Few people today appreciate the chaotic disaster of Germany in 1945 or of the millions of non-German Displaced Persons liberated there by the Allies. It would take a number of books to understand it. But I can give you one example of the confusion that also explains the richness of the archives of the Dutch Red Cross Information Bureau.

A Dutch Jewish businessman (b. 1906) whom we’ll call Nestor acted as a founding member of both the Dutch-Paris related Comité in Brussels and the treasurer of the Committee for the Defense of Jews there. In March 1944 Nestor knocked on the door of an apartment on the Avenue Victor Hugo in Paris that belonged to another Dutchman loosely affiliated with Dutch-Paris. The Gestapo answered the door.

In the fall of 1944 Nestor sent two postcards from the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen to a cousin in Switzerland. They are in code, of course, but they both express his regret at missing his son’s first birthday. And they are signed by Bernard Smit, which was the name on the false ID that Nestor was carrying at his arrest.

As soon as the Allies moved into Germany in early 1945, the family began an impressive campaign to find Nestor that resulted in thick dossiers in at least three archives. They wrote to and visited every conceivable agency in The Netherlands, Belgium and France that might be able to find Nestor, from the Americans and British at SHAEF to the local Red Cross.

But the search was complicated by several factors. In the first place, their legitimate family name had three different legitimate spellings and the Germans knew him as Bernard Smit, a non-Jew from Alsace. Indeed, if he hadn’t managed to send those postcards from the concentration camp, the trail would have ended at Fresnes prison in Paris.

In the second place, the family received conflicting reports. In May 1945 a diamond dealer from Antwerp who had returned from Auschwitz told Nestor’s wife that he had seen him alive in Poland after the Russians liberated the area. But a few months later she received a letter from a Dutchman who said that he had been arrested with Nestor in Paris. Nestor, he said, had been in a camp hospital when it had been bombed and hadn’t been seen since. But then in June 1946 the family received a telegram from the Dutch Embassy in Moscow saying that the Russians had turned Nestor over to the Allies at Frankfurt am Main. But he didn’t come home. The family increased their efforts to find him. John Henry Weidner even wrote to an acquaintance at the Dutch embassy in Czechoslovakia asking for help in the case.

Finally in 1948 the family presented a case before the Dutch Ministry of Justice. Given the camp records collected by the Red Cross and the testimony of the man who had been arrested with him, Nestor was declared dead and issued a death certificate. His wife and son were now officially a widow and an orphan and could received the benefits to which they had been entitled for the last three years.

In 1997 someone at the International Tracing Services archives in Bad Arolsen Germany opened a cupboard to discover wallets from prisoners at the Neuengamme concentration camp. The Dutch Red Cross restored Nestor’s to his son. There were three photos inside: one of Nestor himself, one of his wife sitting in the garden with a baby on her lap, and one of the baby himself.