Did your family members leave Latvia during World War II? Then the first place to look for information is the Arolsen Archives in Germany.
Arolsen Archives's name refers to its location in Bad Arolsen, Germany. Formerly known as the International Tracing Service (ITS), it is now called the International Center on Nazi Persecution.
It has the world's largest collection of documents on victims and survivors of National Socialism.
Among these documents are the Displaced Persons (DP) and forced laborer cards. These two types of documents are most relevant when searching for Latvians.
DP cards can be found for those people who left Latvia at the end of World War II and ended up in refugee camps in Germany. Not all people chose to live in the camps, others sought opportunities to live and work outside the camps. There will be no information about them in the archive.
Forced laborer documents refer to those who were sent to Nazi labor camps in Germany during the war.
Documents of concentration camp prisoners. This third set of documents also contains information about Latvian residents.
What information can be found on DP cards?
At the end of 1944, registration of DPs started in the Allied occupation zones. Unfortunately, there are no cards from the camps in the USSR occupation zone in the archive.
Different institutions and organizations registered refugees, so one person can have several cards.
They contain the following information:
First and last name, including maiden name for women.
Date and place of birth.
Nationality, ethnicity and religion. For various reasons, people could provide false information about their nationality.
Nationality determined whether a person could become a DP and receive the necessary support and in which camp they would end up in.
On the other hand, some nationalities could face forced repatriation. The SHAEF (The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force – the Allied military administration responsible for DP during the war) Memorandum No. 39 stipulated in April 1945 that displaced persons from the countries now under Soviet rule would be repatriated against their will.
Most people did not want this and this might have been one reason for providing false information. There were also desperate individuals who committed suicide. Fortunately, in October 1945, the plan for forced repatriation was halted.
Languages, which person speaks. By knowing the languages spoken by a person, you can try to decipher their place of origin even if the incorrect birth place is indicated.
Residence before the war, in 1938.
Profession. Knowing a person's occupation can analyze the opportunities they had to work after the war in one country or another and where they could have emigrated.
The DP camps where the person was registered.
Information about family. The cards contained information not only about the children, but also names of the parents.
Photos. These are rare in the documents.
Health assessment. Examinations were conducted before emigration, especially focusing on the potential for tuberculosis infection.
Unfortunately, I have seen incorrect data in the displaced persons' cards. For example, based on the indicated year and place, the birth record couldn't be found. Presumably, there were reasons for the person to hide their true data. Fortunately, such cases are rare.
Starting from 1947, the DPs began to emigrate to new countries of residence. Unfortunately, information on where each has emigrated can only be found in very rare cases. The cards often have indications of the desired country of emigration. However, it was not always possible to emigrate directly to the intended country of residence.
When searching, keep in mind that the surnames may be written incorrectly. The registrants could have been representatives of another language, who wrote down the Latvian surnames according to their understanding. Try different spellings!
Use the archive's e-guide that explains the information found on the card. It is available in English, German and Russian.