Story by Lisa Ghali, National Headquarters, International Caseworker for Europe and Asia
Eight years ago I started working for the Restoring Family Links program in the NYC Chapter of the American Red Cross. Many of our clients were Holocaust survivors, tragically separated from their families during the war, coming to the Red Cross to find out what had happened to them. I worked in close coordination with the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore, Maryland, attempting to locate family members and provide documentation on their fate.
After a few years of directly working with separated families, I moved to Washington DC and began providing services on a national level. While the Holocaust Center in Baltimore recently closed, the work has been continuing with our headquarters in Washington. To ensure the best possible transition, I visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany with our colleagues from Baltimore in November of last year. We learned more about how cases are processed at ITS and coordinated on specific cases. The value of meeting our colleagues and understanding how the work continues with our partners strengthens our collaboration, which is crucial to our work.
As we continued to work on World War II cases, we found that it would be beneficial to have a deeper understanding about archives and how the Red Cross conducts searches through these records. As many of our cases are sent to the Russian Red Cross and the Latvian Red Cross, we coordinated a trip to the region. The Russian Red Cross has a Holocaust and Tracing Information Center with archives that contain information on people who were evacuated from the Soviet Union during the war, cards on children who had been separated from their families, and documentation on the fate of Soviet soldiers who were killed or declared missing during the war. Our colleagues at the Center guided us through the casework process, from receiving a search request, to looking up information in their card catalogues, documenting the information found, and finally sending out the information located. Understanding the nature of how cases are processed, the different methods of searching for missing family members, and meeting our colleagues face-to-face, ensures that we have the relationship needed to best serve our clients.
Having our colleague from the Latvian Red Cross join the meeting in Russia enabled us to coordinate with cases for both our offices, as well as understand more about the tracing process in other countries. After Russia, we went to Latvia, where we attended a conference on Holocaust Museums and Memorial Places in Post- Communist Societies and visited the archives there. By learning more about information available to our clients, we have a greater likelihood of connecting separated families.
I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with our colleagues on various levels and appreciate the chance to serve clients who have suffered tremendous losses. I look forward to continuing our collaboration and ensuring this casework continues.