On September 14, 2016, the Raanana and Petach Tikva IGRA groups, in conjunction with Zvi Bernhardt, Deputy Director of Reference and Information Services and Deputy Director of the Hall of Names, organized a day of lectures and research at Yad Vashem. Some 15 participants arrived full of anticipation, hoping to find new information about their relatives or solve some of their ‘brick walls’.
The first lecture of the day, “An Introduction to the Names’ Database”, was given by Zvi Bernhardt. The Names Database is made up of 40% Pages of Testimony and 60% other records which amounts to over seven million entries. I was surprised to learn that the Germans were not actually good record keepers. Some camps had extensive records and others had almost none.
Zvi pointed out that in addition to the information about the Holocaust victims located in the Pages of Testimony, we should pay attention to the submitters’ information as that could be just as important in locating relatives and finding out more information about the victim.
After being given an overview of the types of records available to the public, Zvi presented many tips for researching the Names’ Databases such as icon usage, languages available, search parameters and when to search by town, rather than by a person’s name.
Yad Vashem has many other digital collections available. Many are used for background information, such as town histories.
Our next stop was a behind the scenes look at the Hall of Names. We were taken to the room that houses all the Pages of Testimony ever submitted to Yad Vashem. Each page is put into a special notebook and it remains there forever, even after the page is scanned and transcribed. It was remarkable to see all the notebooks dating back to the 1950’s. Surprisingly, Yad Vashem still receives many Pages of Testimony every month.
The next lecture, “The International Tracing Service (ITS) Records”, was given by Sima Velkovitch, an Archival Researcher. Sima reviewed the history of the ITS and discussed what information is included within the Central Names Index, including both victims and survivors (displaced persons). She then gave us tips as to how to search the Index. Sima also informed us that Yad Vashem is still receiving files from the ITS so there is still a chance that researchers may be able to find records at a later date.
We were then taken to the Resource Room by Zvi and Sima where we were able to do research on the Yad Vashem computers. This system includes both records that one can access online and most importantly, those records that can only be accessed at Yad Vashem. We were helped by Zvi and Sima, as well as other very capable employees. They not only were able to help us technically, but also had a wealth of knowledge about the various camps and their history.
I, personally, was able to locate ITS records of several relatives. I also accidentally learned that the ITS keeps a record of anyone who requests information from them and who that person is requesting information on. I discovered this when my name appeared on an index card in the database as I had requested information from the ITS on a number of relatives in 1984. This might be a source of additional information for researchers.
Other attendees were also successful in their research.
- Leesa confirmed that no relatives with her grandmother’s maiden name from her grandmother’s village were killed.
- Shlomo discovered documentation about an uncle’s imprisonment in Buchenwald.
- Sharyn found a memory book from her grandfather’s place of birth.
- Coby discovered that no records were kept for Belzec. Most prisoners who were brought there were killed immediately.
- Liora learned that her grandfather had been in Buchenwald, and most probably died there, contrary to previous information she had that had placed him at another camp.
- Paul found a list of prisoners from 1942 that he will use to compare to a list of his relatives.
It was an inspiring and informative day for all of us. Many thanks to Susan Edel and Ingrid Rockberger for organizing the event.