Germany to end decades-long search for World War II missing

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The fate of more than one million people will likely remain a mystery, said the head of tracing service. The missing persons program was tasked with finding more than 20 million people in the wake of World War II.

23 Jan 2018 | DW

“The German Red Cross on Tuesday said it would conclude its tracing service for missing persons from World War II in 2023, ending a decades-long search.

An interior ministry press release on Tuesday noted that the success rate “clearing up” such cases “is declining due to natural causes.” The chances of finding missing persons from the era still alive decreases year on year, and the likelihood of them having been found by other means increases with time.

Thomas Huber, who heads the state-backed missing persons program, told DPA news agency that the fate of 1.2 million people would likely remain a mystery. “We won’t be able to shed light on their fates,” Huber said.

Read more: Germany’s ‘wolf children’: The forgotten orphans of WWII

Huber said the decision was taken in agreement with the interior ministry, even though there continues to be interest in finding missing persons. Some 9,000 inquiries were made in 2017, according to Red Cross figures.

“For many relatives it continues to be a black hole on their family tree,” said Huber. “We’re also actively working on these cases.”

The Red Cross tracing service has closed more than 300,000 stories involving children who were registered as missing in the war's aftermathWhile a great many of the missing were German soldiers, the Red Cross tracing service has also solved more than 300,000 cases involving children who were registered as missing in the war’s aftermath

 

In the wake of WWII

The tracing service was established shortly after the end of World War II, tasked with searching for more than 20 million people who disappeared during the war. The figure also included soldiers who were killed in action and prisoners of war.

Read more: Forgotten victims: Polish children abducted during World War II still seeking truth

By 1959, the German Red Cross still had more than 2 million cases open. The service has continued to do extraordinary work, such as reuniting two brothers in 2010 after being separated for more than 60 years.

Germany’s Red Cross also conducts missing persons inquiries for more recent cases on the interior ministry’s behalf, receiving €11.5 million ($14.1 million) annually.

It’s open to anyone with reason to believe their relatives might be in Germany, or that German authorities might have information on their whereabouts. In 2016, the most common countries of origin for such requests were Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

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