6. Research into present-day family relationships
For information to be obtained on the possible present-day whereabouts of family members after the end of the war in 1945, heirs need to have already made contact with national authorities at an earlier point in time (e.g. as part of a restitution request or a claim to a museum for the return of an object). Only in such cases can file-based research be undertaken at national level, including at:
- local courts
- notaries’ offices
- registry offices
- residents’ registration offices
- museum archives (e.g. correspondence on missing cultural assets)
- city archives
- state archives (e.g. restitution records)
- BADV (e.g. restitution records)
- the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Jewish religious communities (providing the descendants have rejoined a Jewish community in Germany), institutions dedicated to remembrance (if genealogical inquiries have already been made to them or documents handed over, e.g. the Moses Mendelssohn Academy)
Other than this, transnational research must be undertaken. The emigration destinations of individual family members can be determined, e.g. (besides the already mentioned reference, gray and specialist literature) through research into the digitized issues of the Jewish exile press (text and advert section), see Digital copies.
Other possibilities (e.g. research into administrative authority files of other countries or the information from these, especially if first names—e.g. Moritz, Moreau, Maurice—or last names—e.g. Kohn, Cohn, Cohen, Cone—have changed in the destination country) are not available at a national level.
In addition, searching genealogical databases is recommended. The genealogy services (such as Ancestry) that cost money can be used free of charge, e.g. on computer terminals at the Emigration Museum BallinStadt in Hamburg and at the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven.
7. Inquiries to international organizations and networks
It can be worth making an inquiry to central information services (such as the International Tracing Service) or international organizations (such as the Leo Baeck Institute or the Jewish Claims Conference) because these institutions often have a genealogical body of knowledge at their disposal. Moreover, quite a few Jewish associations and organizations (such as the Jewish cultural communities or Jewish religious communities) have either already carried out searches for heirs or have established contact with the descendants of people that were persecuted by the Nazis.
Making an inquiry to institutions and networks that are specially dedicated to remembrance (e.g. Yad Vashem) or family research (e.g. JewishGen) is a possible option, as is sending a request for support to national and international genealogy associations (e.g. CompGen). However, processing inquiries like these may be time-consuming and cost money.
For less common names in particular, simple search engine requests, advanced searches and the resulting attempts to establish contact may reveal people who have a particular name. However, this type of research is always associated with the risk of finding people who coincidentally have the same name. The same is true when it comes to searching social networks.
If you know what country the entitled heir currently lives in, making contact with the respective embassy, where applicable, might yield results.
8. Clarification of possible succession
By this stage at the latest, the possibilities for provenance research have been exhausted and, if applicable, the legal advisor (legal office or legal department) of the body responsible for the institution is indispensable.
Nowadays, making contact personally with the previous owner of a confiscated or stolen object is becoming increasingly rare due to demographic reasons. In most cases, any contact made today is with children, grandchildren or other descendants. Establishing who the present-day family members are does not, however, answer the question of whom the object should be restituted to.
When documenting the successors, you are mostly reliant on the assistance of the heirs themselves (e.g. for the provision of information on branches of the family tree and the fate of family members). At this point, it is therefore essential to make active and direct contact with the probable legal heirs because research reaches its limits here.
It is always advisable for contact to be established with empathy and tact: there are cases where the descendants do not know about the earlier persecution of their ancestors, e.g. because the Nazi period and the individual suffering experienced as a result, the damage and the loss of possessions have remained deliberately hidden within the family.
9. Examination of entitlement to claim and the claim
Entitlement to claim is the basic authority to be able to assert claims. This entitlement is of fundamental importance (see, for example, the Joint Declaration, I).It is obtained through the clarification of succession or the reconstruction of the (present-day) community of heirs with the help of wills, inheritance certificates, powers of attorney, solemn declarations or similar documents.
The claim, on the other hand, is the specific right of a person, on an appropriate basis, to call for someone else to do, or refrain from doing, a specifiable action, such as returning an object confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution. With regard to civil law, most claims for recovery of property are already statute-barred, i.e. their (legal) assertion is no longer possible today. According to German law, the person presently in possession of the object has also often become the owner. Specialized lawyers should be consulted in the event of a dispute.
Also against this backdrop, particular importance is attached to the non-legally binding Joint Declaration, as on a moral and ethical level—in the absence of legally enforceable claims—it pursues the objective of return or working together to reach fair and just solutions.