A (very) brief history.
For those researching their German ancestors who lived outside of Germany, coming across genealogical records can be challenging--for a whole host of reasons. Though usually the lack of civil or religious records (lost or destroyed over the years by war or natural disasters) is usually the culprit. Therefore, finding any kind of documentation that may contain genealogical data can be precious and in some cases, the only source of family history information on these Germans ancestors. That is where the EWZ records come into play.
Before I discuss what the EWZ records are, I first need to give some context as to their creation. Why?It is important for researchers to understand some context as to the creation of the EWZ records because of the circumstances that allowed the EWZ records to exist in the first place. While they may indeed be a goldmine for genealogists and family historians, the story behind them lies in the understanding of Nazi Germany.
I should note that if you’re interested in a much more detailed account of the EWZ and the associated events and moments surrounding it, I highly recommend you read Himmler's Auxiliaries: The Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle and the German National Minorities of Europe, 1933-1945 by Dr. Valdis O. Lumans. Most of the knowledge I have about the history of the EWZ comes from this work, along with Elizabeth Harvey’s Women and the Nazi East: Agents and Witnesses of Germanization both of which I can’t recommend enough. The author of the Suwalki Germans blog has two posts discussing some important takeaways from the book here and here
EWZ stands for Einwandererzentralstelle, quite literally ‘immigrants central office.’ It was created as a result of Hitler’s demented goal to Germanize Europe through racial manipulation. On the 6th of October, 1939, Hitler gave a speech at the Reichstag in which he called for the dissolution of Poland, and reiterated a phrase that came to be the sort of rallying cry for the basis of the EWZ: Heim ins Reich literally ‘back home to the Reich.’
Millions of ‘ethnic Germans’ (which is a concept in and of itself, part of Nazi thinking as it relates to the EWZ) had been living throughout Europe in independent states for many years--places like the Baltics, Tyrol, Hungry, Romania, Russia, etc., Towards the beginning of WWII, Hitler realized that these individuals (who still had their German identity, culture, and language) were at risk due to Soviet aggression. Even though various agreements were initially held between Hitler and Stalin, the population of these ‘ethnic Germans’ (aka Volksdeutsche--a term coined, or at least promoted, by the Nazis) were essential, in Hitler’s mind, to the strength of his new Reich. Therefore, he (along with Heinrich Himmler and various other Nazi officials) ‘called them home’ and offered them to obtain citizenship within the new Reich.
As a result of leaving their homes outside of the Reich, these resettled Germans would receive (in addition to their citizenship) compensation and/or replacement of the property and assets they left behind in their homelands. To do this, the Nazis forcibly removed thousands of Jews and native Poles from their homes in West Prussia--sending them to labor camps, ghettos, and in so many cases, to the death camps--to make room for these Volksdeutsche.
In order to be eligible for citizenship and resettlement in the Reich, these ethnic Germans needed to be interviewed and registered to determine if they were indeed German and to further prove their ‘racial purity.’ This is where the EWZ comes into play. This organization was charged with registering, interviewing, and helping to make the determination if someone was entitled to Reich citizenship, if and where they should be resettled, and how racially pure their German-ness was.
As a result, the EWZ’s records of these individuals provide genealogists with (in many cases) extremely detailed and valuable information on the ancestors they are researching. In order for the Nazis to determine if someone was (in their minds) German and (in their minds) racially pure, they had to know the individual’s family history. Therefore, the EWZ records feature this such information.
So why does this history matter to the researcher? Because I feel that it is important to understand the context in which these EWZ records exist. I have no question that the EWZ records are valuable to the researcher--and they should be used and researched. However, it is our duty to also understand that the activities of the EWZ and the resettlement of ethnic Germans across West Prussia, resulted in the deaths of innocent Jews and Poles who were prosecuted simply because of who they were. If we are to keep the vow “never again” we can’t do that if we simply exclude this part of history from our research. It is, in my view, important to explain this dark history, before simply taking the information and leaving behind an important message.
The EWZ Kartei
I first learned of the EWZ records from the blog Genealogy for German Lutherans In Suwalki Province, a resource that I can’t recommend enough. The author of that blog and I have corresponded over the last year or so on research efforts, ideas, and blog topics. There are several posts that will help you (perhaps even more than this one) in your efforts to discover the EWZ records.
The EWZ records were captured by the Allies and microfilmed after the war. These microfilms are available at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. They are also available, for the most part, in Germany.
There exists two index-like cards that correspond to the individual who was being interviewed and considered for citizenship and resettlement. These two cards also correspond to much more detailed files (the Stamblätter and the Anträge), which can contain family trees, reports, and even correspondence regarding the individual. Black Sea German Research has posted some example images of these type of records on their site. I also recommend that you read David Obee’s East European Immigration and the EWZ.
These two cards are known as the EWZ Kartei (or E-Card) and the Gesundheitskartei (or G-Card--aka the Health Card) and are captured on microfilm and organized first by where the individual was living outside of the Reich, and then alphabetically by last name. This page here from the Germans from Russia Heritage Society does a great job explaining the different film numbers and the corresponding geographic locations.
Another important piece of information you will obtain from these two cards, is the control number or EWZ number. This number specifically identifies the individual in all other EWZ records. It is key to locating more information on the ancestor--since those files are on separate films (the Stamblätter and the Anträge) which are organized not by name, but by EWZ number.
Some of the EWZ Kartei films have been digitized by the LDS and viewable at a Family History Center--but there are only a handful of films. I was extremely lucky that these digitized films included my own Salecker ancestors--the family of Joseph Saleker and Marie Obereiner (my great-great-grandfather’s brother.)
If your family’s surname has not been digitized by LDS yet, you will need to hire a researcher local to Washington D.C. who can go to the National Archives in College Park, MD to do the research for you--or travel there yourself. In addition to finding the cards, they will also be able to locate the larger EWZ files that contained more detailed information. The films are extensive, and I would highly recommend hiring someone who really understands how they are organized so that you can ensure you’ve extracted all information on your ancestors.
I have not yet seen the larger files on the Salecker family members whose EWZ Kartei I have found--though I do have plans to hire a researcher in D.C. to do this for me. The EWZ and G-Kartei have already revealed extremely important information to my researcher. I have no doubt the complet files will be even more revealing.
I have also created PDF templates for the E- and G- EWZ cards which I discuss in this blog post here. They can help tremendously if you (or a professional) are transcribing the information on the cards you have found.
Additional blog posts will explore some of the information I’ve discovered on the EWZ cards, and also pose some questions about what some of that information really means.
I would like to thank the author of Suwalki Germans for her thoughtful feedback and advice regarding this post.