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January 27, 2022: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 24, 2022 by | 1 Comment

By the time WWII ended in 1945, the Holocaust claimed the lives of more than 6 million Jews across German-occupied Europe. In addition to Jews, Nazi Germany also engaged in the systematic killing of 11 million others, including POWs and those from different ethnic, social, political, or religious backgrounds.

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly voted to designate January 27as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date coincides with the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, which occurred on January 27, 1945.

Through our partnerships with the National Archives and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, we’ve digitized more than three million records to help tell the story of the Holocaust. Here are just a few of the personal experiences from some of its victims:

Doriane Kurz

Doriane Kurz was born in Austria to Jewish parents. Her father ran a thriving branch of the family’s multinational optical frames business. Following Kristallnacht, the Kurz family relocated to Holland, but soon Holland fell to the Nazis. Doriane’s father was captured and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he later died. The Dutch underground helped smuggle 4-year-old Doriane and her 3-year-old brother Fred to Amsterdam. That city also fell under German occupation. Along with Doriane’s mother, the children ended up at Bergen-Belsen.

Each day at Bergen-Belsen, Doriane and her brother remained in the barracks while the adults were marched to work. She recalled watching out the window as carts, drawn by inmates, collected the dead bodies each morning. The rest of the day, they spoke about food, slicing their bread rations so they could last longer. She also recalled picking lice from their hair. In June 1945, Doriane was one of many inmates evacuated from the camps on a cattle train, then freed by Soviet troops. In 1946, having lost both their parents, 10-year-old Doriane and her 9-year-old brother Fred boarded a ship, unaccompanied, for their journey to the United States. They reunited with an uncle, and Doriane lived the rest of her life in New York. She was a successful businesswoman and operated a chain of stores before passing away in 2005.

Henoch Kornfeld

Henoch Kornfeld was born in 1938 in Kolbuszowa, Poland. He was just one year old when German tanks rolled into town. Polish soldiers on horseback put up a fight but were no match for the far superior German weapons. After a short battle, dead horses littered the streets, and German police took control of the town. They terrorized residents and killed many Jews. In 1942, Henoch and his family were deported to the Rzeszow ghetto, then on to the Belzec extermination camp.

Belzec death camp was the site of mass murder between March-December 1942, and some 500,000 Jews and other Nazi targets died there. Belzec was one of six extermination camps in occupied Poland and the first to use gas chambers. On July 7, 1942, the Kornfeld family was gassed at Belzec. Henoch was just three years old.

Dachau Entry Register for Bernhardt Goebel

Bernhardt Goebel was a 34-year-old Catholic priest living in Poland when the Gestapo arrested him in 1939 and sent him to Dachau concentration camp. While at Dachau, Goebel and a fellow priest, Bedrich Hoffman, stole records and secretly recorded Nazi atrocities against 1,700 imprisoned Catholic priests. Goebel himself endured beatings, torture, deprivation, and constant degradation. At great risk, the priests documented the suffering, determined to tell the world the truth of Dachau. On April 29, 1945, American troops liberated Dachau. Hoffman managed to smuggle the records to his native Czechoslovakia, and Goebel immigrated to America in 1951, settling in San Antonio, Texas.

Goebel spent more than forty years fighting to have the records he helped obtain translated to English. Finally, in 1995, 5,000 copies of And Who Will Kill You were published. Goebel continued to serve as a Catholic priest in Texas until his death in 2001 at age 96.

Our Holocaust Records Collections contain more than 600 individual stories from the Holocaust. They reveal heartbreaking loss, a resolve to live, and unimaginable suffering. The collection also contains entry registers to concentration camps, death records, captured German records, and more. See the Holocaust Collection on Fold3® today. You can also search additional Holocaust records for free on Ancestry®.

New Unit Histories and Military Yearbooks!

January 19, 2022 by | 23 Comments

Anyone who has tried to research the military history of an ancestor knows that it can be difficult. Millions of military records were destroyed in a fire, leaving researchers to seek alternative ways to put together the pieces. We have found unit histories and military yearbooks are a great way to fill in the blanks.

