Mesa woman to go to Holocaust archive in Germany - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa woman to go to Holocaust archive in Germany

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Posted: Saturday, April 26, 2008 4:49 am | Updated: 11:26 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Judi Gyory Missel believes she lost as many as 20 relatives in the Nazi concentration camps and ovens during the Holocaust. That includes all four of her grandparents.

Lawn Griffiths on Spiritual Life

Judi Gyory Missel believes she lost as many as 20 relatives in the Nazi concentration camps and ovens during the Holocaust. That includes all four of her grandparents.

Lawn Griffiths on Spiritual Life

A week from today, the Jewish woman leaves for Germany, where she will be one of the first 40 people active in the Jewish Genealogical Society allowed into six buildings near Frankfurt, where about 40 million index cards contain information on the people that the Nazis so systematically kept track of in their quest for a "final solution" more than six decades ago. The archives were established by the International Red Cross Tracing Service in 1955 and have been a major source for families and researchers wanting to learn the fate of victims of the Nazi persecution.

The Mesa woman said she cries easily, "and there's going to be a lot of that, I have a feeling" during that week.

"I am somewhat speechless about the whole thing - the importance of it," she said, acknowledging that the intensive search she plans could end up being fruitless. "I may be disappointed that I am not going to find anything." But Missel said she has done her homework and submitted names, in advance, to the archives and hopes that will help make her weeklong search fruitful.

For more than 20 years, Missel has regularly pored through microfilm and online data at the Mesa Family History Center, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, doing research on her ancestors, who were largely from Budapest, Hungary.

"I am the one in the family who ended up being the historian," she said.

"To me, it is like a giant jigsaw puzzle - you get to fit the pieces in to solve the puzzle," said Missel, whose parents were put into prison camps, but survived. Her mother, an only child, was about 15 when she and her mother were sent to Auschwitz, where more than 2 million were systematically murdered, worked to death or became victims of medical experiments. Their imprisonment came late in the war because the Germans didn't occupy Budapest until February 1945, three months before the war in Europe ended. Still, Missel's grandmother and mother were separated. "My mother was transferred to another, smaller camp," she said. "... She heard from other survivors that my grandmother was part of the death marches when they emptied Auschwitz, but we don't know."

"When I told my mom about the opening of the archives to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, her only comment was, 'Does that mean now I can find out what happened to my parents?' " Missel recalls.

"Hopefully, I can, indeed, find out what happened to them and my father's parents and all the other members of my parents' extended families in Hungary that were never heard from again," said Missel, a Mesa schools Web designer and computer lab tech. She has spoken on the Holocaust to junior high and high school classes. "It needs to be done," she said. Missel tells classes that Adolf Hitler didn't create anti-Semitism, that it goes far back in history.

"That is why he called it 'the final solution,' " she said. "He was finally going to solve the problem of 'these annoying Jews.' They wouldn't behave, they wouldn't become Christian and they wouldn't choose to disappear." Part of Missel's presentation is a video - that features her mother - produced by filmmaker Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Her family takes pride in Agnes Keleti, one of her father's cousins, who survived Nazi camps in a safe house with the help of an aide to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who provided documents permitting her to flee Hungary. Keleti went on to win 10 Olympic medals, including three gold medals in gymnastics, at three Olympiads in 1948, 1952 and 1956. She won more Olympic honors than any other Jew except swimmer Mark Spitz, who won 11. Keleti and other teammates defected from the communist Hungarian team in 1956 after the games were completed in Melbourne, Australia. She has lived in Israel since 1957 and is a member of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Missel said she was heartened when CBS' "60 Minutes" took three survivors to the archives last year and all found the files they were looking for.

One of the genealogical society group's tasks will be to see how well the archives can be used by the public. "Part of my charge is to see if it is possible to find out if they can handle people who just come in," she said.

Her group will huddle each night after leaving the archives to share experiences and tips for maximizing their time in productive research in their remaining days. Through the years, as people have worked with the Red Cross tracing professionals, those inquirers' names have been put onto cards and attached to Holocaust victims' cards in case future investigators want to make contact with earlier inquirers and unlock more information.

She said she doesn't carry bitterness about her family's losses. "It was always a part of our lives," she said.

Missel, a native of New York, said she remembers, in 1962, when Adolf Eichmann, a designer and mastermind of Nazi death camps, went on trial in a Jerusalem court for his war crimes, was convicted and hanged. "My parents, as Hungarians, were interviewed by a local newspaper when I was a kid," she said. "I remember my father would not talk to them, but my mother did. I think they made the decision when they came to this country that that was the past, and that stayed there and this was now."

"My mother remembers seeing (Josef) Mengele with his boots," she said. Mengele was the infamous SS officer who commanded what prisoners were to be executed and who would be forced into labor

Missel's father was assigned to a Hungarian slave labor battalion. He escaped from Austria during bombings and found refuge with a family for five weeks. Then he chose to walk east to Hungary. He knew he was going east, Missel said, because he kept track of the fields of sunflowers. "A sunflower always faces east when it grows, so he knew how to get from Hungary to Austria," she said.

To those who claim the Holocaust was a myth, she says the evidence speaks for itself. With students, she underscores that Jews were just part of the massive death tolls of those years. There were an estimated 5 million others who perished in the tyranny of the period, including the disabled, elderly, infirm, Gypsies, homosexuals, intellectuals, professionals and other deemed enemies or unworthy.

She asks youth to ponder how such genocides could be carried out. "We have so many worries about gangs and getting into gangs," she said. "I try to bring up the Hitler youth gangs. How did Hitler pull that off? I try to make it a bigger picture than just dead Jews."

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