Project Heart: Property Lost in Holocaust Is Cataloged in an Online Database

Trove of historic records of Holocaust goes online

Source: AP, 5-2-11

Project Heart

A trove of papers and photographs documenting the lives of Holocaust victims and survivors includes notable names like Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. But Benzion Baumrind’s name might have stayed forgotten to his descendants without the records kept by a humanitarian aid agency.

A genealogist discovered Baumrind, one of 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, was in her family with one stray document buried in a database of historic papers and photos kept by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

With over 500,000 names, and more than 1,000 photographs, the searchable collection documents the relief organization’s vast efforts during World War II and the postwar era in 24 countries, from China and Japan to the Dominican Republic and Bolivia. The records, being made available online for the first time on Monday, open a singular view into the lives of survivors that the JDC aided during that cataclysmic period.

“We can get broader pictures of the actual everyday social life in the aftermath of war,” Kenneth Waltzer, director of the Jewish Studies Department at Michigan State University, said of the collection.

Until now, the organization’s archive has been largely inaccessible to the public, kept at a private storage warehouse located a short subway ride out of Manhattan.

Volunteers entered names in a database for over a year; rare, fragile documents were scanned into the computer system. Users of the site can submit names to identify people they recognize in the photographs, which may be later added to captions.

“A website like this is where history meets technology,” said Gideon Taylor, an executive with the New York-based committee. “It’s taking history out of the dusty files… And bringing it out into the community.”

The committee plans to put even more documents from its archive online later this summer.

The project is one of a growing number around the world aimed at making available on the Internet primary records about the Holocaust.

“It is a world phenomenon that’s launched by the technology,” said David M. Kleiman, president of Heritage Muse Inc., a New York-based genealogy technology firm…READ MORE

Property Lost in Holocaust Is Cataloged Online

Source: NYT, 5-2-11

As millions of Israelis paused in reflection on Monday at the sound of the siren marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Internet here was buzzing. The first online databaseof more than half a million pieces of property lost by Holocaust victims, many in Eastern Europe, had just been uploaded as a first step toward restitution.

After years of quiet diplomacy that accomplished little, organizers of the new project, financed by the Israeli government, said the idea was to harness technology in the struggle for restitution and to make as much noise as possible.

“This is an activist approach,” said Bobby Brown, executive director of the Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce, known by its acronym, Project Heart. “We believe there are no secrets anymore about the Holocaust.”

Pointing to the success of public drives in the past, like the campaign for Soviet Jewry and the settlement of claims of Holocaust victims by Swiss banks, Mr. Brown said the issue of property restitution had to be out there on Twitter and Facebook, although negotiations with countries where properties were located “do not have to be made public right away.”

The project, a nonprofit global campaign of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental body, has set up offices in Milwaukee and Brussels. It was announced at a news conference in Jerusalem on Sunday, and another news conference is planned for Wednesday in New York City. In line with the open approach, donors are paying for advertisements for Project Heart over the next six weeks in Times Square.

This is the first worldwide list of property confiscated, looted or forcibly sold during the Holocaust era to be made available to survivors and their heirs. Compiled from hundreds of European archives, including tax records and voter registries, it includes real estate and land, movable property like art and jewelry, and intangible personal property like stocks, bonds and savings accounts…READ MORE

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