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Genealogical Research at Yad Vashem:
Reference and Information Services

by Zvi Bernhardt

This document provides information about major research resources for genealogists at Yad Vashem and the role of the Reference and Information Services unit in providing access to these resources.

The article begins with a brief overview of Yad Vashem. It then describes the principal information repositories at Yad Vashem that are important for genealogists: the Hall of Names and Pages of Testimony, the Archive Collection, and the Library. The article then explains how the Reference and Information Services unit helps the public obtain information from these repositories. The article concludes with links to additional information about Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, is the principal repository in the world for information about the Holocaust. Established in 1953 by an act of the Israeli Knesset, Yad Vashem is located in Jerusalem on Har Hazikaron, the Mount of Remembrance. The site includes museums, exhibition halls, outdoor monuments, and the world’s largest collections of information concerning the Holocaust.

Information Repositories at Yad Vashem

The principal information repositories at Yad Vashem are the Hall of Names, the Archives Collection, and the Library.  Although the Hall of Names and its collection of Pages of Testimony may be the most familiar to genealogists, there are also resources of great genealogical significance in the Archive Collection and the Library. The Reference and Information Services unit at Yad Vashem provides access to information in all these repositories.

The Hall of Names and Pages of Testimony

The Hall of Names is a department of Yad Vashem whose task is to gather the names of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It serves as a special memorial to these victims by remembering them as individual human beings.

The Hall of Names is the repository for over two million documents known as Pages of Testimony.  These documents, which have been submitted since the mid-1950s by family members and friends, record the names and biographical data of those who perished. They serve as symbolic paper tombstones for those who have no marked graves. The collection of new Pages of Testimony continues to this day.

Pages of Testimony are important documents for genealogists, since they can provide significant biographical details concerning the victim. The information given on a Page of Testimony may include some, though seldom all, of the following: the names of the victim’s parents; date and place of birth; profession; place of residence; date and place of death; and possibly a photograph of the victim. The Pages of Testimony may also have genealogical value by providing the name of the person who submitted the data; this person may have been a relative of the victim. The submitter’s address is sometimes given, but this information may be of limited value since it most often dates to the 1950s.

Yad Vashem has undertaken an extensive project to computerize the Pages of Testimony. The vast majority of the pages have been entered into a searchable database, which includes scanned images of these pages. This is the world’s single largest computerized database of Jews in the Holocaust.

Various other lists of names have also been computerized and added to the database. These include the following: a list of murdered from Western Germany; a list of murdered from Berlin; a list of murdered from the Netherlands; a list of deported from France; a list of deported from Bohemia and Moravia to and from Theresienstadt; a list of prisoners from Mauthausen; a list of victims from Luxembourg; a partial list of victims from Hungary compiled in the Nevek series; a small list of victims from Thesalonika (Greece); a small list of victims from Slovakia; and a small list of survivors compiled by Yad Vashem. Many other lists exist at Yad Vashem that have not yet been computerized.

Altogether, 2.7 million names are now included in the database.  While most of the information is about those who perished, there is also some information about survivors. The process of computerizing names continues at Yad Vashem, and new lists are constantly being added to the database. The database is open to the public at Yad Vashem, but it is not yet available on the Internet.

Ongoing Collection of Pages of Testimony
Efforts are underway to gather as many additional Pages of Testimony as possible while potential donors of this information are still alive and thus to record the missing names of Jews who died in the Holocaust. Anyone who knows of a victim not yet represented by a Page of Testimony is encouraged to submit a Page for that person.

Blank Pages of Testimony can be downloaded in Hebrew or English at http://www.yadvashem.org/download/index_download.html.

Forms can also be obtained:

  • By writing to Yad Vashem, Hall of Names, PO Box 3477, 91034 Jerusalem, Israel
  • By e-mail request to names.research@yadvashem.org.il
  • By fax request to 972-2-6443-579

Pages of Testimony Forms are available in fourteen different languages. Specify the language and the number of blank forms needed (one for each victim).

The Archive Collection

The Archive Collection at Yad Vashem is the world’s largest repository of Holocaust material.  It contains 58 million pages of documents, consisting of microfilms as well as collections of papers and original documents. There are nearly 100,000 photographs and thousands of films and videotaped testimonies of survivors. Included in these holdings are thousands of files containing information about individuals. For the most part, the documents themselves have not been computerized; however, there are computerized catalogues and indexes that describe these holdings. Material in the Archive Collection is available on-site to visitors, as are the computerized indices and catalogues.

