Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nazi Archives Reveal Real Horrors 

German archives' opening helps Israeli man track his father's death in Holocaust

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
Wed., January 16, 2008 Shvat 9, 5768

The last time 74-year-old Moshe Bar-Yoda saw his father, Avraham Kastner was about to be sent to a Nazi labor camp in Slovakia along with other residents of his Czech village.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum archives have a record of Kastner being sent to the camp on March 27, 1942, but there the documentary trail ended.

Although a witness testified before the rabbinate in 1948 that Kastner had been killed in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, Bar-Yoda, a journalist and Jewish Agency emissary, did not know any of the details and had no record of his father's death - until now.

Two weeks ago, Bar-Yoda became the first Israeli to receive information about the fate of family members via Yad Vashem since Germany's International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen opened its World War II archives to the public at the end of November.

The tracing service says it serves victims of Nazi persecutions and their families by documenting their fate through the archives it manages.

The archives include more than 50 million references that contain information about more than 17 million people.

Although relatives of Nazi victims had previously been allowed to examine the archives, the records are now open to researchers around the world and have been digitally transferred to the Yad Vashem archives, making it easier for family members to conduct more precise searches and find out exactly what happened to their loved ones.

After searching the International Tracing Service records, Bar-Yoda discovered that his father's name appears on the list of the dead whose bodies were incinerated at the Majdanek death camp in Poland on September 7, 1942, six months after the two last saw each other.

Now, Bar-Yoda said, he can finally commemorate his father's passing on his yahrtzeit the day of his death instead of on the day designated for those who do not know the day of their loved one's death.

"Ater having said kaddish [the Jewish mourner's prayer] for him for 60 years on the general kaddish day on the fast of Asara B'Tevet, now I have a specific yahrtzeit," said Bar-Yoda. "And while it doesn't comfort me or make me happy, there is a kind of satisfaction here, that I can move forward."

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said Bar-Yoda's tale shows how the newly expanded collection of records can help the families of Holocaust victims.

"This story demonstrates how the tens of millions of documents collected by the Yad Vashem archives, in conjunction with the millions of new documents that have recently arrived and will arrive from the International Tracing Service archive in Germany over the next two years, will be able to help individuals fill in the picture about the fate of their loved ones in the Holocaust."

Yad Vashem had previously received many documents from the International Tracing Service, but will be bolstering its collection over the next two years. Bar-Yoda had looked through the Yad Vashem archives, which include microfilm of some 20 million documents received from the tracing service at the end of the 1950s. However, the Majdanek document did not reach the Bad Arolsen archives until the mid-1960s.

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