In the nearly three weeks since the American Red Cross announced it would catalog Nazi death camp records from the National Archives, the national center in Baltimore that traces Holocaust victims has been flooded with phone calls from people inquiring about relatives.
The Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center has received more than 1,700 phone calls from the Baltimore area since the Feb. 11 announcement -- 1,060 within the first 48 hours, said its director, Diane Paul.
Other cities have reported similar or greater numbers of calls inquiring about relatives interned in Nazi concentration camps.
"We caused the voice mail system of our whole building to go down," Ms. Paul said. The torrent of calls has slowed to about 25 or 30 per day, answered by a staff of volunteers at the center's headquarters in the Seton Industrial Park in Northwest Baltimore.
The National Archives material includes Nazi lists of detainees along with dates of birth, dates of death and nationality; transport lists; roll call or "appel" lists; clothing distribution lists; work detail lists; hospital lists; prison lists; lists of survivors treated in hospitals after liberation by the U.S. Army; ship manifests of people who survived the war and their postwar destinations; visa applications; and other documents relating to camp detainees' fates.
The materials have been available to historians and other scholars for more than 20 years at a National Archives warehouse in Suitland but were difficult to use because they had not been cataloged.
They have been microfilmed and forwarded to the international tracing service of the International Red Cross in Arolsen, Germany, a small town north of Frankfurt. There, they will be added to 46 million documents relating to the more than 14 million Holocaust victims, Ms. Paul said.
The national center in Baltimore opened in September 1990 and has accepted 6,000 cases for processing. Because each caller usually inquires about at least two or more relatives, each requiring a separate search, Ms. Paul said she is expecting a significant increase in the center's workload.
"As a result of the announcement, we expect to double our caseload from 6,000 cases to 12,000 cases in the next couple of months," she said.
To date, the national center in Baltimore has found 33 people alive and has confirmed 44 deaths and 67 deportations to the concentration camps. "That may not sound like many, but for those families, it's very meaningful information," Ms. Paul said.
Individual searches take a year or longer.
"Our work really involves trying to learn the fates of particular individuals and therefore the work is time-consuming and exacting," Ms. Paul said. "When we tell these people how long it takes, they say, 'I've waited all these years, and I'm willing to wait as long as it takes.' "
Anyone wishing to inquire about relatives who might have been interned in a Nazi concentration camp should call the Red Cross Emergency Services Department at 410-764-4627 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and ask to speak to a caseworker about filling out a tracing inquiry form.