Pilots from the 55th Fighter Group remove their heated flight suits after a mission

Our archives of unit histories and military yearbooks keep expanding, thanks in part to you! Hundreds of you have allowed us to borrow and digitize your unit histories and yearbooks (we return them intact and undamaged). Your generous contributions have allowed thousands to find stories, histories, and first-hand accounts related to their ancestor’s service. All user-generated content is available free of charge on our site. If you have a unit history, military yearbook, military journal, or photographs and would like to share your records with others, contact us at [email protected]. We are honored to be entrusted with your valuable memories and promise to treat them as if they were our own. We’ll return your items to you undamaged after digitization.

Here are just a few of the items we added to the archives in December:

In addition, be sure to search our ever-expanding collection of Military Yearbooks here. Make 2022 the year of amazing military discoveries! Get started on your military research today on Fold3®.

January 16, 1945: Hitler Enters the Führerbunker

January 3, 2022 by | 153 Comments

Shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power, he ordered the construction of the New Reich Chancellery just south of the Brandenburg Gate in East Berlin. The Chancellery was a showpiece of the Third Reich and designed to project a sense of power and grandeur. The project also contained an extensive underground complex with a bunker and bomb shelter. On January 16, 1945, with Allied troops closing in, Hitler descended to the bunker where he would spend the last 105 days of his life before committing suicide in April 1945.

A giant chandelier from the ruins of Hitler’s Chancellery

In 1933, Hitler decided the current Reich Chancellery was too small for the needs of his government. He wanted to enlarge his headquarters. During construction, crews built a cellar that could serve as an air-raid bunker for Hitler. It was called the Vorbunker and featured a reinforced concrete roof over five feet thick. The concrete walls were sturdy enough to support the weight of a newly built reception hall above. The underground complex contained 12 rooms and was completed in 1936.

In 1943, Hitler ordered the Reich Chancellery to expand again. This time, an additional bunker was built one level below the Vorbunker and connected by a stairway. Called the Führerbunker, the complex was located 50 feet below the garden of the old Reich Chancellery and contained its own heating, water, and electricity. Although dimly lit and damp, fine furnishings and art from the Chancellery above adorned the bunker. It was accessible by a red-carpeted hallway and contained luxuries like a wine cellar.

In January 1945, with the Soviet Army approaching and Berlin under bombardment, Hitler moved his headquarters underground. His aides, bodyguards, servants, and his girlfriend Eva Braun joined him in the bunker. Later, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda moved into the bunker with their six children.

Fallen Nazi eagle and swastika from the Chancellery

Hitler ran his government from the bunker, strategizing with military leaders as Allies slowly chipped away at his empire. The 3,000 square-foot space was claustrophobic, and the constant airstrikes by British and American bombers brought a sense of doom. On April 19, Russian troops began to encircle the city. During his last Supreme Command conference held in the bunker on April 22, Hitler declared that if Germany fell, he must die in Berlin. On April 29, as Russian troops were fighting street by street and nearing the Chancellery, Hitler and Braun were married in the bunker. The following day, with Russians almost to the gates, both Hitler and Braun committed suicide. Their bodies were brought outside the bunker, placed in a shell hole, and burned. Others living in the bunker also committed suicide. Among them was Magda Goebbels, who poisoned her six children before she and her husband killed themselves. The deaths of Hitler and those in his inner circle signaled a final blow to the Third Reich. Days later, Germany signed an unconditional surrender, and Allied forces declared victory in Europe.

After the war, the Soviets attempted to level the Chancellery buildings and underground complex. Much of the bunker complex remained undisturbed until a reconstruction project in the late 1980s uncovered portions intact. At that time, authorities demolished most of the bunker. Some corridors still exist today but are sealed off from the public.

If you would like to learn more about the final days of WWII or Hitler’s last stand, search Fold3® today.

