TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
NewsWorld

Social media helps track property lost in Holocaust

BERLIN -- When Cati Holland checked her email a few weeks ago, she was surprised to find a message saying she was eligible for compensation for her grandmother's Berlin store that was seized by the Nazis more than 70 years ago.

It wasn't spam or a phishing attempt or even a legitimate note from a German official working to track down victims and their heirs. Rather, it was from an Israel-based social media genealogy company that is using the Internet to help match property stolen by the Nazis to heirs of the victims.

"My grandmother told me so many stories about the store -- about the beautiful dresses and fancy hats they made, the wealthy customers who wore them," Holland, 75, told The Associated Press from Hadera, Israel.

"But we always thought everything had been lost after my parents fled the Nazis. It never even occurred to us to claim any kind of restitution. I was completely surprised about that email."

Since the Third Reich's collapse in 1945, Germany has paid around $92 billion in compensation to the victims of the Holocaust. More than 2 million people have received lump sum payments or a monthly pension. The state of Israel has received around $2.2 billion, according to the German finance ministry.

Part of the compensation was earmarked for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, a private New York-based organization that works to secure restitution for survivors and their heirs. Descendants can come forward to claim their family's assets until the end of 2014 if they find their original property on a recently released list by the Claims Conference, called the Late Applicants Fund.

The rise of social media has offered new opportunities to track heirs and close the books on one of the darkest chapters of German history.

"We are only just seeing the huge impact that social media will have on Holocaust history," said Robert-Jan Smits, the director-general of the European Union's commission for research and design. "We are moving from dusty archives to digitized databases."

In the case of Cati Holland, Israel-based MyHeritage initially contacted her son-in-law, Eran Karoly.

He had posted a family tree that included Recha Cohn, Holland's grandmother and the owner of the Berlin store. Holland filed an application for restitution to the Claims Conference and is now waiting for a response.

News Photos and Videos