I recently discovered the Arolsen Archives, dedicated to preserving the records of the Holocaust. Up to now, I have found Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Museum particularly helpful, and I have concentrated most of my research there.
As a practice, I used both of those resources any time I came across someone I feared would have been a victim. Each has a good search engine, and it’s a matter of entering a name and seeing what comes up.
By way of warning, it’s tough work. Most of the people recorded did not survive. The Yad Vashem records are often sparse, generally a single page filled out by someone twenty or forty years later, trying to remember a parent, sibling, or neighbor. They’re usually in handwritten Hebrew script, testimony from someone who cared more than official record.
The USHMM records tend to be more bureaucratic. They record every name appearing on the lists Allied forces and later officials managed to recover from the Nazis’ too well-documented extermination plans. The information seems more reliable, but the material is cold.
In a few instances I have found records of bank transfers from the towns I feel as if I know – Câmpulung, Suceava, or Gura Humora – where someone sent spending money to a loved one at the camps in Transnistria. At first that felt like a sign of hope, an indication that there’d been family members and friends to help.
Then I realized eventually that it was pure extortion. The government forced Jews who could still manage to pay to send money that did little good even when it got there. One after another starved to death in those camps, yet the records we have of the transactions look little different than from any bank.
The Arolsen Archive feels a bit different. It really is an archive. When you find someone through the search engine, you have to look at a scan of the actual document to see what it tells you. That may mean more work than through the other places, but it can also be more compelling.
If you get the chance, look at the three-page document about Icchak and Clara (née Holdengraber) Faber.
She spent most of her early adult life living with her parents in Czernowitz as a pianist and music teacher. After the war, she helped organize concerts to raise the spirits of others in the Displaced Persons camps. Sometime later. She met Icchak, and they married. Given their age, I doubt they had children; in any case, I have found no record that they did.
It happens rarely, but the Arolsen documents make her come to life in ways most of the other archival materials don’t.
The last of the 19 documents referring to her and Icchak report that they left Israel for Argentina in 1955. With that, it feels like saying goodbye to her, and I have not been able to trace her any further.
The lengthy Arolsen documents don’t give much information about Clara’s larger family. There is a note that she has a sister, Pauline Wolf, working in Petach Tikvah as a professor of chemistry. Her father is identified as Moses, a former banker, but he and her unnamed mother were both dead.
I looked for Moses Holdengrabers whose own dates of birth would have allowed them to have a daughter born in 1904, and I found two: Moses, son of Kalman and Blima born in Câmpulung 1869, and Moses Leiser, son of Israel and Sara (née Pichler) and born in 1878.
Sometime before I had found a record for Moses Leiser in Czernowitz where he is described as a banker.
The pieces fit: Clara was his daughter, and therefore a great-granddaughter of the third-generation Isaac and Zelda.
There aren’t a lot of happy endings for relatives who wound up in the camps, but this one is as close as it seems to get.
There are, as there almost always are, more loose threads to trace. What happened, for instance, to her sister Pauline Wolf who may have had children in Israel who would have been alive within the last couple decades?
Still, thanks to the Arolsen Archives, we get her story in a clear way, and I like to think that she and Icchak enjoyed many good years together in Argentina.