The Sinking of HMS Exeter

December 16, 2021 by | 64 Comments

During WWII, Allied navies suffered a devastating defeat at the hand of the Imperial Japanese Navy during the First and Second Battles of the Java Sea. The battles, which began on February 27, 1942, led to the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies. During these two battles, the Japanese sank several Allied ships, including HMS Exeter. Most of her crew survived and were taken POW, where they endured horrific deprivation and abuse. About one-quarter died during captivity, and many were buried on Ambon Island and Sulawesi (present-day Indonesia).

HMS Exeter 1939

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US joined Great Britain, Australia, and the Netherlands to form a multinational fleet. Between December 1941 and February 1942, the Japanese forces captured Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, and part of the Dutch East Indies. Allies wanted to check the Japanese aggression and prepared to engage the Imperial Japanese Navy.

On February 25, 1942, HMS Exeter sailed from Batavia (Jakarta) to Surabaya in eastern Java. The next evening, the Allied fleet conducted an overnight patrol but didn’t find any sign of Japanese ships. As the convoy returned to port on February 27, they received an urgent message that the enemy fleet was spotted 90 miles away. With little time to refuel, the Allied fleet of heavy cruisers, light cruisers, and nine destroyers, immediately reversed course and sailed for the island of Bawean, where they hoped to intercept and engage the enemy fleet.

About 4:00 p.m. on the 27th, the Allies spotted enemy ships, and the opponents engaged in a naval artillery battle. An 8-inch shell hit the Exeter and blew up an ammunition magazine. It had the effect of “lifting the whole ship in a remarkable manner,” said the captain. The Exeter was crippled and operating at half power. She turned out of the strategic column formation as other ships provided the disabled vessel with a smokescreen cover. Japanese planes overhead continued to relay the position of the Allied ships and called in firepower. The battle raged intermittently for nearly 10 hours, with the Allies desperately trying to repel the Japanese invasion fleet. The Japanese’s superior firepower dominated, resulting in heavy Allied losses.

HMS Exeter under air attack on February 15, 1942

Meanwhile, the crippled Exeter withdrew to Surabaya for repairs. Two days later, Exeter conducted a trial run to test the emergency repairs on her damaged boilers. Two Allied destroyers accompanied her out to sea. On March 1, the three vessels spotted ships from the Japanese fleet and attempted to escape undetected. With enemy ships closing in, the Allies soon found themselves under attack. Their engagement is known as the Second Battle of the Java Sea. During the fighting, a shell hit the boiler room on the Exeter, causing a large fire. Steam pressure dropped rapidly, and the power failed. With no possibility of saving the ship, the captain decided to scuttle it to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. He ordered the crew to abandon the vessel, and 1135 men jumped into rafts, floating nets, or held tight to floating debris. As the ship settled lower in the water, a Japanese torpedo hit the Exeter, and she rolled and sank.

About an hour later, some 400 survivors were plucked from the water by two Japanese destroyers. The remaining survivors spent nearly 24 hours in the water before being picked up by a Japanese ship. The prisoners were transferred to a Japanese POW camp at Macassar on Sulawesi, where they endured starvation, deprivation, and disease. Petty Officer George W. Castro was one of the men scooped from the Java Sea when the Exeter sank. The father of two survived the deadly POW camp for more than three years, until May 31, 1945, when he succumbed to disease from a lack of nutrients. His death came less than three months before the Japanese surrendered. About one-quarter of the prisoners saved from the waters of the Java Sea died while being held POW. The remaining POWs were freed after the war ended.  

If you would like to learn more about the Battles of the Java Sea or the sinking of HMS Exeter, search Fold3® today.

