Holocaust Genealogy

Researching Victims & Survivors of the Holocaust

Pictures of Holocaust victims displayed at Yad Vashem.
Photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis are displayed in the Hall of Names exhibit in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

Cosmo Condina/Getty Images

It is a sad reality that most Jews researching their families will eventually discover relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. Whether you're searching for information about relatives who disappeared or were killed during the Holocaust, or want to learn whether any relatives survived the Holocaust and may have living descendants there are a number of resources available to you. Begin your venture into Holocaust research by interviewing your living family members. Try to learn the names, ages, birthplaces, and last known whereabouts of the people you would like to trace. The more information you have, the easier your search.

Search the Yad Vashem Database

The major archive center for the Holocaust is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel. They are a good first step for anyone looking for information on the fate of a Holocaust victim. They maintain a Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names and are also attempting to document every one of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. These "Pages of Testimony" document the name, place and circumstances of death, occupation, names of family members and other information. In addition, they include information on the information's submitter, including his/her name, address and relationship to the deceased. Over three million Jewish Holocaust victims have been documented to date. These Pages of Testimony are also available online as part of the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names.

The International Tracing Service

As millions of Holocaust refugees scattered throughout Europe following World War II, a common collection point was created for information about Holocaust victims and survivors. This information repository evolved into the International Tracing Service (ITS). To this day, information on Holocaust victims and survivors is still collected and disseminated by this organization, now a part of the Red Cross. They maintain an index of information relating to more than 14 people affected by the Holocaust. The best way to request information through this service is to contact the Red Cross in your country. In the United States, the Red Cross maintains the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center as a service for U.S. residents.

Yizkor Books

Groups of Holocaust survivors and friends and relatives of Holocaust victims created Yiskor books, or Holocaust memorial books, to memorialize the community in which they once lived. These groups of individuals, known as landsmanshaftn, were generally comprised of former residents of a particular town. Yizkor books are written and compiled by these ordinary people to convey the culture and feeling of their life before the Holocaust, and to remember the families and individuals of their hometown. The usefulness of the content for family history research varies, but most Yizkor books contain information on the history of the town, along with names and family relationships. You may also find lists of Holocaust victims, personal narratives, photographs, maps and drawings. Almost all include a separate Yizkor section, with memorial notices remembering and commemorating individuals and families lost during the war. Most Yizkor books are written in Hebrew or Yiddish.

Online resources for Yizkor books include:

  • JewishGen Yizkor Book Project - A database of Yizkor books with information on the library that holds each book, a searchable necrology index, and translations submitted by volunteers.
  • NY Public Library - Yizkor Books Online - includes full digital images of 650 of the 700 postwar yizkor books in the collection of The York Public Library.

Connect with Living Survivors

A variety of registries can be found online which help connect Holocaust survivors and the descendants of Holocaust survivors.

  • JewishGen Holocaust Global Registry - This registry provides a central place for anyone searching Holocaust survivors, and includes the names of survivors and their family members from all over the globe. Don't miss the heartwarming success stories submitted by users of the registry!
  • Registry of Holocaust Survivors - The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. maintains an updated, computerized Registry of survivors.

Holocaust Testimonies

The Holocaust is one of the most documented events in world history, and much can be learned from reading the stories of the survivors. A number of Web sites include stories, videos and other first-hand accounts of the Holocaust.

  • Voices of the Holocaust -This documentary project by the Illinois Institute of Technology includes first-hand accounts of the Holocaust collected by Dr. David Boder in 1946.
  • Testimonies of the Holocaust - The USC Shoah Foundation Institute interviewed and collected testimonies from nearly 52,000 Holocaust survivors and other witnesses. The Testimony Catalog is available online and on CD-ROM, although names are omitted from the online version for privacy reasons. The catalog includes basic biographical info only, including city and country of birth, religious identity and wartime experiences. The actual videos and other data are maintained in the archives.Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies - A collection of over 4,300 videotaped interviews with witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust. Part of Yale University's department of Manuscripts and Archives. The video interviews are not available online, but you can view several brief testimony excerpts.

For further, more detailed information on researching the people of the Holocaust, I highly recommend the book How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust by Gary Mokotoff. Many of the essential "how to" portions of the book have been placed online by the publisher, Avotaynu, and the full book can also be ordered through them.

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Powell, Kimberly. "Holocaust Genealogy." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/about-holocaust-genealogy-1422096. Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Holocaust Genealogy. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/about-holocaust-genealogy-1422096 Powell, Kimberly. "Holocaust Genealogy." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/about-holocaust-genealogy-1422096 (accessed May 18, 2021).