The Central Historical Commission of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the US Zone in Munich – Testimonies Collected in DP Camps (Yad Vashem)

The Munich-based Central Historical Commission (CHC) of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the US Zone began its collection of historical documentation in Germany in December 1945. Much effort was invested into soliciting the participation of Jews who were survivors of concentration camps in Germany in the collection activities. The immense response by the survivors perhaps expressed the spontaneous desire to perpetuate the memory of those who had perished and to document the horrors of the Holocaust.

The CHC succeeded during the three years of its existence to collect over 2550 testimonies from Holocaust survivors from various countries in Europe that had been under German occupation.

One person who emphasized the importance of the survivors’ testimonies for the writing of the history of the period and the commemoration of the Holocaust was Israel Kaplan (1913–2000). Kaplan encouraged the survivors to write about their experiences and to respond to the CHC project for the collection of testimonies.

Israel Kaplan was a teacher, historian, and author who resided and was active in Kaunas. Following the German invasion and occupation of Kaunas and the establishment of the Kaunas Ghetto in the summer of 1941, Kaplan was interned in the ghetto along with his wife and children. As early as August 1941, during the first days after the establishment of the ghetto, Kaplan was appointed to secretly write about and record the events taking place in the Kaunas Ghetto.

In February 1942, Kaplan was deported to the Riga Ghetto, where he also succeeded in transferring a detailed report to Kaunas regarding the fate of the 450,000 Jews from Kaunas who were deported along with him to Riga. Kaplan was later also interned in the Siauliai Ghetto and in the Kaiserwald, Panevezys, Stutthof, and Dachau concentration camps. Kaplan and his son survived, but his wife and daughter perished in the Holocaust. His daughter, who was hidden by a Lithuanian woman, was captured in June 1944 and transferred to the Ninth Fort, where she was murdered. Kaplan’s wife perished during the liquidation of the Kaunas Ghetto in July 1944.

The CHC distributed, among other things, questionnaires to children in the DP camps in order to gather information related to the fate of the children and their families during the Holocaust. The questionnaires included questions regarding the names of family members, their places of origin, and the children’s general backgrounds. On the reverse side of each questionnaire a brief summary of the child’s story was recorded, starting from the day of deportation to the ghetto, the camps to where they were deported, the date of separation from their family members, and the places where the child stayed after liberation and until their arrival in the DP camp.

A unique collection within M.1 includes 423 questionnaires that were distributed to children in the Föhrenwald DP camp. The replies to these questionnaires reflect the suffering of Jewish children under Nazi occupation.

Upon the completion of the activities of the CHC in Munich in 1948, the documentation collected was transferred to Yad Vashem.