This Week in Restoring Family Links 1/25/16 - 1/29/16

This Week in Restoring Family Links 1/25/16 - 1/29/16

On Wednesday, the world came together to remember and reflect upon the Holocaust and all of its victims. The United Nations General Assembly declared on November 1, 2005 that this annual day of remembrance would occur ever January 27, the day that Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945. The United Nations urges member states to observe this day every year, to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future such genocides from ever occurring again. President Obama marked the day by stating "we are all Jews", a quote told by Sergeant Roddie Edmonds to his German captors during the war; the president also encouraged the world to fight remaining antisemitism across the world, and affirmed the United States' support for the Jewish state of Israel. 

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This Week in Restoring Family Links News 04/11/2015 - 04/17/2015

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Holocaust Remembrance Day: Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, was this week from the evening of Wednesday, April 15th to the evening of Thursday, April 16th. This day is set aside to honor and remember the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust. Around the world, millions recognize the importance of this day as an opportunity to stand against anti-Semitism and the hate that divides humanity. It is also an important opportunity to discuss the legacy of those who survived the atrocities committed during World War II, and how future generations should and can combat genocide and prejudice.

In recognition of this day of remembrance, the American Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links program held an event in honor of victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Levi Shemtov, a well-respected and world renowned leader in the Jewish community led a candle lighting ceremony remembering the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust. The event highlighted a campaign encouraging interaction between youth and Holocaust survivors to help ensure that their legacy and hopes for the future live on in future generations. Three youth who participated in the campaign participated in a discussion about their experience.

To watch the full event, please click here.

Refugees in Kenya: Kenya’s second in-command recently released an ultimatum to the United Nations – resettle our refugees, or the Kenyan government will relocate them. While Kenya has been negotiating the resettlement of its Somali refugees for years, this push comes largely as a response to the Garissa University attack, where al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization, killed 147 students. The Dadaab refugee where more than 600,000 refugees reside, is believed by the Kenyan government to support al-Shabaab. The threat has alarmed both refugee communities and the UN Refugee Agency, both of which believe Somalia to be unprepared, and in many places still unsafe, for resettlement.

Conflict in Nigeria: One year ago, the insurgent group, Boko Haram kidnapped 219 schoolgirls. While hope is dwindling for their return, the “Bring Back our Girls” campaign continues to fight to ensure they will not be forgotten. Since the beginning of the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, over 800,000 children have been displaced by fighting. Many have fled to neighboring Niger, Chad, or Cameroon, while other remain displaced within Nigeria itself. Regardless of where families and children have fled, the displacement has created a humanitarian crisis. While aid organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, continue their work to protect and aid the displaced, the needs far outreach the available resources.

Uncovering What One's Family History Can Mean

Story by Connecticut and Rhode Island Region

April 16, 2015 is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of this day, take a moment to reflect on its meaning and the work of the American Red Cross to help victims of the Holocaust and their families.

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, and attacked Adolf Hitler’s forces. Thousands of American, British, and Canadian troops lost their lives in the intense fighting, but eventually the Allied forces won the battle. This marked a turning point in World War II, putting a crack in Hitler’s control of France. One year later, the Germans would surrender, ending the war in Europe and putting an end to the Holocaust.

When remembering the Holocaust this month and the millions who lost their lives, let’s take a moment to also remember how the Red Cross has helped the world heal from this tragedy. The American Red Cross has been providing tracing services for victims of WWII and the Nazi regime since 1939. Following the release of WWII documents to the Red Cross in 1989, the American Red Cross opened its Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore, Maryland in 1990 to facilitate Holocaust Tracing requests. Since then, the American Red Cross has helped more than 45,000 families locate or find information about people separated by the Holocaust.

While the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center closed in 2012, all WWII related casework continues through the Restoring Family Links Program at American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, DC. The program helps search for missing family members as well as obtain documentation on the wartime and post-wartime experiences of family members. This service is not for genealogical traces, but may be done on behalf of family members with direct ties to victims of World War II and the Holocaust.

