The genealogy research company Ancestry has digitized millions of historical records related to the Holocaust and published them online in a free, searchable archive.
The company announced the release of the records on Wednesday, calling it “a philanthropic initiative to make culturally important records available to everyone.”
The records are grouped into two main collections. One is an archive of displaced people leaving Europe between 1946 and 1971, including many survivors of concentration camps and Nazi persecution.
The second is an archive comprising information on non-Germans who were imprisoned or living in Germany and German-controlled areas between 1939 and 1947. It includes individuals who were persecuted by public institutions and corporations, and contains details on deaths, including burial information.
The records list the names of people who were traveling together and show where refugees were settled during and after the war.
The information could fill in gaps for people researching their family’s history, but users won’t be able to find people their family lost in the genocide if they don’t already have some identifying information.
Users could search the records to trace a relative’s path across Europe from danger in Nazi Germany to refuge in the US, for example.
The information could also be used to secure financial compensation from the German government and the Dutch railway company, both of which provide reparations to Holocaust victims, but require documentation.
The records are provided free of charge, although users must open a free account.
Ancestry has not uncovered new information, but had digitized the records and made them searchable online for the first time, the company said.
The material in the newly-opened database was sourced from the Arolsen Archives, a collection of documents held by the International Center on Nazi Persecution, which partnered with Ancestry on the project. The archives contain the records of some 17.5 million people belonging to groups targeted by the Nazis, Ancestry said.
Critics said the company was profiteering with sensitive historical information, a charge the company denied.
“The release of this record collection is part of Ancestry’s philanthropic initiative to make culturally important records available to everyone,” the company said in a statement, according to a report in the New York Times.
Ancestry said it provided digitized copies to the Arolsen Archives, Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The company described the collections as the first two to be released, suggesting there may be more to come.