Attack on Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941

December 2, 2021 by | 76 Comments

Eighty years ago this month, a surprise attack by Japanese forces occurred at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The attack killed more than 2,000, injured 1,178, and led to America’s entry into WWII. During the attack, six U.S. battleships were sunk, and more than a dozen others were damaged. The Japanese also destroyed 300 airplanes. The attack lasted less than two hours, and the following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

The USS Shaw explodes after a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

The volunteers at Stories Behind the Stars are working on an ambitious project to tell the story of each Pearl Harbor casualty. As we mark the 80th anniversary of that fateful day, here are a few stories they’ve gathered:

Theodore Q. Jensen

Radioman 3rd Class Theodore Q. Jensen was born in a small Utah farming town. His father was an immigrant from Denmark and instilled a love of country and patriotism in his children. After graduating from high school, Theo and seven other young men from his tiny community enlisted together. Theo served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Oklahoma. On the morning of December 7th, he was granted a day pass and was gathering his gear aboard the ship when it was hit by several torpedoes and capsized. Theo was among those killed. There were mass casualties that day, and many of the fallen were buried without proper identification, including Theo. Back home, Theo’s family and the entire community mourned his death. They named the local American Legion post in his honor. In 2015, Congress authorized an initiative to exhume unidentified remains, and properly identify them through DNA analysis. On December 17, 2020, Theo’s remains were identified, and last June, he was reinterred in Delta, Utah.

Jack G. Smalley

Jack G. Smalley grew up in Toledo, Ohio, in a family that had a love for the sea. All four Smalley brothers served in the U.S. Navy. One died of an illness in 1932 during active service, but the tragedy did not keep Jack from enlisting. Shortly after his 18th birthday, Jack enlisted in the Navy in Detroit, Michigan. For a time, both Jack and his brother Bud served on the USS Arizona. Their reunion lasted nearly a year until Bud was reassigned to a ship in the Atlantic. Jack stayed on the Arizona and was near the portside anti-aircraft gun when the Japanese attacked. Eight armor-piercing bombs penetrated the ship. One fell on the deck near turret No. 2, causing a large explosion that sent Jack into the rolling waters of Pearl Harbor. News of his death did not reach his parents for five days. Jack’s body was recovered, and he was laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Jack’s mother, Gladys Smalley, channeled her grief by immersing herself in wartime efforts. She sold war bonds, stitched chevrons on sailors’ uniforms, served sandwiches at the USO, and knit blankets for servicemen. She was also the director of a mother’s club that provided money for poor sailors to buy basic provisions. Her husband, Vern Smalley, said, “I guess that doing all the work she can for servicemen and organizations, and for the bond drives, is her way of showing how she feels about Jack.”

Jack Foth

Jack Foth served as Electrician’s Mate 1st Class. He was born in 1919 in Kansas City, Missouri, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938. On the morning of December 7th, he was serving aboard the USS West Virginia. The West Virginia was tied alongside the USS Tennessee and absorbed much of the damage from the attack. The ship was struck by torpedoes a total of nine times. As water flooded in and the ship began to list, Lt. Commander John Harper ordered counter flooding to keep the vessel from capsizing. Fires broke out across the ship, and eventually, her crew sought safety aboard the Tennessee, where they continued to fight the flames. The fire burned for 30 hours before the hull finally crinkled, and the ship sank to the bottom, taking 66 sailors trapped below deck with her. Later, officials decided to salvage the West Virginia and return her to service. During salvage operations, crews began to work through the compartments, removing the remains of the 66 sailors. In one compartment, they found marks on the wall indicating that some sailors survived for as many as 16 days. They had access to food and water but died when their oxygen supply ran out. Jack’s cause of death was drowning. After the war, his remains were buried on Oahu. In 1947, his remains were reinterred in Kansas City, Missouri.   

To read more stories about those who died at Pearl Harbor, see Fold3 Memorials created by volunteers from Stories Behind the Stars here. Stories Behind the Stars volunteers are also researching the story of each of America’s WWII fallen heroes. See those Memorials here. If you would like to join their ranks of volunteers as they try to document all of America’s WWII fallen, visit Stories Behind the Stars here. Search additional WWII records on Fold3® today!

New UK Royal Navy Records Added!

