MONTREAL — Montreal Holocaust survivors and their descendants who want to know what happened to relatives with whom they lost contact or who died may now find their search easier.
The Canadian Red Cross and the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors (CJCS) are collaborating to open what they say is Canada’s first Holocaust Survivors’ Tracing Centre.
At the centre, based at the CJCS, survivors can receive information about Red Cross services and fill out the necessary forms to launch an investigation. It is co-ordinated by CJCS staff member Mara Schneiderman, who oversees six trained volunteers. The service is free and confidential.
The Red Cross has for many years helped Jews and others seeking to reunite with family they were separated from during World War II, or to determine the circumstances of their deaths. But that service has not been used extensively in Quebec by the Jewish community, and was usually a long process before the advances in technology made obtaining information easier.
In the last few years, a significant number of records have also become public, most notably the archives of Nazi persecution at Bad Arelson, Germany. In 2006, its tens of millions of pieces of documentation were made readily accessible for the first time, and they have been digitized.
Housing the tracing centre at the CJCS Snowdon location will also be more convenient and familiar for survivors; the Red Cross Montreal office is on Nun’s Island.
Red Cross spokesperson Myrian Marotte said only about five Holocaust survivors make inquiries about tracing relatives each year at its Montreal office.
“Our goal with the new centre is to increase the visibility of our service. It is estimated that we will get between 50 and 100 requests annually now,” she said.
The service also includes providing certification for reparations or pensions. Marotte said the local Red Cross has had some success in reuniting relatives. For example, last spring, two sisters, not Jewish, one living here and the other in Russia, were put in contact with one another for the first time since the war, she said.
The tracing centre complements existing services for survivors at the CJCS, said Myra Giberovitch, co-ordinator of those services, which include a drop-in centre and assistance in making claims for reparations or other compensations, or obtaining emergency funds for which they may be eligible.
Until now, the CJCS has always referred anyone who asked about tracing to the Red Cross.
She said this is the first time the Red Cross has set up an off-site tracing centre in Canada.
The centre is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but appointments are required. Call 514-343-3529, ext. 7206, and leave a message for someone to get back to you. A brochure on the service is also available in a variety of languages.
The applications for the Red Cross to conduct a search ask for detailed information and run to about three pages, Giberovitch said, but the volunteers, who were trained by Red Cross staff who came up from Baltimore, can help in filling them out.
In the past, it might have taken a year or two for the Red Cross to obtain the information sought, but it is expected to be much quicker now. Although almost 64 years have passed since the end of the war, Giberovitch said there are still survivors who want to know more.
“In recent years, there have been stories in the media about people finding lost relatives. As the survivors enter the last stage of their lives, there is a desire among some to fill in the missing parts,” she said.
“The service is not for everyone,” she added. “Some survivors may not want to probe into the past, and have more or less accepted what happened. They don’t want to dredge up painful memories, and they certainly should not feel obligated, nor should their kids push them.”