from the files were extracted and can be found in the Central Names Index (CNI) at least.
Tracing & Documents Files (T/D): This collection of case files relates to the processing and handling of “missing person” inquiries received by the Central Tracing Bureau and its successor, the International Tracing Service. The ITS Archive in Bad Arolsen has about four million files, but the current USHMM digital portal has access to only about one-third of those [T/D Files 1 through 1,255,999] as of November 2016. If an entry is found within the CNI, but the case file is higher than 1,255,999, researchers can order copies from the ITS repository itself in Bad Arolsen.
Hidden Treasure on the 5th Floor – The Library
On my first visit “upstairs” at the Library, I was amazed at the holdings in microfilm, books and manuscripts. While the Museum’s collections are centered on the Holocaust and are Jewish-centric, the material collected by the staff include much more. The library stacks are open and researchers are free to browse topics of interest in the 4,300 books.
The Library’s manuscript and microfilm contain more than 70 million pages of records, making the Library one of the top repositories for Holocaust research in the world. Their holdings include:
- More than 3 million pages each from Germany, Romania, France, and the former Soviet Union
- 5 million pages from Austria
- Over 2 million pages each from Poland and Israel
- One million pages each from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Slovakia, and Ukraine
Currently, the microform collections are being digitized and the digital images can be accessed via any of the computer workstations. Researchers can consult the finding aids, arranged by country, to locate microfilmed material. A large number of the finding aids are available via the Museum’s online catalog; however, the microfilm and digital images are only available via onsite use.
A visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum gives visitors a unique opportunity to explore the tragic and turbulent history of the Holocaust and World War II. In addition, those seeking to expand their knowledge of the Holocaust and World War II’s impact on their own family (Jewish or not) can benefit from the resources available in the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center and the Museum’s Library Archives.
While post-World War II Displaced Persons research can be challenging, using the available resources of the International Tracing Service in addition to traditional immigration research methods can often provide obscure details which other records cannot.
For more information, visit any of the following:
U.S. Holocaust Museum
Records of the ITS:
USHMM Library Holdings
USHMM Oral History Archive
If you have displaced Holocaust survivors of any religion in your family tree and would like to learn more about them, Legacy Tree Genealogists has experts on staff with experience using the ITS and other Holocaust Museum resources. We would love to help you track them down. Contact us today for a free consultation.
 Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, (https://www.ushmm.org/remember/the-holocaust-survivors-and-victims-resource-center/benjamin-and-vladka-meed-registry-of-holocaust-survivors), accessed on 15 November 2016.
 Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center, Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations Found in the Archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS), William Connelly, editor (Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2016), 257.