What are your family stories of victims

Family History and National SocialismWas Grandpa a Nazi? Archives help at Research

Nazi victims, followers or perpetrators in your own family? Instead of believing legends, you can ask archives. Our reporter knows how to do it.

National Socialism left its mark on almost every family in Germany. But how did your ancestors feel about the regime? Few people are specifically interested in what their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents did during National Socialism. At least that is the result of a telephone survey carried out by Bielefeld University:

For the survey entitled Memo Germany (PDF), the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence in Bielefeld called 1000 people between the ages of 17 and 93 and asked them to talk about their culture of remembrance, reports our reporter Magdalena Bienert. The results show that many people have a general interest in Nazi history:

  • Around half of the interviewees visited a Nazi memorial one or more times.
  • Over 90 percent of those surveyed use documentaries and feature films as an introduction to the topic.
  • Almost 60 percent get information online.
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Nazi family history: reinterpretation and repression

However, when it comes to one's own family history, the survey shows a rather one-sided picture: In families, stories of victims and helpers are passed on, according to the results of the survey. The ancestors' knowledge of perpetrators is comparatively low.

Half of the respondents assume that the family members did not even belong to the followers of the Nazi system, reports Magdalena Bienert. Two thirds think it makes sense to deal with the Nazi past of their own family, but half of the German families never or only rarely talk about it.

Jonas Rees is the project leader of the study. He points out that family narratives in the Nazi context are particularly susceptible to tendencies towards reinterpretation and repression. He says there are clear discrepancies between the perception of the German population during the Nazi era and knowledge of their own family history.

Two archives that can help in the search for clues:

The Federal Archives: Searching there on site is basically free of charge. The archive has published its own notes on people and genealogy. These can be associated with costs. Basically, the chances of finding out something about this archive are higher for victims of National Socialism than for Nazi perpetrators. "If you can actually find material on the person you are looking for, you can have copies sent to you or go to the Federal Archives in person," says Magdalena Bienert.

"You have to know the surname, first name and date of birth. The chances of success vary, depending on what role someone played during the Nazi era."
Tobias Herrmann, press spokesman for the Federal Archives

IST: The International Tracing Service: This is an archive and documentation center on Nazi persecution and liberated survivors. "Here, too, it is easier for you to find out something about Nazi victims," ​​our reporter said. Over 30 million documents are stored in the archive. Anyone can start research online using a search mask - or fill out an inquiry form and have a search done.

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