Researching family UK WWII history
March 1, 2014 1:13 PM   Subscribe

I've been looking into certain aspects of my family history and I'd like to learn more about one particular person, who I'm told left Poland in about 1941, after members of his family were sent to Theresienstadt, and went on to serve in the British army as a cryptographer.

Some of my family members have done quite a bit of research on our history, which is great, but there are some gaps I'm trying to fill in. I know that this particular person was attempting to secure US visas for his wife and 12-year-old daughter. He was not successful and they were both sent to Theresienstadt and later died (whether there or somewhere else, I'm not sure). They were Jewish.

I'm told that this person then went to the UK at some point and worked for the British army as a cryptographer. He later remarried and he died sometime in the 1980s.

Unfortunately, that is all I know, and the relatives who discovered that information don't remember where they got it from (they put this together as part of a big project about 15 years ago). Most of my other relatives ended up in the US so I have no experience with UK research institutions. I'm not at all sure where to go from here, but I'm really curious about this part of our history, so I'd appreciate any advice on how to get started.
posted by Put the kettle on to Grab Bag (5 answers total)
If you have names, the Yad Vashem database may be able to tell you more about what happened to the wife and daughter than was readily available 15 years ago.

The LDS has made some UK records searchable. You may get lucky and find records of his second marriage or death.

Do you know anything about where he was during the war? Bletchley Park has just over 10,000 names of people who worked in signal intelligence there and elsewhere.
posted by hoyland at 1:49 PM on March 1, 2014

Oh, and if you think your relative was a mathematician, there's a book called Mathematicians Fleeing From Nazi Germany which tries to account for mathematicians. I'm pretty sure it's limited to people who had academic appointments in Germany from 1933 on, but there's a slim chance it or its bibliography might be helpful to you. (I realise this sounds like a ridiculously esoteric book, but if you live near a university, there's a decent chance they have a copy.)
posted by hoyland at 2:00 PM on March 1, 2014

For all UK military / secretive stuff they send you to the National Archives in Kew. It's not online. You can pay the National Archives to do the research for you or go in person.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:14 PM on March 1, 2014

Have you tried yet? When I plugged in what I knew of my own family tree, by the time I got to my great-grandparents I started hitting upon other members' research -- they'd dug up life stories, diaries, gravesite photos, census records, etc. etc. etc.

Plus has incorporated a lot of public historical records into their database -- for example, I got to look at a scan of the immigration documents for when my grandmother repatriated from Korea (where she'd been born, to American missionary parents) to the US.

I know they have more than just US records as I found a bunch of entries (including attached/linked primary sources) covering the generations of one line of my family from the 1600s to the 1800s in Britain, before they immigrated to the US.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:35 PM on March 2, 2014

I would make the educated guess your ancestor was among the Poles at Bletchley Park, who made significant contributions to code cracking. Much has been published on this topic, he may be mentioned by name in the index of Station X or any other large tome on the topic. Bear in mind at its height BP employed 3000 people, amazing considering it remained a well kept secret until the 80s. It is the most likely place for him to end up.

Seconding National Archives, try FCO and military series.. Polish House was set up in London and there was one in Edinburgh as well. You might want to look into that. Also Bletchley Park itself may be able to help.>
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:26 PM on March 3, 2014

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