Yad Vashem is Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum. For decades, the museum has been collecting information about those killed in and impacted by the Holocaust—and it is in the process of putting the majority of that information online. Jews of European origin almost surely have relatives who were impacted by the Holocaust, even if their own direct ancestors had emigrated before World War Two. Utilizing Yad Vashem’s resources can help you find relatives who were killed in the Holocaust—and possibly some who survived the war.
One of Yad Vashem’s primary way of collecting information about those killed in the Holocaust are Pages of Testimony, filled out by surviving relatives and friends of those murdered. In addition to including information about the victim (often including parents’ and spouses’ names as well as minor children as well as the individual’s profession and various places the person lived), the name and contact information of the person filling out the form is included as well, giving the possibility of connecting with distant relatives. While often these forms were filled out years ago and the contact information is dated, the contact person’s name can serve as a starting point for additional research to find that person’s descendants who may be living today.
Yad Vashem’s Shoah Names Database (Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust) is available in multiple languages, including English. It allows one to search by names and locations, with the advanced search giving additional fields. Searching for family surnames in conjunction with ancestral towns can identify relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. Looking by surnames only can include family members who lived in nearby towns—but it can also include people with similar surnames who lived a distance away and may not have been related. One can also search by town to get an understanding of the scope of the Holocaust’s impact on a particular area.
In addition to Pages of Testimony, the Shoah Names Database is constantly adding additional sources about those involved in the Holocaust. They are integrating deportation lists, lists of those who were forced to live in various ghettos, lists of people in concentration and labor camps, and more. Inclusion on some of these lists doesn’t necessarily mean that a person died in the Holocaust, but it does show where they were at a particular point in the war.
The museum’s collections can help you to understand how your family members lived before World War Two as well as during the war. Yad Vashem has a large number of video and written testimonies from Holocaust survivors. Listening and reading to what happened in the area in which you family lived can give you insight into how your family members lived both before and during the Holocaust. Similarly, Yad Vashem’s Photo & Film Archives have photos of Jewish life before and during the war.
Yad Vashem’s overall collection is even more extensive than what is available online, and they will do research for specific individuals in their collection. They are also consistently digitizing additional information and making it available online, so it’s worth checking back periodically to see if additional documents relating to your family have been added.
Discovering relatives who were killed in the Holocaust can be difficult, but at least this way someone remembers them. Every year on Holocaust Memorial Day, I list relatives who were killed during the Holocaust (my 2017 list is here) as a way for people to remember them. Yad Vashem is one tool to identify these victims.