By Dave Obee
Imagine being able to go back in time and collecting information from people who have died. Imagine discovering that your relatives had been extensively interviewed about family history, and the papers they filled out half a century ago are available to you today.
That is the beauty of the Einwandererzentralstelle (EWZ) records.
This series includes personal information on more than 2.1 million individuals processed by the Einwandererzentralstelle (literally, Immigration Center), a central German authority for the immigration and naturalization of qualified ethnic Germans for Reich citizenship during the period 1939-1945.
These records were housed for almost 50 years in the Berlin Document Center, and they are considered to be part of the Berlin Document Center collection. That has led some people to believe that the originals are housed today in the Berlin Document Center. That is not correct. They are in Bundesarchiv-Lichterfelde, which is in a former American base several kilometres south of downtown Berlin.
In recent years, extensive indexing of the EWZ records has been done. The work has made it possible to find relatives who otherwise would have remained hidden.
Several indexes are available.
To find Germans from Russia, go to the Odessa web site. Under "data category," choose War Records. You can search by personal or village names. Be sure to try various spellings. Once you find a family of interest, search again, this time looking for the microfilm reel and page number, to look at everyone mentioned on the primary sheet on that page. (For example, if you are interested in a person on A3342EWZ50-J012 1234, use the search term "J012 1234" to see the names of other family members.)
To find Mennonites in the Germans from Russia, go to the Russia page at MennoniteGenealogy.com for a downloadable PDF.
To find Germans in the areas of Poland that were assigned to the Soviet Union in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939, go to the German Bundesarchiv site, Invenio. A guide to using the site, and to finding some of the files on FamilySearch, is on the EWZ-58 page on this site.
To find Germans from Galicia and elsewhere in the eastern part of the Poland of 1939, go to the Galizien German Descendants site. Choose "Researching our Galizien Germans," then go to the GGD 1939 Resettlement Records Database.
Another index is on the Black Sea German research site. Enter your names of interest in the "Search our Database" box on the main page.
The indexes have been a great help -- but please note that they are not complete. For example, people without birthdates were usually not indexed. And of course, the indexes are no better than the information on the original documents, which were not free of mistakes.
If you find relatives among the EWZ records, there is a good chance you will learn more about their lives than you ever thought possible. In their interviews, they were required to provide their own birthdates and birthplaces, the same information for their parents, and the same information for any children still living with them.
They also gave details on where they lived throughout their lives. In some cases, they described their farms, or places of work.
It helps if you can read German, in that you will pick up some of the fine points about their lives. But a person knowing no German at all will still benefit from these films.
These forms were completed by ethnic Germans from throughout eastern Europe. In some cases, the documents were filled out in the villages in Russia, before the Germans started heading to Germany itself. In other cases, the paperwork was done at EWZ offices after the people had arrived in Germany or in German-occupied Poland.
These people, nominally citizens of Poland, the Baltic states, the Soviet Union, France, and the countries of southeastern Europe, became part of the National Socialist plans for Germanizing the frontiers of the future Reich.
The first immigration office started operations in October 1939 in Poland. It had to process about 70,000 Baltic Germans repatriated from Estonia and Latvia. Over the next year, the immigration headquarters was moved several times before being located in Litzmannstadt (Lodz) for the duration of the war.
The headquarters operation included separate departments to handle administration, planning, registration and accounts, health and nationality questions. There were branch offices, and roving teams of 40 to 70 staff members moved from refugee camp to refugee camp, processing individuals.
The office processed about one million ethnic Germans during the five years of its existence. The vast majority of these people came from areas which later became part of the Soviet Union.
The screening process for eligible ethnic Germans initially took three to four hours, with examinations by six to nine people. Later, the time needed stretched to six hours, then two days. Families were usually processed together, and all persons aged 15 and above were registered separately.
After obtaining a photograph and information on an applicantsí family history, fluency in German, and health, examiners conducted racial examinations based on anthropological evaluations of physical attributes.
In 1945, most of these records were seized by the Allied Forces. About 80,000 files were lost or burned before capture. Those that survived are available on 8,000 rolls of microfilm, through the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
Some of the microfilms are available through the Mormon family history library.