November 26, 2021 by | 17 Comments

We have added a new UK collection of Royal Navy Officer Patrol Service Cards to our archives. These cards are dated 1904-1970 and can provide insights for those who served in the Royal Navy Patrol Service (RNPS). These records were created from microfilm held at The National Archives, with the original paper records located at the Imperial War Museum.

The RNPS was a branch of the Royal Navy whose origins date back to the Great War when the British Admiralty first realized the threat of mine warfare. The RNPS operated during both the First and Second World Wars.

The RNPS had roots in the fishing industry. Officers in the RNPS were often recruits from the Royal Naval Reserve who started as fishermen during peacetime. They were accustomed to operating the winches and warps used by trawlers as they dragged their fishing nets across the bottom of the sea. During times of war, with fishing fleets inactive, the trawlermen were utilized for minesweeping and anti-submarine operations.

The RNPS operated a flotilla of small auxiliary vessels, primarily along the British coast. They protected coastal waters, merchant ships, and accompanied naval convoys in all theatres of war, including the Arctic and the Mediterranean.

The records in this collection consist of two cards per record. They are organized alphabetically by name and include additional information such as:

  • Birthdate
  • Birthplace
  • Name of parents
  • Physical description
  • Service dates
  • Names of the vessels
  • Additional details and remarks.
Royal Navy Officer Patrol Service Card for Peter Cormack

Explore this new collection of Royal Navy Officer Patrol Service Cards here and search additional UK military records on Fold3®.

100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: November 11, 2021

November 3, 2021 by | 97 Comments

On November 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The monument honored fallen U.S. servicemen from WWI whose remains were unidentified. The ceremony took place the same day the country was celebrating the newly declared Armistice Day holiday.

During WWI, the chaos of battle resulted in scores of unidentified dead servicemen. The creation of the memorial, also known as the Tomb of the Unknowns, was proposed in 1920 by New York Congressman and WWI veteran Hamilton Fish. Both Great Britain and France had dedicated similar monuments in 1920, and in March 1921, Congress approved the plan to build America’s tribute to unidentified fallen soldiers.

Construction begins on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 1921

Officials wanted to choose one unknown serviceman and reinter him in a tomb at Arlington. To select that soldier, the bodies of four unidentified U.S. servicemen were exhumed from different American military cemeteries in France in October 1921. They were placed in identical caskets and brought to the city hall in Châlons-sur-Marne, France, where American war hero Sgt. Edward F. Younger selected one casket. With the backdrop of a dignified ceremony, officials placed the casket on board the USS Olympia to begin the journey home, arriving at the Washington Navy Yard on November 9, 1921.

After arrival, the Unknown lay in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where on November 10, some 90,000 visitors waited in line to pay their respects. On the morning of November 11, a large funeral procession proceeded from the Capitol to Arlington. President Harding, former President Woodrow Wilson, and General John J. Pershing were among the dignitaries that participated in the procession.

Remains of the Unknown Soldier are lowered into the ground in 1921

After reaching Arlington, Americans across the country observed two minutes of silence. President Harding gave a speech and bestowed the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross on the Unknown Soldier; other nations also bestowed their highest awards. The funeral ended with the playing of Taps and a 21-gun salute.

At the time of burial, the tomb had yet to be completed and consisted of a simple marble slab. In 1932, the marble structure that now stands was installed. The tomb bears the inscription, “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.”

The tradition of guarding the tomb began in 1926, and in 1937, soldiers transitioned to a 24/7 presence at the memorial. The changing of the guard is a moving ceremony and takes place every 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the season.

In 1958, unknown soldiers representing the fallen of WWII and the Korean War were laid to rest at the monument. In 1984, a soldier from the Vietnam War was also interred in the tomb. However, through DNA testing, the body was positively identified in 1998 and returned to his family. The crypt designated for the Vietnam War Unknown remains vacant, and in 1999, it was rededicated to honor all missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.

As we mark the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we honor all who have served and sacrificed for their country. Search our archives for records on the military heroes in your life on Fold3® today.