Trove of Holocaust records goes online
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
NEW YORK -- A trove of papers and photographs documenting the lives of Holocaust victims and survivors includes notable names like Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. But Benzion Baumrind's name might have stayed forgotten to his descendants without the records kept by a humanitarian aid agency.
A genealogist discovered Baumrind, one of 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, was in her family with one stray document buried in a database of historic papers and photos kept by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
With more than 500,000 names, and more than 1,000 photographs, the searchable collection documents the relief organization's vast efforts during World War II and the postwar era in 24 countries, from China and Japan to the Dominican Republic and Bolivia. The records, being made available online for the first time Monday, open a singular view into the lives of survivors that the JDC aided during that cataclysmic period.
"We can get broader pictures of the actual everyday social life in the aftermath of war," Kenneth Waltzer, director of the Jewish Studies Department at Michigan State University, said of the collection.
Until now, the organization's archive has been largely inaccessible to the public, kept at a private storage warehouse located a short subway ride out of Manhattan.
Volunteers entered names in a database for over a year; rare, fragile documents were scanned into the computer system. Users of the site can submit names to identify people they recognize in the photographs, which may be later added to captions.
"A website like this is where history meets technology," said Gideon Taylor, an executive with the New York-based committee. "It's taking history out of the dusty files. And bringing it out into the community."
The committee plans to put even more documents from its archive online later this summer.
The project is one of a growing number around the world aimed at making available on the Internet primary records about the Holocaust.
The collection offers glimpses of the lives of children who survived the Holocaust to become moral and spiritual leaders, politicians and artists.