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Searching for clues, returning personal effects

“As long as I find people I will continue to do this,” says Kitty Brom from Hummelo, the Netherlands. The hobby genealogist helps locate relatives of former concentration camp inmates so that the International Tracing Service (ITS) can return their personal effects. The ITS archive still contains nearly 2,900 personal items: wallets including photos and letters, jewelry and watches whose owners are known by name. Brom visited Bad Arolsen to learn about different research options.

Three years ago Brom watched a documentary on Dutch TV about the return of personal effects at the Amersfoort Memorial. “It was deeply moving to see how the people reacted to the effects; the emotional value these personal items had for the families,” said Brom. She decided to get involved on the spot. As a hobby she had helped adopted children find their biological parents and acquaintances locate friends and relatives, thus qualifying her as an expert in working out different family ties and locating people. Brom needed exactly these skills in the search for family members of former camp inmates.

She helped the TV station do further research, then worked with Camp Amersfoort and the foundation October 44. “In the meantime I have built up a network of contacts and am using the ITS´s list of names to do Internet research,” said Brom. “I´m no longer limited to one nationality or group of prisoners.” So far she has found family members in Holland, Belgium and Norway, “about 50 or 60 families,” she said. “We have exchanged well over 1,000 emails. As soon as I start doing research, I see a puzzle in front of me which at the end will form a picture.”

Sometimes Brom browses online archives, telephone books and the Internet until 3 a.m. “I hope I´m helping a little,” says Brom modestly. “I just think it is good when people can find peace of mind; when they know what happened. In the end most people simply want concrete proof they can hold in their hands.” Brom herself knows what uncertainty means, as she has experienced it in her own family. Her grandfather disappeared without a trace in early 1945, and was never heard from again.