A major genealogical resource of the Archive Collection is documentation collected by the International Tracing Service (ITS) of the Red Cross. Situated in Arolsen, Germany, the ITS has collected enormous amounts of data pertaining to individuals during World War II. Much of this collection exists at Yad Vashem on microfilm. The part of the collection most often used by researchers is the Master Index, which contains cards with information on millions of individuals. There are no computerized indexes of these cards at Yad Vashem, but the Master Index microfilms are organized alphabetically by last name; this allows researchers to identify and search the reel that should contain the cards they are seeking. Some of the microfilmed index cards may have extensive information, including parents’ names, mother’s maiden name, dates of birth and death, town of birth, citizenship, last known residence, date of last known residence, dates and places of incarceration, cause of death and, occasionally, name(s) of the person(s) who queried the Red Cross about that individual.

The Library

The Yad Vashem library houses over 87,000 titles (in many languages), thousands of periodicals, and many rare items. The public can access the library’s holdings on-site. Residents of Israel have limited borrowing privileges. The library’s holdings include the world’s largest collection of Yizkor Books. These books of commemoration about specific communities, published by survivors and former residents, often include information about residents of that community and lists of its Holocaust victims.

Accessing the Information: Reference and Information Services

Yad Vashem has established a Reference and Information Services unit to serve the public. This unit provides access to information at Yad Vashem by assisting on-site visitors and responding to written queries. It draws upon resources in the Hall of Names, the Archive Collection and the Library. With the establishment of Reference and Information Services, the public no longer needs to send separate inquiries to each of those departments since service is now combined for them. A single inquiry will suffice.

The Reference and Information Services unit helps members of the public who personally come to Yad Vashem; it also responds to queries sent by mail, e-mail, or fax. The answers provided in response to any inquiry are based on whichever resources the staff believes can give the best information. These include computerized databases as well as printed and archival material. Thus an inquiry about a particular individual may be responded to with Pages of Testimony, printed sources such as Yizkor Books, or archival sources such as lists made by the Germans. Use of the computerized names database permits complex searches, such as searching for a particular surname from a particular town. The ability to do complex searches is more limited when archival and library sources are used.

It you can visit Yad Vashem in person, staff members or the Reference and Information unit will advise you on the materials available and provide help on using databases. On-site researchers have access to the searchable names database that includes scanned images of Pages of Testimony. Many sources of genealogical information at Yad Vashem that are not yet in the database are described in computerized indexes, which are also generally open to the public. There is no charge for these on-site services, but there is a charge for photocopies and printouts.

If you cannot visit Yad Vashem in person, you can request information via postal mail, e-mail, or fax. Reference and Information Services will respond to written queries. They will usually respond within two weeks but may take up to three weeks during peak periods. There is a minimum charge of $10 (US) for the first query from any individual, plus a fee for photocopying if more than 10 pages need to be copied. If no information is found, there is no charge. For subsequent queries, the charge is $25 per hour of work, plus photocopying fees. Reference and Information Services at Yad Vashem will not charge more than $25 without seeking prior authorization. Fees can be remitted by credit card or check.

The initial query can include a request for information about several names, up to "a reasonable level". (For example, it would not be considered "reasonable" to ask for all the Cohens in Warsaw).

Search requests should be:

  • Mailed to: Yad Vashem, Reference and Information Services, PO Box 3477, 91034 Jerusalem, ISRAEL.
  • Faxed to: 972-2-6443-579
  • Sent via e-mail to: names.research@yadvashem.org.il

In order to insure accurate results, supply as much information as possible about the individual(s) you want the staff to search for. Send at least the following information about the individual: last name; first name; permanent place of residence (town and country) before the war. Include the following additional information, if known, about the individual: maiden name; birth date or approximate age; family status (married or single); birthplace and country; first and last names of mother, father, spouse; wartime residence (place and country); occupation or profession; date/year of death; place and circumstances of death.

Provide the following information about yourself: full name; postal address; e- mail address; relationship to the individual about whom you are seeking information (optional). Reference and Information Services will use your e-mail address or other contact information to discuss and clarify your request, if necessary.

The Reference and Information Services unit was created to provide the public with the best possible service. The unit is headed by Nadia Kahan; the author is her deputy. These are the people to contact if special service is needed or if there are any complaints. They are interested in hearing complaints in order to continue to improve the service.

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