Family links from the Holocaust until now
I started volunteering (or interning, I guess you could say?) at the American Red Cross. Before I start as a camp counselor for “Peace Camp” at USC in July (how perfect, right?) I have been working in the organizations “restoring family links” department. The Red Cross offers services to people of foreign countries or people in the U.S. who have lost contact with family members because of war/conflict or a natural disaster. There are hundreds of Holocaust cases the office has seen where people from all over Los Angeles County are searching for family members who were taken from them in the Holocaust. The cases are anywhere from people just wanting to know how a family member (like their mom, dad, sister or brother) died, or if some of them are still alive and where they are living. The files are so interesting to read! Some of the cases take 5+ years to solve. The Red Cross works with genealogy organizations around the world to help locate people/documents about them (death certificates, concentration camp documents, etc.) and also works with Red Crosses in Eastern Europe (mainly for Holocaust cases) and other areas of the world. I won’t forget one of the cases I read: a daughter was wanting to know what happened to her father after the Russian army liberated the family from Auschwitz concentration camp. The last memory she has of him is saying bye to him through a fence and him giving her his boots. The last memory she had of her sister was her being taken away in a Red Cross ambulance, never knowing if she survived or died.
Some people in the office have started taking calls for Benghazi, Libya and are now accepting calls from the areas struck by the recent earthquake in Japan. Also, someone is working on two cases right now about one family from Hungary seeking someone who moved to the U.S. and lost contact with them, as well as someone who left their tribe in Sierra Leone and immigrated to the U.S. The first steps to searching for someone is contacting ethnic groups in Los Angeles (they usually prefer to not go through consulates). Certain restaurants, areas of the city or newspapers that are known for attracting people of a certain ethnic or cultural background are good places to start. It seems so broad, but they usually end up finding the people who are being searched for. One of the volunteers was telling me they’ve reunited many siblings and other family members who were separated because of the Holocaust. Out of all the cases I’ve gone through so far, there were only a few where the organization could unfortunately not find any of the information because a lot of documents were destroyed after WWII.
It’s hard to put down some of these folders because the stories bring tears to your eyes. And these volunteers, who spend their time searching for family members (free of charge!) have a huge heart. When I asked one volunteer what got him into working for the “tracing family links” portion of the Red Cross, his response right away was, “to help people.”
Next nerdy stop this summer: the Cold War artifact museum in Culver City and the Islamic Center of Southern California.