The Red Cross Missing Person Search Service

… or how to reunite separated families

When I visited the Friedland refugee camp museum I spent the better part of one day in the exhibition.

One part that gave me the chills was the section about missing persons. If you have read my books Secrets Revealed and Together at Last, you’ll know about the German Red Cross and their quest to reunite separated families by setting up a database for missing persons.

German Red Cross Suchdienst

In the Friedland museum I got to see how this incredible system worked:

Missing person cards

Every arriving person had to fill out two types of cards: one as a seeker and one for each person/family he was trying to find.

Then these cards would be sorted by lastname into filing boxes and the Red Cross helpers continually searched them to find new matches.

There were two central databases in Germany and every month or so copies of the cards everywhere would be made and sent to the central databases.

In a time without computers and internet it was quite the tedious, but incredibly advanced system.

Missing Persons poster

By 1948 around one million people had been brought together with the help of the “Suchdienst”, the search service.

In the beginning, only text was used, but later, the process was refined and photos of the displaced persons were made.

This was especially important for the unaccompanied children who oftentimes didn’t even remember their own names, birth dates, etc.

Some years later the German Red Cross started publishing “Yearbooks of Missing Persons”. Thick books with hundreds of pages and thousands pictures and names of people, mostly soldiers, whose fate was still unknown.

Yearbook Missing Persons

Their families held on to threads of hope that someday, somehow, they might see their beloved ones again. Even after the last German POWs in the Soviet Union were returned in 1955 the remaining family members would still cling to the possibility of a miracle.

And this is how a so-called success notice, an Erfolgsmitteilung looked like:

success notice I can only imagine the joy, relief and elation the families felt when receiving such a postcard. ūüíē

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