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Online missing persons’ photo collections

The missing persons’ photo collections came into being at the end of the 1950s. The GRC Tracing Service asked all registered enquirers to send in photographs of their missing relatives. These photos together with the names are sorted by troop units and camp locations, compiled into photo collections and printed from December 1957 onwards.

The missing persons’ photo collections ultimately comprised 225 volumes with over 125,000 pages. The photos of missing Wehrmacht soldiers were printed in 199 of the volumes, while the other 26 volumes contained photos of missing civilians. The volumes held files on around 1.4 million missing persons, of which 900,000 contained a photo. With the completion of their digitization in April 2015, the missing persons’ photo collections of missing Wehrmacht soldiers of the Second World War are now also available online.

Would you like to search the database online? Here you can access the digitized missing persons’ photo collections.

Background, origin and benefits

The missing persons’ photo collections document the aftermath of a world war that claimed more victims than any other before among soldiers and the civilian population. When questioning returning members of the Wehrmacht, it soon turned out that they often remembered the faces of fallen or captured soldiers or those who died in captivity better than their names. The GRC Tracing Service therefore printed photo collections, which it made available to the regional, district and local branches of the German Red Cross from 1958. The photo collections thus not only function as a visual aid to memory during the interviews, but also represent one of the most important instruments of the tracing service's work at that time. To reach as many returnees as possible, a special interview service using buses was set up and, in cooperation with other bodies, interviewed around 2.65 million returnees up until 1964 and thereby produced around 241,000 statements containing concrete information about the fate of missing soldiers.

In 1975, the missing persons’ photo collections of the GRC Tracing Service were honoured with the cultural prize of the German Photographic Association. This award distinguishes significant achievements in the humanitarian and charitable fields that have been attained with the help of photography. For many family members, the missing persons’ photo collections remain a memorial book to this day. For those interested in military history, they provide information on the losses of units and information about administrative subordination and troop addresses that can be found almost nowhere else.


Structure and research options

The missing persons’ photo collections group the persons sought according to their last military unit, the day and place of their disappearance, the last known battle event or prisoner of war camp. In accordance with the structure of the printed missing persons’ photo collections, online access is also structured according to the military branches of the Army, Navy, Air Force as well as the police/Waffen SS and prisoner of war camps.

When searching a photo collection, you therefore need either a field post number, a camp number, a troop address or the location of a specific unit or camp.

Search limits and relevance

The missing persons’ photo collections offer a wide range of search options, particularly with regard to missing persons reports of entire units. However, it is not possible to search by first and last name, profession, last place of residence or date of birth, rank, place or time of disappearance.

With regard to questions of relevance and completeness, we would also like to point out that the data contained in the collections are based exclusively on the tracing requests received by the GRC Tracing Service and do not constitute a register of losses for the units listed. Thus, the photo collections only include persons sought and not the fates that have been clarified. Soldiers who doubtlessly died, whose fate was known and communicated to their relatives during the war, are therefore not listed here. In addition, enquirers who lived in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), for example, often had no opportunity to register their missing persons with the GRC Tracing Service in the Federal Republic. Consequently, these missing persons could not be included in the photo collections either.

Missing persons’ photo collections were only compiled until the end of the 1950s. Their publication is not updated on an ongoing basis; later survey results could not be taken into account. Since no reprints are made, it is technically impossible today to add photos or make changes to the personal data within the missing persons’ photo collections.

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