One Sunday, twenty years ago, I focused on a New York Times article about Gorbachev disbanding the Soviet Union and how he was directing the release of more than 250,000 wartime documents that his country had taken back home after liberating concentration camps at the end of WWII. The article further explained that these meticulous records included prisoner histories, such as day of death, transfer information and other details regarding the fate of thousands of wartime victims a half a century earlier.
Moved by this historic release of information, I approached my boss, Patrick Morand, then Executive Director of American Red Cross in Central Maryland, about a unique and important service that Red Cross might offer victims of the Holocaust and their families.
Cognizant that our Red Cross Chapter was located in one of the largest per capita Jewish populations in the US, Pat and I discussed how the impact of this new stream of information could provide long awaited answers for thousands throughout Baltimore, Central Maryland and the nation. We envisioned a national tracing center dedicated solely to determining the fate of and even locating loved ones lost as a result of the Holocaust.
To make a long story short, Pat Morand cleared the way for a group of us, both volunteers and staff, to travel to Germany and meet with the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and its International Tracing Services (ITC) located in Arolsen, Germany. We shared our collective vision for a US Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center and began negotiations on creating a direct tracing link between Baltimore and Arolsen, where the records would be stored. I remember distinctly discussing the rapid aging of Holocaust survivors and thus the need to speed up research to meet the anticipated demand for tracing services.
At the recent Red Cross 20th Anniversary of the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center luncheon, it was reported that more than 2,500 people have actually found loved ones presumed dead. Another, 5,000 have determined the fate of family members and friends, giving many in the Jewish and other communities the ability to now recognize the anniversary of a loved one’s death. And, through the dedication of leadership, volunteers and staff, the Center has responded to more than 50,000 requests for Holocaust related tracing services.
I have often stated, that my role in helping to found the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center is a highlight of my career, and so it remains.
Posted by: President, Linda Brown Rivelis