Early Postwar Holocaust Knowledge and Jewish Missing Persons

Jan Lambertz

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Many historians have explored the question of what was known about mass atrocities against the Jews during World War II. The precise 'Holocaust knowledge' that emerged in the immediate postwar years has garnered far less attention. This study explores what details about mass Jewish death had reached Jewish communities, families and legal policy-makers both in Europe and abroad in the first years after the war ended. The postwar failure to trace nearly all missing Jews who had been trapped in Europe confirmed the extent of Nazi violence. This thesis argues that Jewish missing person searches after the war offer a unique pathway for understanding what Jews across the globe comprehended about the deportation process, about ghettos, Nazi camps and killing operations in eastern Europe. The correspondence arriving in postwar Jewish community offices and organisations reveals highly fragmentary knowledge of wartime events, both on the part of far-flung former refugees and the officials who attempted to assist them. Many of these searches ended in grief and even more dead-ended in 'no information located'. As a result, Jewish tracing enquiries continued to be made for years after the war and were only halted with reluctance. Some family survivors eventually did seek declarations of death for relatives who had not returned. Yet legal experts' discussions of the requirements for certifying Jewish 'legal death' further demonstrate the very limited ways in which the details of the Holocaust were understood in the latter half of the 1940s. In its efforts to bring some closure and clarity to family survivors, World Jewish Congress officials attempted to establish a universal legal standard at the early United Nations for certifying the death of Jews who had gone missing through Nazi persecution, but failed.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Stone, Dan, Supervisor
  • Cesarani, David, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • missing persons, Holocaust, postwar, Jewish community, tracing service, Germany, declaration of death

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