The American Red Cross is deepening its relationships and coordination with European Red Cross societies in an effort to streamline tracing requests related to World War II.
Since closing the Holocaust Tracing Center last year, the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program – an international tracing service provided by every Red Cross and Red Crescent society around the world – has continued to receive a steady stream of requests from people searching for information about loved ones who went missing during and after the six-year global war.
“There are still Holocaust survivors who aren’t aware that this service exists and we would like them to know that we are able to locate missing family members and obtain documentation and information about the fate of those affected by World War II,” said Lisa Ghali, an American Red Cross caseworker for Europe and Asia.
As the lead for World War II cases involving people living in America, Ghali recently traveled to several European countries, including Latvia, Russia, and Germany to meet with her counterparts and strategize best practices for continuing collaboration on mutual cases.
In addition to visiting historical sites like World War II museums and the Latvian National Archives, which houses records dating back to the thirteenth century, Ghali and her colleagues deepened their knowledge of each other’s systems and resources, while identifying issues that affect the search process.
“Whenever we send a Holocaust-related case to Russia, they are manually pulling individual files, often containing many, many documents inside,” said Ghali. “The time it takes to go through each sheet to determine if it’s relevant to the case can make a big impact on the progress.”
Many World War II inquiries received by the American Red Cross involve a need for documented proof of persecution, as some clients are entitled to reparations from the German government. Due to a recent expansion in eligibility for some reparation programs, there is an influx of requests to locate information that may be obtained from archives managed by the Russian Red Cross.
To help the process, the American Red Cross encourages people seeking Holocaust-related information about themselves or their family members to start with their local Red Cross and fill out a tracing form instead of trying to go directly to the European Red Cross societies.
“These meetings were extremely helpful in connecting the people who are directly involved in getting information to our clients, and moving toward expediting the casework,” said Ghali. “Our added value is that we can give personal responses to our clients; people only need to fill out one form, and we can take it from there.”
Last year the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program conducted searches in more than 90 countries to help reconnect almost 1,000 families who had been separated by disasters, wars or other conflicts.