Ancestry digitizes 19 million Holocaust records for free archive
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Genealogy company Ancestry said Wednesday that it had finished digitizing 19 million Holocaust records that will soon be available to search for free.

Ancestry also announced a partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation to publish data connected to nearly 50,000 Jewish Holocaust survivor testimonies that provides information on more than 600,000 additional relatives and other individuals.

Both collections will be searchable on Ancestry’s website.

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A recent glitch in the soft trial launch, however, left some survivors and their family members uncomfortable with the amount of sensitive information that was publicly available, as well as questions over what access is free and what is not, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Ancestry told the Times the “customer experience was not optimal,” adding that “we regret that some individuals had an experience during this period that led to the impression the materials were not free.”

The company said in a statement to the newspaper that is working to “simplify” the experience so that “there is no possible confusion about the free availability of these two collections.”

In addition to questions about what content is free, some survivor families told the Times they felt betrayed by Shoah’s move to add their family histories to the publishing website without consulting them, noting the sensitive and personal subject matter.

“It is not only a painful record, it is a private record,” Klara Firestone, whose mother lived through imprisonment at Auschwitz, told the Times. “It should not go outside of the family except for legitimate researchers.”

Ancestry said in its announcement Wednesday that it was “more important than ever” to preserve the history of the Holocaust, as aging survivors are at risk due to COVID-19. Health experts have said older people are at higher risk of the most severe coronavirus symptoms.

“The Holocaust was a shaping event for several generations, but its impact is in danger of being lost,” Margo Georgiadis, president and chief executive officer at Ancestry, said in a statement Wednesday.

“We have a collective responsibility to those who came before us to preserve this history so future generations can learn from the powerful moments of our past. We are extremely grateful to our partners at USC Shoah Foundation and Arolsen Archives for their help in this ongoing effort,” Georgiadis added.

The Arolsen Archives Collection was launched to the public last July. It includes 19.2 million records and 1.6 million images. 

“Our partnership with Ancestry is bringing visibility to our unique collection of historical documents about the Holocaust and Nazi persecution,” Floriane Azoulay, director of Arolsen Archives, said in statement. “The ongoing digitization of this collection provides families of survivors and the general public access to discover invaluable documents and records to better understand their relatives’ fate.”

Ancestry said the free collection includes names, birthdates, death rates, relatives and more information from those interviewed.