MORE THAN 45 years ago in Krakow, Poland, young Eve Kristine Belfoure thought the Red Cross ''was the most wonderful humanitarian organization in the world. So I volunteered and became the president of the junior Red Cross in my home town,'' she says.
After World War II, in 1950, she came to America, ''when 10,000 displaced persons were allowed in. I had spent four years in a labor camp in Nordhausen, Germany, where they were making rockets, but I peeled potatoes in the kitchen,'' she says.
Now, at age 66, she is an American citizen, and has volunteered to the Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center since it began in September, 1990.
This national center, which handles inquiries from across the country, is located at the Baltimore Red Cross Headquarters at 4700 Mount Hope Drive.
The service is free and offers help and hope for the many people who have not found peace since losing loved ones during the war. Some people have spent a lifetime searching for their families, whose fate, in many cases, is still unknown.
Anyone wanting to search for a war victim may go to any Red Cross chapter and fill out an inquiry for the missing person. These inquiries will be forwarded to the Baltimore Center where volunteers -- 55 dedicated men and women, young and old -- translate and process documents into German and send them to the Red Cross International Tracing Service in Arolsen, Germany.
In Germany, experts meticulously go through millions of documents and records looking for answers. Records also have been made available to the Red Cross through the Soviet Union, including the names of 70,000 people who died at the Auschwitz camp and in other labor and concentration camps.
It can take more than a year for an inquiry to be processed, according to Diane Paul, the tracing center's director. To date, she added, almost 5,000 inquiries have been handled.
''They take an incredible amount of time and research to process and often are not successful in finding the person," she said. But often the inquiries are able to confirm that the person died or can help to locate relatives.
The inquiry of a 42-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., man illustrates the point well. The man, who believed he had no relatives, had inquired about his father. "At the same time," Paul said, "his cousin, a woman from White Plains who was unknown to him, made an inquiry about her father's brother. She knew her entire family was gone but hoped to find this brother, her uncle," Paul explained. "The two were seeking the same man and each, who thought they had no relatives, have discovered they have each other.''
A Polish Catholic, Belfoure says that the Baltimore area has such a varied ethnic group that it was a perfect location for the service. ''Many do not realize," she says, "that not only was there the horror of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust but there were millions of others who disappeared into Nazi camps and were never heard from again. They included citizens from Poland, Yugoslavia, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Greece and other occupied countries, plus members of many different religious and also . . . homosexuals.''
Belfoure, who teaches French, Polish, German and Italian, also urges those who are survivors of World War II labor camps to fill out the Red Cross inquiry forms and obtain a certificate of captivity, which confirms their imprisonment during the war.
''This would enable them to obtain financial compensation when they reach retirement, as well as possibly make contact with a family survivor,'' says Belfoure, who volunteers two days each week and is the Center's Polish specialist and a dedicated translator. She also volunteers to Our Daily Bread and teaches a class in Polish language and Polish culture for the Dundalk Community College and is a member of the Polish Heritage Society. She has one son, an architect, who lives in Connecticut and has two children.
To volunteer to the Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center or any Red Cross activity, call Terry Karloff at 764-4602; or write to Baltimore Red Cross Headquarters, 4700 Mount Hope Drive, Baltimore 21215.