At some point, if you have Jewish ancestors, you are going to have to take a look into Holocaust records. History is full of horrible moments, and when we realize that our ancestors were victims of such events, it just hits you different. Researching isn’t easy, especially when you are tackling a subject like the Holocaust. Give yourself time and grace. Remember, genealogy isn’t a race. We should take our time and give our ancestors the moments they deserve.
Just like any other area of genealogy research, start with what you know. If you only have names of potential ancestors, that is okay. There are several databases (which I’ll go into later) that will allow you to search with only that information. It will take patience, but don’t be discouraged if you feel like you don’t have a lot of information to go on.
If you are able to locate the town they may have lived in during this time period that can help you narrow down your search range. By knowing the town, or even the area where they lived, will help you in following the path they may have taken. Gary Mokotoff’s book, How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust is a wealth of information that can help you trace your ancestors’ steps. (For the record, Amazon only had one copy available. However, check with your library as this is a popular book for Jewish research).
Yizkor books, or memorial books, were written after the Holocaust in order to memorialize Jewish communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust. Many Jewish genealogy specific organizations, such as JewishGen, are working to translate Yizkor books. Since they were written with a specific community in mind, the majority of them are not in English. However, the books that have been translated have also been digitized and are available online.
When looking at Yizkor books, remember to look not just for your ancestor, but also for general information about the community. This will help you to get a sense of what life was like for those who lived there. Also, each book includes a section called “Remembrance of Souls”. This section may include photographs and other specific information of those who lived in the community.
If you know the particular Yizkor book that you are looking for, it may be available for purchase. Both Amazon and JewishGen have Yizkor books that you may purchase.
If, unfortunately, you have an ancestor that was a victim of the Holocaust, they may be listed in one of the online databases. The most extensive database is Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims. https://www.yadvashem In the database, you may search by surname, first name, or place. Even if your ancestor’s name is not in the database, try searching for the place that they lived. If you can find other victims information, it may give you a nugget to use for your own ancestor.
For the most extensive survivor database, look no futher than JewishGen https://www.jewishgen.org/ This website contains a search engine that covers over 190 databases and 2.5 million records. While JewishGen can point you in the right direction to find your Holocaust victim, this particular database only deals with survivors.
When searching on JewishGen, make sure to look at all the Holocaust collections. There are so many areas that may have your ancestor’s information. Again, be patient and remember that persistence pays off!
More Holocaust Research
There are many different libraries and archives that have dedicated Holocaust sources. So many, in fact, that it is not possible to include them in this one post. If you are looking for more ways to search, I suggest using this guide that was assembled by The Ackman and Ziff Family Genealogy Institute. This 10 page “cheat sheet” is a great resource to have on hand whenever doing Holocaust research.
If you need a refresher, make sure to check out last week’s Intro to Jewish Genealogy post!