Half a century after she last saw her parents in Vienna, Margaret Lipton asked the Red Cross for answers to questions that have haunted thousands of Jewish families long separated by the Nazis.
After searching documents for a few months, the agency told her when and where her parents were sent to the gas chamber, said Lipton, who now lives in White Plains, N.Y. "They were together to the end," she said.
The answers were found among thousands of Nazi records _ death books, transport lists, reports from labor camps and medical experiments _ that have been in the National Archives since the end of World War II and just now are being opened to relatives of Holocaust victims.
The documents, containing up to half a million names, will be used by the Red Cross to help people worldwide learn the fate of loved ones lost under the Third Reich.
The documents were captured by American troops. Initially classified for use in war crimes trials, they were declassified about 20 years ago. However, it was only recently that archivists for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, created by Congress to build a Holocaust museum, discovered the documents' usefulness in tracing victims.
The names in the documents will be included in global reference files maintained by the Red Cross' International Tracing Service in Arolsen, Germany.
The service, begun soon after World War II, has records on 13-million people, but most of the names from the National Archives are new, the Red Cross said.
People who want to learn the fate of someone lost to Nazi persecution should file a tracing request with their local Red Cross chapter, officials said. The request will be sent to the international tracing center. Processing could take up to a year.
For many families, the search may turn up bad news: the date of a relative's death, for instance. But miracles do occur, Red Cross officials said. Already the Red Cross has been able to bring together 50 family members who had been separated since World War II.