My World Memory Project Experience By Liz Stevenson
I became interested in the Ancestry World Archives Project after doing a lot of genealogy and coming to a dead end when it came to some of my ancestors.
When the databases came online to help key Holocaust records as part of the World Memory Project, I had to stop myself from diving in immediately because I was worried about how it would affect my emotions. Finally, I decided to go ahead because of the hope that if I participated it would encourage others to participate and maybe I could eventually have a database that would track the family members that I am still searching for.
I am working on the illegal entry to Palestine database and just finished the Polish Jewish soldiers in Lublin database. The British records are much easier to deal with, a happier situation in that these folks were probably survivors in the end of an otherwise horrible immigration situation. The Jewish soldiers in Poland were not so lucky. (I read somewhere that less than 100 of these men survived their experiences in the Nazi POW camps.)
The first time one of the Polish Jewish soldiers pictures came up, I literally cried staring in the face of this man. I keyed in his name and number and all the other fields I could make out. Then I said a small prayer as I submitted the image set that somehow, through this magic of technology, it helped this man come back to life. I hope his family is looking for him and that they find him and can see his sweet, young face and say a prayer for him as well. I felt like somehow I brought that man back to life. From that moment on, I was hooked. There are so many names no longer mentioned that need to be honored.
One thing I noticed was seeming differences between the folks filling out these records. Some were staunch anti-Semites, describing their charges' nationality as "Jewish" rather than "Polish" or underlining or putting exclamation marks around the word "Jude." On one record, that really took my breath away, someone had taken what must have been a big black crayon or grease pen and wrote across the entire card "J U D E ! " He clearly marked the man for certain death. In the regular fields of the record this man had not been identified as Jewish and it was as if he had been able to trick them for awhile until some administrator found out and turned him in.
I should explain that I read and write in German as well as English and just reading these Nazi cards is enough to stop me from sleeping well at night. On the backs of these cards, which we were to mark as card backsides and not key in data, I would sometimes stop and let my eyes linger as I read the information anyway. It sometimes described their hospitalizations and the diseases that they suffered from, including typhus and other horrible diseases which we in America do not experience these days. It described their movements from camp to camp, work site to work site. It described the kind of slave labor that they performed.
One record I keyed was a many-paged explanation of how the prisoner had been killed "accidentally" in a work-related accident. It was sickening that the Nazis spent literally 5 or 6 pages filling out this form just to explain how it was an accident, how the accident happened (a loaded train of some kind of heavy barrels tipped over on the prisoner, killing him immediately) and drawing diagrams of where he was hit by the barrels, etc. I couldn't believe the thoroughness of the explanation of this accident; all the while these same Nazis were slowly working and starving these men to death anyway. It was, as we say in German wahnsinn, incredible!
Thank you to Ancestry.com and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the rare opportunity to help transfer this information into records that the public can access. It is an honor and a pleasure (albeit with a few tears) to be able to participate in the World Memory Project. I look forward to continue making whatever small contributions I can to this enormous task no matter how difficult or emotional I find it to be.
(Liz Stevenson, of Portland, Oregon, is a contributor to the World Memory Project. After keying hundreds of records, Liz wrote this piece to share her impressions and perspective about her experience.)