During the past 30 years, I have spent considerable time locating records that indicate the fate in the Holocaust—death or survival—of Jews and non-Jews. I recognize that, even more than 60 years after the end of World War II, while records continue to be located, probably fewer than half of those who perished have been accurately identified. (In my experience, testimonials often are dubious sources of information.) I, and virtually everyone else, had great hopes for the International Tracing Service (ITS) collection. While it is both useful and fascinating, as the visitors reported in the last issue of AVOTAYNU, it yields little information on those who perished in Eastern Europe. Despite my pessimism, I continue to believe that numbers are essentially meaningless and that every individual who perished is entitled to have his/her identity recognized, if only by inclusion of a document identifying that person in a public archive.
I do believe in chance, and this was confirmed recently when I blundered onto two collections that, although small in numbers, were different in nature from anything I had seen before and that, in a small way, help to close the information gap.
Polish Jewish Prisoner of War Records
The first of these was filmed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) at the Jewish Historical Museum in Warsaw some years ago. It is not large, only 2,939 names of Polish Jewish soldiers who were captured by the Germans in 1941 and sent to various German prisoner of war camps. However, when one looks at the microfilm (RG 15.059M, 8 reels), it becomes clear that they are far from usual. The material consists of cards, sometimes several for a single individual, prepared at various German military prisons, that include a mug shot and fingerprint of each person. Mug shots, and even fingerprints, were not uncommon in German prison records, but they are much more unusual in prisoner of war camps, and it is not clear why they were collected. The cards also usually contain dates and places of birth; civilian profession; father’s given name; mother’s maiden name; as well as, in many cases, civilian address, but not ultimate fate. For example, Motel Pinchosowicz, born March 5, 1914, in Gorozow; father’s given name, Nosyn; mother’s maiden name, Chmielnicka; was in civilian profession, baker.
An index to the prisoners’ names will appear on JewishGen soon, and requests for copies of individual cards may be sent to the archives at the USHMM. A note of warning: Family and given names, as well as places in Poland, were often handwritten and spelled differently on cards, so the researcher should be flexible and imaginative when searching the index. A random check indicates that these prisoner names do not appear in ITS records.
Prisoner of war document for Motel Pinchosowicz
Langenstein-Zwieberge Camp Records
The second collection also is remarkable, not for its size, a mere 1,980 names, but for its very nature. Langenstein-Zwieberge was an obscure sub-camp of Buchenwald, located in the Harz Mountains where laborers, Jews and non-Jews were forced to construct a tunnel for the production of Junker aircraft and V-2 rockets from April 1944 to April 1945, when American troops liberated the camp. The camp was never large, with perhaps 7,000 prisoners held there over the year of its existence. It was, however, unusually brutal, and a high percentage of prisoners died there.
For unknown reasons, perhaps the poor quality of paper, the camp administration maintained prisoners records on the backs of 3” by 3” cards made from the backs of cigarette cartons. Each card (see illustration on next page) gives a prisoner’s name, date of birth, nationality, prisoner number and, in many cases, date of death. Nationality is given in the upper right hand corner (D=German, R=Russian, P=Polish, T=Czech, B=Belgian, Gr=Greek, F=French, L=Latvian or Lithuanian, and N=Dutch). Thus, for example, Aisik Abramowicz, a Polish Jew born July 1, 1928, profession Schlosser (locksmith), entered the camp February 18, 1945, as prisoner number 124525 and died April 5, 1945. In some cases, where a prisoner had been held at the main Buchenwald camp or at another concentration camp, it is possible to locate additional information, such as place of birth, from the International Tracing Service (ITS) or other camp records. Neither the ITS nor the Buchenwald Gedenkstätte (Memorial), however, seem to have the Langenstein-Zwieberg records.
The cards were taken by the U.S. military with the objective of using them in postwar war crimes trials. In fact, only one trial was held, and the single guard who was charged was acquitted. The cards themselves have been held ever since at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.
So, two small pieces of a gigantic puzzle can be put in place. Now I am on to the next ones being processed—currently Lublin, Radom, Sachsenhausen, and Lwow. Stay tuned.
Peter Landé is a retired U.S. foreign service officer who has contributed greatly as a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 2001, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies for his work in identifying sources of information on Holocaust victims and survivors.