The Central Name Index

The Central Name Index (ZNK) contains information on more than 20 million tracing requests for missing persons from the Second World War. Its approx. 50 million index cards contain all available information on the documented individual cases and are the most important source of information in this field of activity of the GRC Tracing Service.Read here to find out who we can help with this index. »

Content of the Central Name Index

In addition to millions of tracing requests from relatives of missing persons or from public authorities, the Central Name Index has recorded a number of important special indexes over the decades:

  • Children's index (indexes of names and characteristics of unaccompanied children)
  • Registration of prisoners of war and missing persons from 1950
  • Total inventory of losses due to expulsion from 1955 to 1959 (about 124,000 index cards)
  • Central index of internees (about 1,200 cards including cases of imprisonment in the GDR)
  • Index of the Combat Group against Inhumanity (about 900,000 cards incl. imprisonment cases in NKVD camps of the Soviet Occupation Zone/GDR, imprisonment cases in the GDR)
  • Card indexes resulting from matching data with the former German Agency (WASt), authorities, courts and local supply authorities (returnee registration cards)
  • Card indexes of the Danish Refugee Administration Copenhagen related to flight over the Baltic Sea, arrival and internment in Denmark (about 200,000 cards)

Structure of the Central Name Index

Central Name Index graphic

The Central Name Index is ordered alpha-phonetically according to the surnames of the persons sought and in the matching procedure. The phonetic registration facilitates the search and allows to bring together names with complicated spelling or frequent names with different spellings (e.g. Meier, Schmidt).

Even today, the card index is still the basis for all research related to the events of the Second World War and is newly checked with every single request. For this reason, each tracing request requires as much information as possible on the person sought and the person searching.

History of the Central Name Index

The history of this card index begins immediately after the end of the Second World War in the western zones of Germany occupied by the victorious powers: in Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and in Saarbrücken. Simultaneously, the index of the "Tracing Service for Missing Germans" is created in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ). With the centralization of the “research” department, the Hamburg and Munich card indexes are merged in 1950 at the Tracing Service Munich Office.


Data of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR)

The index of the GRC Tracing Service of the GDR, formerly the index of the “Tracing Service for Missing Germans in the Soviet Occupation Zone”, has its roots in the “Central Index of the Province of Saxony” (Halle). It was first established in 1946 for the registration of so-called resettlers, i.e. refugees, and was handed over to the GRC Tracing Service in 1990, when the East and West Red Cross Societies were united The approx. 8 million index cards consist mainly of search and index cards (i.e. from the card indexing of tracing requests) and the matching procedure with registration authorities.

Since state registration of missing persons or systematic interviewing of returnees did not take place in the Soviet Occupation Zone/GDR, the index contains hardly any or no returnee reports or registration cards. This database is also checked with every tracing request.

Digitization of the Central Name Index

Since the 1990s, more and more work processes within the Tracing Service have been computerised: Data from a wide variety of sources can be integrated within a workflow system, e.g. by transferring data records and digital documents from Russian archives. However, when the Central Name Index is used in its conventional way, this leads to unwelcome media disruptions, so that it must be adapted to the general technical standard. The wide variety of document templates and qualities that characterize the card index are a major challenge in terms of technology, personnel, work and time management. After more than ten years of digitization, the cards of the Central Name Index are now completely available in electronic form and fit onto a 5-terabyte hard disk.

In its digital form, the Central Name Index is now easier and quicker to use; another advantage is that the paper cards from the immediate post-war period remain protected from deterioration. The digital filing system follows the original index card structure, so that tracing queries can be processed in the same way. The original cards, which are important historical documents, were moved from their premises at the Tracing Service Munich Office in 2014 and are now safely stored at the Headquarters of the German Red Cross in Berlin.

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