The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany is intended to serve the victims of Nazi persecution and their families with information regarding their loved ones they may have lost contact with. Their document collection is hugely extensive, containing everything from International Refugee Organization Registration forms, to Displaced Persons cards, to birth certificates and even personal effects of some individuals. I cannot stress enough how huge their collection is.
I first wrote to the ITS in 2009. I wasn’t sure what I might receive, but I knew that my family members had spent time in DP camps as refugees. I figured they might be able to at least tell me which camps they had resided at, thus tracing their journey from Latvia to the Americas. It took a few months but when I finally received a package rom them in the mail, it contained a huge treasure trove of scanned copies of documents straight from 1940’s-1950’s Europe, including some pictures which suddenly brought a very human aspect to the names, places and dates I had been studying. DP Cards, ID Cards, Refugee Organization application forms detailing, in their own words, their plight from Latvia, past residences, personal employment and education histories… So much information. To this day I am still revisiting to these documents and stumbling upon new facts that either I didn’t understand before or ignorantly disregarded as unimportant.
Along the way on my quest for answers, I have spoken to (internet-speak, anyways!) many other Latvian genealogy or history enthusiasts willing to share some conversation with me. One who has helped me the most so far, is a man named George Jaunzemis, aka Peter Thomas. After reading a post of mine on a Latvian forum in late 2008, he responded to me, pointing out my errors in assumptions about my family’s military past. In our multiple emails back and forth since then, he offered suggestions and information regarding my Latvian families and in the process, bit by bit recounted his tale to me which was and the reason he was so interested in Latvian history. After receiving my package from the ITS, I questioned why he hadn’t written to them yet, in his search (which was a little less straight-forward than mine). He wasn’t sure that they would be able to help him with his complicated situation, but he did write to them at that point. He was presented by the ITS with a boatload of questions upfront, instead of just a document package like myself. Since his information did not fit neatly onto the form that the ITS requests you fill out, he wrote a letter explaining his situation to them, and this is what they found made my jaw drop to the floor.
The moral of the story? If you are trying to find relatives who were in a displaced persons camp after WWII, contact the ITS!!