History of the Tracing Service

First World War

The Hungarian Red Cross has been operating its Tracing Service since World War I. Initially known as the News Agency and then as the Prisoner of War Protection and Correspondence Office, the service employed 200 volunteers, and helped those in trouble with the following activities:

  • By conveying messages between troops and their relatives who had remained behind.
  • By fulfilling the request of worried family members, they regularly inquired about troops not giving life signs.
  • By trying to get information about the prisoners of war and send them messages from family, packages and money.
  • By asking the hospitals for a list of the wounded so they could inform their relatives.
  • A special department dealt with hospital trains returning from the battlefield
Between two world wars

During this period the service was renamed to Prisoner of War Help and Information Office.  Its main objective was to help families find out the fate of their missing relatives, who did not return from World War I.

During the thirties, the Service was already preparing for tasks that might arise if a second war was to break out. Act XXX of 1936, established in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 1929, stated that the identification of the whereabouts of prisoners of war, internees and hostages, the facilitation of their situation, the conduct of their correspondence with their relatives and the relaying of monetary and charitable donations shall happen through the Relief and Information Bureau for Prisoners of War of the Hungarian Red Cross.

World War II

The humanitarian crisis triggered by the world war gave severe tasks to the Hungarian Red Cross even before entering the war in 1941:

  • After the war broke out, 140,000 Polish refugees poured into the country. The Hungarian Red Cross set up a separate department which exclusively dealt with conveying messages between Polish refugees and their families, and answering tracing requests coming from Polish family members. The department cooperated with the Polish Red Cross which opened a local office in Budapest, and in the meantime, the Hungarian Red Cross set up representative offices both in Warsaw and
  • The Hungarian Red Cross helped French, Belgian and Italian refugees, as well. (After the German occupation, the International Committee of the Red Cross took over the protection of refugees.)
  • Compared to armed conflicts in the past, a new challenge arose with the significant increase in the number of civilian casualties: searching for deported, internees and a great number of missing children.
  • The Hungarian Red Cross worked closely with the Geneva-based Central Agency for Prisoners of War of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Through the Central Agency, with the contribution of Red Cross Societies – including the Hungarian Red Cross, as well – prisoners of war and their family members were able to exchange 120 million messages in total, and the network conveyed 23 million family-related messages between civilian family members living in different countries. The number of packages sent reached a total amount of 36 million.
From World War II to present days

After the war, the tracing of those who had gone missing in the war and those who had been separated from their families did not come to an end. Even after 60 years, 300-400 families are still contacting the Red Cross Tracing Service annually, requesting the search after those family members who had gone missing during the war, or had been separated from them. Since the end of World War II, the Tracing Service have been practicing the following activities:

  • Investigating the fate of soldiers and labour camp inmates who went missing on the Eastern Front, as well as the fate of detainees of Nazi concentration camps and civilian refugees who ended up in different parts of the world. It obtains a certificate about internees, deportees and prisoners of war.
  • In the spirit of the Red Cross and following its fundamental principles, the Service continues its efforts to trace the resting places of Soviet and German soldiers who died in Hungary.
  • In the aftermath of the Revolution of 1956, thousands of Hungarian families were split. Emigrants have scattered to each continent of the world. In the sixties, the Hungarian Red Cross Tracing Service established connections between 6-7 thousand emigrants and their family members annually, and nowadays, there are still hundreds of such search cases in progress, usually at the request of second or third generations of emigrants.
  • In 1989, the Hungarian Red Cross assisted refugees of the Romanian revolution in keeping in touch with their family members, and to obtain the Red Cross papers necessary for their travels.
  • After the regime change, former Soviet archives were opened for the Tracing Service, which was a milestone in the clarification of tens of thousands of people’s fate, who had disappeared in World War II or died in captivity. When the arrival of the lists of names was announced at the beginning of the 90s, more than twenty thousand families sought the assistance of the Tracing Service in relation with restitution laws.
  • During the Yugoslav wars, refugees fled into the country. The Tracing Service, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, transmitted eighteen thousand messages for family members, who stayed at home or ended up in another country.
  • At present, the Hungarian Red Cross Tracing Service receives an average of one thousand five hundred tracing requests annually. Most of them are still in connection with World War II and the events of ‘56, while a smaller proportion of the requests is related to refugees fleeing from ongoing armed conflicts to our country. In addition, the Tracing Service deals with hundreds of tracing requests every year that are not related to acts of war, but still justify the help of the Red Cross for humanitarian reasons.