Georgia Hunter's Story

For Georgia Hunter, finding out about her unusual family history began when she was given a homework assignment by a high school English teacher. The assignment was to do an “I-Search” to look back at her ancestry.  Her mother suggested she begin her search by speaking with her grandmother. Little did Georgia know what that conversation would reveal.

Georgia’s grandfather had recently died and the story her grandmother began to share was not something she had ever imagined. She learned that her grandfather was both Polish and Jewish, not something she remembered having heard before. She was struck by how difficult his life had been. Georgia’s grandmother encouraged her to speak to her grandfather’s siblings to find more pieces of the story.

Her interest was sparked well beyond that high school project and in 2000, when Georgia was a new college graduate, she found herself at a family reunion attended by all of her grandfather’s siblings, her grandmother and various cousins and relatives she had not met before. She recalls sitting at the table listening to snippets of stories about her grandfather and the other siblings and how they survived the war with determination, courage, cleverness and amazing good fortune. It is a story that spans five continents and has many twists and turns.

Georgia continued to collect family stories, traveling many miles to put them all together. She found the memories had holes here and there; understandably after all the time that had passed, many details are fuzzy and pieces forgotten. On behalf of her grandfather's siblings, she decided to also reach out to the Red Cross to see what information they may be able to provide.

Georgia contacted the Red Cross by mail in 2011, in hopes of tracking down family records. Though several years passed, in 2014, an envelope filled with documents arrived at the local Red Cross office in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Georgia received a call from a Restoring Family Links caseworker in Connecticut and soon received the records sent by the Polish Red Cross.

Left to right: Jan Radke, Senior Director of Military and International Services at the American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region with Georgia Hunter holding family documentation provided by the Restoring Family Links program.

Left to right: Jan Radke, Senior Director of Military and International Services at the American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region with Georgia Hunter holding family documentation provided by the Restoring Family Links program.

The documents included birth certificates from a Registry Office in Radom (the family’s hometown in Poland); applications for identification cards during Radom’s Nazi occupation, marked with the seal of the Supreme Council of Elders of the Jewish Population; and a record of a sibling registered as a survivor in 1946 with the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. These records, from all over Poland, not just the family’s hometown of Radom, provide a few more pieces of history, forgotten no longer,  now documented, tangible.

There are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories so now is the time to preserve the memories and encourage anyone who does not know the fate of their loved ones because of the Holocaust to initiate a case through the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program provides tracing services for Holocaust survivors and their families, working to provide hope, information and answers. Family tracing services are free of charge. For more information contact your local Red Cross at 1-800-REDCROSS or start your trace online.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 04/04/2015 - 04/10/2015

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Conflict in Yemen: While conflict in Yemen is by no means a new topic, the recent Saudi-led airstrikes against Houthi rebels has many worried about stability in the region and has already displaced huge numbers of people. The fighting also has humanitarian aid agencies worried about water and food security in the nation as supplies are dwindling. In addition to worries about basic needs, these agencies have voiced concern for the large number of child soldiers estimated to be among the fighting forces.

The outbreak of conflict has started to reverse the historic flow of refugees in the region. For decades, refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa have used Yemen as a staging ground for finding asylum and better economic opportunities in other Gulf nations. This conflict has many of these migrants seeking to return home in addition to the Yemeni refugees seeking safety in Somalia and Djibouti. Aid agencies operating in the Horn of Africa have scaled up their capacity to meet the needs of these refugees and continue to prepare for more in the instance that the conflict worsens.

Yarmouk Refugee Camp: Before the Syrian Civil War erupted, an estimated 160,000 people lived in Yarmouk. Now, fewer than 18,000 live there, under siege by the Islamic State. Fighting over the camp began last Wednesday and has worsened already miserable conditions for the refugees who have remained. Since the take-over, aid agencies including the United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross have decried the targeting of the camp and have urged for access for humanitarian aid. If granted access, the UN has proposed conducting an emergency evacuation. This week, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) declined a request from Syria to arm Palestinians to aid in the fight against the Islamic State.

