Local Red Cross chapter honored

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

The local chapter of the American Red Cross was recently honored for its work in reaching out to Holocaust survivors and their families.

The American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore gave the St. Louis Area Chapter its “Outstanding Chapter Award for 2007” in recognition of its outreach work and participation in the Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony poster campaign.

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The Yad Vashem Campaign is a new component of the community outreach and awareness for Red Cross Holocaust tracing services available in the St. Louis community, according to Stephen Hall, spokesperson for the American Red Cross St. Louis Area Chapter.

Kathy Lass, director of International Services for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, said the organization helps Holocaust survivors and families of Holocaust victims run a ‘trace,’ of loved ones lost, or presumed lost, during the Holocaust. The trace, she said, is essentially a search of Nazi-era records and records of countries in which people were killed or displaced during World War II.

Lass said the bulk of the archive became available at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.

“The Soviets liberated most of the concentration camps at the end of World War II, including Auschwitz, and they recovered millions of original Nazi documents,” she said. Those documents were locked away during the Cold War, until the fall of the Soviet Union, when they were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Lass said.

Germany built a massive archive for the wartime records in the city of Bad Arolsen, as part of their reparations for the Holocaust, she said.

Now, Holocaust survivors, their families, or anyone who had family members displaced during World War II can start a trace through the local chapter of the Red Cross. Lass said people can either come to her, or she often travels to them, since many are elderly or have limited mobility. Because of the complexity of the search and the enormous volume of requests being received, efforts may take a year or more, Lass said, but in about half of all cases some information is found, such as documentary confirmation of death or deportation. “Almost miraculously, nearly 1,000 tracing requests have led to joyous reunions with loved ones located after half a century of separation,” Lass said.

While no local Holocaust survivor reunions have occurred, Lass said she has been able to find information for a number of survivors.

The Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony campaign provides a new way to remember victims of the Holocaust. “Yad Vashem has this amazing project, where they are trying to document the lives of all 6 million who died during the Holocaust, by having family members fill out these ‘Pages of Testimony,’ to have at least some record that this person existed,” Lass said.

So far, Yad Vashem has collected testimonials about almost 3 million Holocaust victims.

“This is one last way to remember those who perished,” Lass said, “so they are never forgotten.”

For more information about the Holocaust and war victims tracing services, or to fill out a testimony page for the Yad Vashem project, contact Kathy Lass at [email protected] or 314-516-2737.

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