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Identity Reconstruction. Summary of the research project undertaken by the Auschwitz Museum and the Arolsen Archives


The Auschwitz Museum Archives has completed a two-year project, “Reconstructing the identities of deportees and prisoners of KL Auschwitz based on archival data from the Auschwitz Memorial and the Arolsen Archives.”


Jeno Hoffman's card
Johann Herak's card

A team of archivists, historians, computer scientists, and document indexers worked on the project. 'The primary goal was to obtain a considerable amount of data as possible on Auschwitz prisoners through remote preliminary research of the Arolsen Archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany,' said Ewa Bazan, head of the project at the Auschwitz Museum.

The research focused on the Buchenwald concentration camp document collection, which contains, among other things, the personal cards of prisoners.

'The choice was not accidental. In 2006, the Polish Red Cross Information and Research Office transferred over 47,000 digital copies of documents of Polish prisoners of the KL Auschwitz and KL Buchenwald camps transferred between these camps to the collections of the Auschwitz Museum. The new research project has permitted the supplementation of information on prisoners of other nationalities,' added project co-ordinator Krystyna Leśniak.

Following the research at the Arolsen Archives, the collection was supplemented by another 90,000 documents, such as personal files, files from the prisoners’ employment department, various name lists, and documents informing about further transfers or prisoners’ death. 'Currently, the entire collection consists of more than 167,000 documents concerning about 30,000 men and women,' said Dr Wojciech Płosa, head of the Auschwitz Museum Archives.

The data contained in these documents are now being entered into databases. So far, about 45 per cent of the documents have been entered into digital catalogues. 'It is incredibly time-consuming because many documents were handwritten. However, we find a lot of important information in them. They can be used to establish the numbers of people deported to Auschwitz, the dates of the transports or the places from which deportations originated,' said Dr Krzysztof Antończyk, head of the Digital Repository.

During the project, we also obtained several names and photographs of Sinti and Roma and Soviet prisoners of war. Furthermore, the lists of Jews deported from the Litzmannstadt and Theresienstadt ghettos, and French political prisoners have been partly reconstructed. 'Also of great importance are the documents relating to Hungarian Jews deported to the camp in the spring and summer of 1944, since many of them were not registered in Auschwitz but were transferred to other locations. Thanks to documents from other camps, we can reconstruct their fates as well as those of entire communities,' said Ewa Bazan.

With the documents obtained during the project, it was possible, among other things, to establish information on the Hoffman family deported to Auschwitz from Hungary at the end of May 1944: mother Eszter, née Pretz, father Armin, and their two sons and wives: Jenö and his wife Rozsi, née Klein, and Mora and his wife Ibolya, née Nussbaum.

On 6 June 1944, the two brothers were transferred to the KL Buchenwald, where they were registered and photographed. As a result of hard work, malnutrition, and brutal treatment, they quickly became unfit to continue working and had no chance of survival. On 3 October 1944, a transport of 1,191 male Hungarian Jews was sent from the KL Buchenwald to KL Auschwitz. Presumably, the entire transport was sent immediately to the gas chambers upon their arrival. The brothers Jenö and Mor Hoffmann were among them. We were unable to establish the fate of their parents and wives.

Another document obtained during the project is Johann Herak’s personal card from Buchenwald and a camp photograph. A Czech Roma, Johann Herak was 16 years old when he was deported to Auschwitz in a large group of Roma and Sinti from Luhacovice in Moravia. On 19 March 1943, he was assigned the number Z-4454. As a juvenile prisoner, he worked in one of the most demanding work squads, the Bauhof Construction Kommando, from 13 April 1943 to 9 April 1944. Shortly afterwards, on 16 April 1944, he was transferred to KL Buchenwald. His subsequent fate has not been finally established.

Another example of supplementary data on prisoners is the figure of the Pole Franciszek Jaźwiecki, a painter and portraitist who was deported to Auschwitz from Krakow (no. 79042). In the camp, he was employed in the camp carpentry workshop and paint shop.  He was the author of portraits of fellow prisoners at Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. Until now, the Archives had only an entry about his employment in the camp paint shop. Thanks to the latest documents, we know that in March 1943, he was transferred to KL Sachsenhausen via the Gross-Rosen camp and on 28 July 1944 to Schönebeck, a sub-camp of KL Buchenwald.

On 30 April 1944, 1,655 men: intellectuals, politicians, senior officers and members of the French Resistance, were transported from Paris to KL Auschwitz. The deportees were numbered 184936 to 186590. One of the deportees was Leon Delarbre, painter, curator and director of the Belfort Museum.

Following France’s occupation by the Germans, unable, presumably because of his age, to fight actively against the occupying forces, he joined the Resistance. On 3 January 1944, he was imprisoned first in Belfort and then in Compiegne, from where he was deported to KL Auschwitz. No documents on him can be found in the Auschwitz Archives. As part of the project, the personal cards of Leon Delarbre were acquired, among others. Documents compiled in the KL Buchenwald Concentration Camp include a photograph and information about his incarceration at KL Auschwitz.

Leon Delarbre was registered at Auschwitz as prisoner number 185409. He was later transferred to the Mittelbau-Dora camp. With the help of friends and fellow prisoners, he “organised” paper and pencils and made drawings documenting everyday life in the camp. He was liberated in April 1945 in Bergen-Belsen.

The analysis of data on prisoner transfers between camps will make it possible to reconstruct other types of documents, such as transport lists, and update historical studies on the evacuation of Auschwitz and employment in the camp.

All data on the deportation of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz was used in the form of an interactive map. It will eventually include data on all transports to the camp. Its publication on the Museum website and the already existing name search engine will make it much easier to obtain data on Auschwitz prisoners.

The project was implemented thanks to funding by the International Auschwitz Committee and Volkswagen AG.