ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Magen David Adom aids Shoah survivors seeking lost relatives

Most inquiries to MDA Tracing Services come from families with WWII pasts hopeful for reunions with kin — or at least information on their fates

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Holocaust survivor arrives on a rescue flight from the war in Ukraine, at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 27, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Illustrative: Holocaust survivor arrives on a rescue flight from the war in Ukraine, at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 27, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

In the year since Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) 2022, the Tracing Services at Magen David Adom received 150 requests for help in locating relatives and renewing family ties. In dozens of these cases, distant relatives were connected or information was discovered to provide closure for families who had been dogged by questions for years.

In the Jewish state, most inquiries relate to individuals who disappeared during the Holocaust, or to family genealogies that were severed as a result. Several generations after the Shoah, people want to know the fates of their ancestors or whether they have cousins they do not know about.

“As a full member of the International Red Cross Movement since 2006, we cooperate with Red Cross societies in other countries and the International Committee of the Red Cross to locate people. We send requests to them, and they send ones to us,” said Shulamit Rosenthaler, MDA Tracing Services manager.

Israelis know to call Magen David Adom, Israel’s national rescue organization when they need emergency medical assistance. However, they can also turn to MDA for help in finding family members from whom they were separated due to war or a natural disaster.

“Most of our work relates to World War II. We also get requests from Israelis or Jews from other countries who lost touch with relatives who lived in the FSU and other countries that were behind the Iron Curtain. We also get a few requests per year related to African refugees and asylum seekers who are living in Israel,” Rosenthaler said.

Over the years, the MDA Tracing Services has received 4,150 applications for assistance and has succeeded in connecting hundreds of relatives and locating many documents, as well as some graves. In six cases, pairs of siblings were united, some of whom did not know about each other at all.

Shulamit Rosenthaler, manager of Tracing Services at Magen David Adom (Courtesy of MDA)

According to Rosenthaler, the tracing protocol requires a person to apply to the Red Cross society in their country. Rosenthal, therefore, accepts requests from Israelis and often forwards them to the country of origin of the person sought, or the country where they were last known to have been — or both. Rosenthaler herself handles inquiries from Red Cross societies in other countries who reach out to her because there is an Israeli angle to the search.

“Those of us working for Red Cross tracing services use whatever legal resources are available in our country. Here in Israel, that means visiting museums and archives physically and online, and conducting internet searches,” Rosenthaler said.

She emphasized that, unlike Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Center in Jerusalem, MDA Tracing Services has no online digital collection or database of its own. It therefore relies on information collected by other institutions in Israel and abroad. For instance, the Arolsen Archives (formerly International Tracing Service), with its 30 million documents relating to the fates of 17.5 million victims of Nazi persecution, has been an invaluable resource.

As the number of Holocaust survivors in Israel and around the world is now highly diminished, there is an urgency to furnish the remaining ones and their families with the information they have long sought.

The work of MDA Tracing Services “has contributed greatly to giving closure and providing relief to families who believed that the information would never be found,” said MDA director-general Eli Bin.

According to Rosenthaler, people are hopeful, but also realistic about the chances of family reunification so long after the war. However, merely receiving some definitive information is comforting.

“People just want to know what happened,” she said.

The Tracing Services at MDA can be reached by phone at +972 (3) 6301464  or by email at rfl-imda@mda.org.il

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