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Social media help track property lost in Holocaust

July 29, 2013

By Kirsten Grieshaber — Associated Press

Cati Holland holds photos of her grandmother Recha Kirshner at her house in the Israeli city of Hadera, Thursday, July 25, 2013. Holland found out from an Israel-based social media genealogy company that is using the Internet to help match property stolen by the Nazis to heirs of the victims she was eligible for compensation for her grandmother's Berlin store seized by the Nazis more than 70 years ago. ODED BALILTY — AP Photo Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/07/28/3410972/social-media-help-track-property.html#storylink=cpy

Cati Holland holds photos of her grandmother Recha Kirshner at her house in the Israeli city of Hadera, Thursday, July 25, 2013. Holland found out from an Israel-based social media genealogy company that is using the Internet to help match property stolen by the Nazis to heirs of the victims she was eligible for compensation for her grandmother’s Berlin store seized by the Nazis more than 70 years ago.
ODED BALILTY — AP Photo

BERLIN — When Cati Holland checked her email a few weeks ago, she was surprised to find a message saying she was eligible for compensation for her grandmother’s Berlin store that was seized by the Nazis more than 70 years ago.

It wasn’t spam or a phishing attempt or even a legitimate note from a German official working to track down victims and their heirs. Rather, it was from an Israel-based social media genealogy company that is using the Internet to help match property stolen by the Nazis to heirs of the victims.

“My grandmother told me so many stories about the store — about the beautiful dresses and fancy hats they made, the wealthy customers who wore them,” Holland, 75, told The Associated Press by phone from Hadera, Israel.

“But we always thought everything had been lost after my parents fled the Nazis. It never even occurred to us to claim any kind of restitution. I was completely surprised about that email.”

Since the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945, Germany has paid around 70 billion euros ($92 billion) in compensation to the victims of the Holocaust. More than two million people have received lump sum payments or an ongoing monthly pension. The state of Israel has received around 1.7 billion euros ($2.2 billion), according to the German finance ministry.

Part of the compensation was earmarked for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, a private New York-based organization that works to secure restitution for survivors and their heirs. Descendants can come forward to claim their family’s assets until the end of 2014 if they find their original property on a recently released list by the Claims Conference, called the Late Applicants Fund.

Over the years, the search for the heirs has become more complicated because most of the Holocaust survivors have died. Descendants also don’t always have detailed knowledge of their family’s former assets.

But the rise of social media has offered new opportunities to track heirs and close the books on one of the darkest chapters of German history.

“We are only just seeing the huge impact that social media will have on Holocaust history,” said Robert-Jan Smits, the director-general of the European Union’s commission for research and design. “We are moving from dusty archives to digitized databases.”

One of the driving forces behind the new push has been Gilad Japhet, CEO and founder of Israel-based MyHeritage, a social media website with about 70 million registered users worldwide that lets individuals build their own family trees online. Read more in the Fresno Bee.

 

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