There are so many unanswered questions about my past,” says Lynn Margolis, a daughter of Holocaust survivors.
So, what exactly happened to her dad during the Holocaust?
For years, Margolis and her two sons, Michael and Daniel, had little to no idea. Her father had suffered trauma, losing a wife and child as well as nine brothers and sisters, along with his extended family. He died before his daughter and grandsons could ask more questions.
“The Grandpa I knew was closed off and anxious,” says Michael Margolis, a lawyer who lives in Washington, D.C. “We never spoke about it. He never wanted to talk about it.”
Lynn Margolis, 62, of Farmington Hills, a social worker, asked Michael to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to see if researchers there could help them discover more about how her family survived the Holocaust.
Immediately, a museum researcher found documents in an archive that provided details on the exact dates when Lynn’s father, Itzchak Ernst Estreicher, was arrested (September 1939) and which ghetto and concentration camps he went to.
“It almost moved me to tears that in 30 seconds he was able to pull all of that,” says Michael, who also found out his grandmother’s maiden name — Helena Applebaum Markowiscz. “We could never put the pieces together.”
The Margolis family is just one of the more than 20,000 families who have successfully turned to the museum for help in their search for documentation about the fates of their loved ones — victims of the Nazis and their allies.
With more Holocaust survivors getting older and dying, getting accurate and complete information from the museum’s massive archives to requesters as soon as possible is more crucial and urgent than ever.
With the information they received, Michael was able to trace his grandparents’ paths through Google maps. They were in concentration camps like Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. He also got information about cousins and his grandmother’s sister, as well as his half-uncle, the son his grandfather had with his wife before the war.
“It just brought it to reality,” Michael says. “It took it from the ethereal — the story in my head that I knew about. Looking at these papers, it just made it real.”
After the museum led the charge in 2007 to open an important archive called the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, museum researchers and scholars gained access to the extensive archive of documents relating to more than 17 million victims of Nazism.
Since then, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has provided a free service that has united generations of families and has tracked long-lost family members, helping Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren to fill in the blanks in their family history.
“What is the greatest fear of survivors today? That when they are no longer here, what happened to them would be swept under the rug,” says Paul Shapiro, head of the museum’s office of international affairs, who was instrumental in pushing to open the ITS archives. “These millions of original documents are an insurance policy against forgetting.”
With about 200 million pages of documents relating to 17 million people, the ITS collection contains a wealth of information about survivors and victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, and about displaced persons.
Facilitating research questions like the Margolis’ is the job of the museum’s top-notch team of researchers. Holocaust survivors and their family members contact the museum on a nearly daily basis with queries about relatives and, sometimes using nothing more than a first and/or last name, museum researchers try to find documents that will shed light on the experiences of these Holocaust victims. There is no fee for this assistance.
Much of the museum’s information comes from the ITS archive, established by the Allies after World War II to help reunite families and trace missing people. The archive includes millions of pages of documentation from World War II. It was kept closed until 2007, when, with help from the museum, it was opened to the international community. Today, 11 nations have access to copies of the archive; the museum holds the U.S. copy.
“It’s really provided reality to very uncertain and vague family history,” Lynn Margolis says. “We’re really grateful to the Holocaust Museum for providing this service.”
The Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills will host its annual communitywide Yom HaShoah commemoration 2 p.m. Sunday, April 23. Yom Hashoah officially falls on April 24.
The formal program, beginning with Posting of the Colors by members of the Jewish War Veterans, Department of Michigan, will be led by Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny and Cantor Michael Smolash of West Bloomfield-based Temple Israel.
Various community members will speak and present readings, including Holocaust survivors Michael Weiss and Jack Gun. Nine candles to remember and honor the 6 million Jews lost in the Holocaust will be lit by Ibolya Centeri, Barbara Cohen, Ilana and Sandor Adler, Paula Marks Bolton and Fryda Fleish, Ida Wiener and Sid Neuman, Gita Greisdorf, Sophie Klisman, Sarah and David Waldshan, and Sima and Abe Weberman. Afterward, those wishing to light a memorial candle may do so at the museum’s Eternal Flame.
HMC volunteers will participate in the national observance of the worldwide Holocaust memorial project, “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” an initiative designed to perpetuate the individual memories of the 6 million, including the 1.5 million children, through public recitation of their names on Yom HaShoah.
This year’s event is presented in cooperation with C.H.A.I.M. (Children of Holocaust Survivors Association in Michigan), Hidden Children and Child Survivors Association of Michigan, Shaarit Haplaytah and the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families. It is generously supported by the Marsha and Harry Eisenberg family, Robin and Leo Eisenberg family, Karp family, Shari (Ferber) and Alon Kaufman, Lisa and Gary Shiffman, Judy and the late George Vine, Lori and Steven Weisberg, and Lori and Alan Zekelman.
Complimentary valet parking will be available. For details, contact Laura Williams at (248) 536-9605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Raymund Flandez Special to the Jewish News