My grandfather wasn’t too thrilled when he was cited for riding his bike without a working light at night in 1947 when he lived in Germany. The pile of papers that accumulated due to this minor traffic violation is beyond words.
I contacted International Tracing Service last year to obtain records about my grandfather’s time as a POW of the German army during WWII. The agency maintains records of persecution, forced labor and the Holocaust of Germany’s Nazi era. My luck was that ITS couldn’t find his POW records.
Then yesterday, I got an e-mail message with “your grandfather” in the subject line. I was thinking this was a scam message until I recognized ITS’ e-mail address. The attached file had 43 pages of records that documented my grandfather’s life in Germany and his application process for immigration.
After I looked over these documents, a few mysteries were finally solved. Some of the records my grandmother had kept shows my grandfather was born in the same eastern Poland town as his mother-in-law. It didn’t make sense how the information could get so twisted.
Now, I understand my grandfather was trying to prevent his family from being forced back to the USSR. My grandmother was grabbed twice so she could be returned to the USSR but my grandfather got her back before her truck left. Claiming Polish citizenship in documents would keep my family safe from repatriation.
I also wondered whether my mom correctly remembered the path her family traveled when they escaped Kiev in 1943. The records from ITS confirms her information and completes the story by adding another German town to the journey.
These records also show the effort it took to get approved for immigration. I wondered how long it took for my grandfather to get that important yes.
My grandmother kept records showing Argentina rejected my family for immigration. From ITS’ records, I learned that my grandfather also applied for immigration to Canada months after the war ended. My grandfather must have applied for immigration to Argentina next.
His luck arrived in 1949 when he applied for immigration to the USA. My grandfather didn’t give up easily on his dream for his family to have a better life.
These documents also answered why my family was identified as Polish immigrants on a ship passenger list when they arrived in the USA. My grandfather had changed his wife’s and daughter’s birthplaces to Poland on some records while other records had the real birthplace of Kiev. My grandfather also made the same change to his marriage location. Placing the wrong nationality on the passenger list was an easy mistake to make when immigration officials had so many records to review.
The mistakes in birth dates and spelling of names show the imperfect science involved in documenting people during a world war. I was amazed by the number of spellings German officials used for my family’s Russian names. Luckily, I gave three versions of my grandfather’s full name and that probably helped in getting these documents, which were free.
Anyone who had foreign-born family living in Germany during the war should check whether ITS has any family records. ITS has provided me with more records than U.S. national archives on my grandfather.