The Wiener Holocaust Library

The Wiener Holocaust Library recently paid a visit to Leeds Central Library to run a workshop on tracing Jewish ancestors. We thought it would be useful to explain a bit about them and their resources for anyone with Jewish ancestry.

The Wiener Holocaust Library are based in Russell Square in London. Open each weekday, the library houses over one million documents charting the history of the Holocaust, the Nazi era and genocide. The Wolfson Reading Room is open to all with no appointment required – but you will need to register for a user ticket and bring photographic ID.

The Wolfson Reading Room (c) Wiener Holocaust Library

The library hosts three digital collections that are free to access:

The first collection is a Refugee Map. This includes a selection of their collections of Family Papers, including handwritten diaries, photo albums, identity and emigration papers, Red Cross letters and recorded interviews. These documents reveal and preserve the stories of the individuals and families that fled Nazi persecution and antisemitism in the years before, during and after the Second World War. A map of Europe can be browsed to find stories from specific places, which includes four stories from Leeds.

The second collection is Pogrom: November 1938 – Testimonies from ‘Kristallnacht’. In the months following November 1938, Alfred Wiener and his colleagues collected over 350 contemporary testimonies and reports of the November Pogrom in Germany and Austria.

The third digital collection is Testifying to the Truth – Eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. During the 1950s researchers at The Wiener Holocaust Library gathered over 1,000 accounts from eyewitnesses to Nazi persecution and genocide. These accounts cover a wide range of subjects, with material touching on almost every aspect of the Holocaust. The Wiener Holocaust Library now has access to these in English for the first time.

Testifying the the Truth digital collection (c) The Wiener Holocaust Library

One of the most useful resources for those tracing missing or displaced people during the Holocaust is The International Tracing Service – now known as the Arolson Archives. This has an extensive collection of documents on incarceration in concentration camps, ghettos and prisons, documents on forced labour, documents on Displaced Persons camps and emigration and documents on Jewish and other victims of Nazi persecution.

The original documents are held in Bad Arolsen in Germany but the Wiener Holocaust Library is the sole UK access point to these archives. The library holds over 30 million pages of Holocaust era digital documents relating to the experiences of over 17.5 million people.

Staff at the library will search these archives free of charge but there is great demand for this service and there will be some delay in getting information to you. There is a partial online catalogue but for best results contact the staff to do a comprehensive search.

The Arolsen Archives/International Tracing Service online search

The Leeds branch of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Great Britain (JGSGB) also attended this workshop. Formed in 1992, this Society aims to help beginners and experienced researchers learn more about their Jewish ancestry. Membership costs £35 per annum and allows you access to their resources, library, events and special interest groups. The JGSGB work closely with Jewish Communities & Records UK (JCR-UK), who have created a useful guide to Leeds Jewish communities. Contact the Leeds branch to find out more about the work of the Society:

Another resource that was highlighted was the National Archives Naturalisation records. These are the documents that made someone a British Citizen and the archives have the naturalisation certificates and sometimes the background documents to support the request. Not all these documents have been digitised so there will be fees to request a printed copy. The National Archives have created a handy research guide which also has a search box towards the end.

The London Gazette publishes announcements of naturalisations and can be searched freely online:

The Ancestry website, which is free to access in all Leeds Libraries, also has some naturalisation records:

UK Naturalisation Certificates and Declarations 1870 – 1916. This collection includes naturalisation certificates, declarations of British nationality, and re-admissions to British nationality, as well as related correspondence, for the years 1870–1916. Naturalisation certificates will typically list the name of the immigrant, residence, birthplace, age, parents’ names, occupation, and the names of any underage children.

Germany, Index of Jews Whose German Nationality was Annulled by Nazi Regime, 1935-1944. This is a collection of individual index cards of Jews who had their German nationality annulled by the Nazis. The records were created when German citizenship was revoked because of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws of 1935. The laws spelled out exactly who was considered Jewish and who was allowed German citizenship and its accompanying rights. The Nuremberg Laws also prevented Jews from marrying those of German descent.

Ancestry has many small databases with Jewish records – search the Card catalogue with keyword ‘Jewish’ to view all of them.

Finally, as a result of the Wiener Holocaust Library visit, the Local and Family History Library now have a donated set of Shemot – the Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. Covering the years 1992- 2022, this journal is packed full of articles and suggestions for tracing yourJewish ancestry.

To find out more about the Wiener Holocaust Library please visit their website, where you can sign up to their newsletter or to become a supporter of their work.

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