By Amber Duncan and Rocky Ramos
Spokane Valley High School, Washington
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
The end of World War II brought a peace felt by all nations. However, six million people had died during the five and a half years of Nazi persecution. Many families were herded off and sent to concentration camps, where mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and relatives were never to see each other again. All of this tragedy occurred because some people differed from the Third Reich in their religion, political beliefs, or ethnic background.
Today, those families that survived the horror are still searching for the relatives that they lost long ago. The American Red Cross Holocaust and War Tracing and Information Center was established to aid this effort. It represents a place of hope for those seeking war victims, and helps to gather facts about relatives whose fates remain unknown.
In 1943, before World War II had ended, the Headquarters of the Allied Forces in London converted the Foreign Relations Department of the British Red Cross into a Central Tracing Bureau. The British officials had seen the suffering that relatives of Holocaust victims had endured. Thus, the Central Tracing Bureau was a response to the worries people had concerning their "lost" relatives.
On July 1, 1947, the Bureau was taken over by the International Refugee Organization (IRO), who changed its name to the present-day International Tracing Service (ITS) on January 1, 1948. The Allied High Commission for Germany (HICOG) took charge of ITS management beginning in April 1951, and later, in 1954, the ITS was put under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva. The principles of those Conventions: humanity, impartiality, and neutrality are the ones that the Red Cross still adheres to in order to safeguard its unique role in preventing and alleviating human suffering in armed conflict.
In 1955, the Allied Western Powers and Germany signed the Bonn Agreements. This document helped to establish an International Commission that guaranteed cooperation between governments concerning ITS problems and made guidelines for ITS operations. Today the ruling body of the ITS and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) consists of ten countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The ruling body helps to ensure that the ITS operates under its guidelines in accordance with the needs of war victims.
In 1989, President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union decided to return 400,000 records that had been taken from the Nazis at the end of the war to the Red Cross. The records included daily roll calls from Auschwitz and 46 death books from concentration camps listing dates and names. This information inspired Patrick Morand and Steve Mandell to turn their American Red Cross Center in Maryland into one for a "war tracing service", which opened on September 24, 1990. Since then, they have received more than five thousand calls, and fifteen hundred of those during the first month alone.
There is another International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) International Tracing Service (ITS) located in Arolsen, Germany. It contains forty-six million records detailing the tortures suffered by victims of WWII. Because inquiries received by the ITS are answered manually, those waiting for information about lost relatives may have to wait months, a year, or longer. The center works with other Red Cross societies around the world in an effort to find information. Most times, this long period of waiting is worthwhile for those who eventually receive the information they seek. The ITS has been able to send the requested information to over 7.2 million people. This information can be in the form of certification of a family member's internment or death. Other information is sent to individuals wanting certification of their own hardships. Still, in some cases, documentation may exist of a relative's survival and postwar destination, and therefore end with a joyous reunion.
One successful case involved two sisters who had been separated from their brother, and had not known his fate for fifty-one years. Finally, using the Holocaust Tracing Information Center, one of the sisters was able to contact her brother, and the three were reunited. However, the ITS does not only search for individuals of the past. It also also works with other national societies to trace family members in the midst of war, civil unrest, or disaster in other countries. It is cases like this one that keep the ITS on its quest to help find individuals who were lost behind barbed wire. Hopefully, using new technology, the ITS will be able to find information faster, and put people's pasts and minds to rest.
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