You can also contact researchers in the Washington area, and ask them to look up names for you.
Another way is to buy from NARA digitized copies of the films youíre interested in. The cost is about $125 per roll of film.
Along with the family information on the films, you will also find information on migration. You may see movement between the various areas of the Ukraine, such as between Bessarabia and Volhynia. You will find out where the people were sent during the first world war. In a couple of cases, I have found people who had been born in the United States - apparently, their families had gone there for a few years, then returned to Russia.
The records come in three basic series:
1. Antraege, or applications:
More than 400,000 applications, arranged by country or region, then alphabetically by family name. Each application might include several documents.
EWZ50 - USSR. About 110,000 files on 843 microfilm rolls.
EWZ51 - Romania. About 82,000 files on 700 microfilm rolls.
EWZ52 - Poland. About 100,000 files on 701 microfilm rolls.
EWZ53 - Baltic. About 73,000 files on 587 microfilm rolls.
EWZ5410 - Yugoslavia. About 23,000 files on 150 microfilm rolls.
EWZ5420 - Romania. About 14,000 files on 223 microfilm rolls.
EWZ5430 - Bulgaria. About 700 files on 6 microfilm rolls.
These films are not in the LDS library system. They are available from the National Archives.
2. E/G Kartei, basic card index
The central registry for naturalization. The set includes about 2.9 million cards in phonetic order on 1,964 microfilm rolls. The information here is not as great as for the first series, but more people are included. These films are available through LDS libraries and the U.S. National Archives.
Note that this set covers all of the new arrivals in Germany, no matter where they came from. That means there are a lot more people you arenít interested in.
A guide to all film numbers is on this site.
3. Stammblatter, family forms
There are about one million forms here on 742 rolls. In terms of information, these forms have more than the big card index, but less than the individual files. These files are organized by number, rather than alphabetically, so you canít tackle this set first.
If a person is listed in the basic card index, but not the applications, check the family forms to get a bit of extra information.
This set also helps you find neighbors, and other relatives. Thatís because people from one village were often processed together - so their numbers would be together as well. Once you find the numbers for some of your people, you can find out who went through the system with them.
Why you would want to find those neighbors? Iíve discovered that some of the neighbors are also related, in some way. The connection might be in the names of grandparents, or in the names of spouses. I have discovered several connections using this series.
These films are available through LDS libraries and the U.S. National Archives.
A guide to all film numbers is on this site.
I have had the greatest luck with the first series, the basic set of applications.
One word of caution regarding these three series - it appears that each one has some files that are not included in the other sets. It pays to check all three, just to be sure your people are there.
Regarding the files themselves, you canít believe everything you read in them. People did their best to be accurate, but itís no different than getting birth information from a death certificate today. The people were relying on what they had been told, and what had been passed down through the years.
Sometimes, obvious errors were missed by the German authorities. I have found one woman who was born in 1891. Her father died in 1881. That 10-year discrepancy is repeated in a couple of places in the file - but nobody noticed.
Another file had me quite excited because it took me back to 1810. That was the earliest date I had seen. The only problem was that the woman born in 1810 had had a son in 1886. Iím not convinced that that was possible.
Sometimes, people simply didnít know, so they faked it as best they could. Sometimes they had no idea how to spell names of towns, but they gave it their best shot.
Youíll also find surprises in these files. In interviewing relatives over the years, Iíve been told things that didnít ring true. The EWZ records made things clear to me; I guess the people were less likely to try to hide things from people wearing guns.
The most common surprise youíll find is children born out of wedlock. This might cause some problems in some families, where the truth has been hidden for years. One interesting thing about illegitimate children in these records is that I have not yet seen a case where the fatherís name is not listed. That makes things easier for researchers today.
The EWZ records wonít help everybody. You have to be looking at ethnic Germans who arrived in Germany during the war. If youíre lucky, youíll find the records to be a goldmine.
E/G Kartei EWZ-57 (alphabetic) film numbers
EWZ-58 (numeric) film numbers