Computers Reunite Holocaust Survivors
Dec. 15, 2003
SEATTLE (AP) _ Nearly 60 years after World War II and the Holocaust, survivors who had once despaired of finding long-lost loved ones are being reunited with them with the help of computer databases and the opening of Soviet bloc archives.
In just the past four months, the Red Cross Holocaust and World War II Tracing Center in Baltimore has reconnected at least 40 people with loved ones missing since the war.
George Gordon, 77, was one of them. Gordon, a Catholic from Poland, had been told long ago that his parents, sister and baby brother died in the Warsaw uprising of 1944. This fall, Gordon learned that his mother lived until 1986 and that his sister was still alive in Poland.
The Polish Red Cross had discovered his mother's death certificate, and it listed a sole survivor _ Gordon's sister. Gordon and his sister were reunited at her home in September.
``I couldn't believe it,'' said Gordon, who lives in Seattle. ``Finding somebody that was missing for 60 years is just amazing.''
The tracing center was established in 1990 to sort through 47 million papers released after the Iron Curtain fell, including records from the Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries and seized Nazi documents.
About 1,000 people have been found by the tracing center since it was established. But not everyone is lucky enough to find a relative. More often, said spokeswoman Elise Babbitt, a search turns up ``dates of death, which camps family members were in, which deportation trains they were on.''
Even when the search turns up only a slip of paper, ``people are just happy to know anything, anything at all,'' said Seattle Red Cross volunteer Tammy Kaiser, who worked on Gordon's case. ``It documents the fact that they were alive, they're being remembered. Sometimes that IS a happy ending.''
With time running out for those who were adults in the 1940s, 34,000 people hoping to find others lost during the war have contacted the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., over the past year. The museum shares information with the Red Cross tracing center.
``There's a new burst of energy,'' said Scott Miller, director of the museum's survivors registry.
The Internet has helped, too. Some people were found by Red Cross volunteers using the birth-date search engine anybirthday.com, Babbitt said.
``We hear all the time, `Isn't this all over?''' Babbitt said. ``That's why we're working so hard to get the word out.''
Last week, Red Cross tracing center reunited a Holocaust survivor with the man who pulled him from a crib 61 years ago to keep him from being sent to Auschwitz.
Leon Schipper was 14 when a last-minute request by the queen of Belgium sent him and about 50 other children from a detention camp to an orphanage. Before a truck arrived to pick them up, Schipper passed a room where 4-year-old Michael Hartogs was in a crib and took him to safety.
``I'm really shook up,'' Hartogs, now 65, said as he hugged the 75-year-old Schipper on Tuesday at the Los Angeles airport. Both men now live in the United States.
Schipper had filled out a form in Los Angeles, supplying Hartogs' birth name _ Max Kohen _ approximate age, and the place where he was last seen. The request was forwarded to the Baltimore tracing center and to a Red Cross tracing service in Germany. There, researchers combed through documents and found paperwork from when Hartogs changed his name.
In Gordon's case, the Red Cross' involvement began with a letter he sent, describing such things as his neighborhood in Warsaw and the Catholic church where he attended services.
Born Jerzy Budzynski, Gordon fought for the Polish resistance during the war. He survived the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald before serving as one of Gen. George Patton's Nazi hunters, helping bring war criminals to justice at Nuremburg.
During the war, he had been told his mother and sister were killed in the bombing of a hospital where the two had been rolling bandages for resistance. And they were told Gordon had been killed in a concentration camp.
Gordon's first contact with his sister, Krystyna Budzynska, in Wroclaw, Poland, was by telephone.
``When I heard her voice, I knew. A voice hardly changes, you know,'' he said.
When he later went to Poland, he visited his mother's grave.
``A man is not supposed to cry,'' he said, ``but I couldn't hold back.''
On the Net:
Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/services/intl/holotrace/
Holocaust Museum: http://www.ushmm.org/remembrance/registry