Holocaust Remembrance Day Campaign: Next week is Holocaust Remembrance Day. In order to honor the legacy of those who died during the Holocaust as well as its survivors, the American Red Cross is holding an event at its National Headquarters. The event marks the end of a pilot campaign to encourage interaction between youth and Holocaust survivors, to ensure that future generations continue to honor their legacy and work to prevent prejudice and genocide. The event can be attended in person or online. To RSVP and to learn more about the event, please visit our registration website.

We Must Remember

Janusz Korczak Memorial at Yad Vashem honors one who sheltered Jewish children during the holocaust

Janusz Korczak Memorial at Yad Vashem honors one who sheltered Jewish children during the holocaust

Story by Ceren Maeir, Restoring Family Links Intern, Washington, DC

Today, January 27th 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. How do we commemorate such an atrocity? How do we honor the memories of the millions of innocent Jews that perished in Auschwitz? How do we, as humanitarians who have dedicated our every day’s work to the service of those less fortunate, ensure that we never forget, that it never happens again? Thousands of the victims that were murdered in the Holocaust do not have any family members to remember them and honor their legacy. It is upon us to better the world in their honor. 

On days like today, I am reminded of how truly blessed I am. When I was twelve years old, a few months before my formal Bat Mitzvah ceremony, my parents took my brother, who was also about to become a Bar Mitzvah, and me to Israel in celebration of the milestone. On our trip we went to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, for a tour conducted by the Yad Vashem Twinning Program. The Yad Vashem Twinning Program matches kids of Bar/Bat Mitzvah age with children who perished in the Holocaust at the same age and share a similar last name. I was matched with Ruth Meyer, a young girl born in Siegen, Germany who escaped to Amsterdam with her family, but was eventually taken to Auschwitz where she, and her family, would live their last days. 

After receiving the certificate I noticed that on the back was contact information for Ruth’s distant cousin who’s parents survived Auschwitz. The address was Northbrook, Illinois, a neighboring suburb of my hometown. After returning home from Israel, my mother reached out to Ruth’s cousin in Northbrook and we set up a time to get together. It was on an ordinary Sunday morning that my mother and I met Ruth’s cousin and had the privilege to learn more about Ruth and her family’s story. During this meeting I learned that Ruth died before she had the chance to celebrate her Bat-Mitzvah. It was then that I decided to share my special day with Ruth. 

On the day of my Bat-Mitzvah ceremony, Ruth was with me in spirit. In the front row of the temple sanctuary sat a poster with a picture of Ruth and the certificate I received at Yad Vashem. On the seat next to Ruth’s picture was a picture of her mother, Lena Meyer, to symbolize their presence and honor their memories. As I stood up next to my mother to begin the ceremony symbolizing my entering into adulthood, there sat the images of Ruth and Lena, a mother and daughter whose lives were cut short but not forgotten. There the pictures sat together, holding space and representing the souls of the thousands of mothers and daughters who did not live to experience this celebration of life. 

Eight years have passed since my Bat-Mitzvah yet I continue to hold Ruth’s memory close to my heart. I still feel Ruth’s strength, I sense her resilience, her courage is my source of motivation, and she is the voice of reason in my mind – reminding me to show mercy and love to my fellow human beings, because that is all that truly matters. As I witness the amazing dedication of the Restoring Family Links team, working to reconnect families separated by war and conflict, I am reminded that these efforts are dedicated to those who were not reunited with their families after the liberation of Auschwitz.  Every time a parent and child are reunited through the efforts of Restoring Family Links, we remember the memories of the parents and children who perished in Auschwitz separated from their loved ones. Ruth’s memory is honored each time a family is reconnected and reunited. Her memory keeps me humble and inspired. She is the light that lives within my soul that never fades even when it flickers in darkness.

I dedicate this day of liberation to Ruth Meyer and the thousands of innocent, young children whose lives were cut short in Auschwitz by the unforgiving hand of the Nazis. May we never forget their memories and may their memories be for a blessing.