Working Internationally to Help Locally: World War II Tracing Continues

Lisa Ghali and Claire Schocher-Doring, Head of Tracing Services at the Austrian Red Cross.

Lisa Ghali and Claire Schocher-Doring, Head of Tracing Services at the Austrian Red Cross.

Story by Lisa Ghali,  National Headquarters, International Caseworker for Europe and Asia

In November 2012 the work of the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center transitioned into my portfolio of Restoring Family Links (RFL) cases.  I had worked on World War II cases at a Chapter before moving to National Headquarters and was excited to conduct this casework from a national level.  After coordinating with colleagues at the Center for many months, I learned the intricacies of this detailed work and went about creating new protocols so that our team at National Headquarters would be able to incorporate the new work into our daily processes.  I have been fortunate to work with a dedicated team of staff, volunteers and interns, who spent, and continue to spend, time and resources helping those who had been affected by World War II. 

One of those dedicated members is Leslie Cartier, who has been remotely volunteering with the RFL program on the Europe and Asia caseload since the transition and who is an expert researcher on finding the fate of those who came to the United States after WWII.  She has been instrumental to the success of many cases and has been a wonderful example of how it is possible to work on RFL cases from a national standpoint while also being a volunteer at her local chapter. 

Communications between the American Red Cross and the Austrian Red Cross from 1947.

Communications between the American Red Cross and the Austrian Red Cross from 1947.

Oftentimes WWII casework can be quite detailed, and it is important to learn all the resources available to clients.  Most cases involving Holocaust survivors are sent to the International Tracing Service in Germany, but many other National Societies have archival information as well.  After a year of conducting the casework from the national level, I found myself asking more questions about the information available to the various National Societies and which clients would be able to benefit from these resources.  Therefore, I went to Germany and Austria to learn about their casework processes and how this could aid our work at the American Red Cross.

The Austrian Red Cross has a Tracing staff of six with two people responsible for handling the majority of cases.  It was amazing to finally meet Astrid Simmet, the person with whom I spent so much time communicating on cases.  She showed me the archives they had at the office and even pulled a case we had worked on together and showed me where she found the documentation.  I had gone to our National Archives in Washington, DC and brought copies of cases that our National Societies had worked on in the 1940s.  Seeing our work, how it is conducted today and how this has been a continued partnership for so long, reminds me of the truly global nature of the Red Cross’ reach.

Mike Farrar and Heinrich Rehberg, Head of Division WWII at German Red Cross Tracing Service, Munich office.

Mike Farrar and Heinrich Rehberg, Head of Division WWII at German Red Cross Tracing Service, Munich office.

After being in Austria, I traveled to Germany, where I met with RFL Advocate, Mentor, and Long Beach Chapter Volunteer Mike Farrar, so we could learn more about conducting WWII casework from both a chapter and national perspective.  From the German Red Cross we learned how they research their archives to find information on civilians who were affected by WWII, people who were in labor and refugee camps in Germany and unaccompanied children who were displaced during the war.  From there, we went to the International Tracing Service, where we learned details about their newly formed methodologies on using working groups of experts trained in various capacities of research to find information on victims of Nazi persecution.  Learning details about how information is processed and on what information is available, such as death certificates issued by ITS, leads to greater access for our clients who have been searching for the fate of their family members for a long time.

During this day of remembrance, I think of all those who suffered through such a cruel time, and my heart goes out to them, their families and all those who encountered such needless loss.  But, as we continue to find the fate of those affected, I think of my colleagues here in the United States and overseas and know that they are passionately dedicated to doing everything in their power to provide answers.