The Polish Files of the Foreign Claims Settlement
One of the most significant discoveries of my career happened, like most significant discoveries, by chance. While doing some research at the USHMM I came across a 1960 document referring to the possibility of submitting claims to assets in Eastern Europe lost due to nationalization. At first, I found it difficult to believe: in the midst of the Cold War there is an agreement between the Communist Bloc and the USA (and, as I discovered later, also other Western countries) which transfers millions of dollars between sworn enemies?
The very next day I found myself in the reading room of the National Archives at College Park researching the RG 299 (Records of the FCSC). And indeed, the countries of the Communist Bloc put at the disposal of the US government lump sums of money (in case of Poland it was $20M) which the FCSC then distributed among US citizens whose claims were approved. The Communist countries also enabled the US authorities to obtain information from local archives, courts and offices which was essential in order to process incoming claims.
The largest number of claims, some 10,000, referred to assets in Poland, majority of which were submitted by Polish Jews who emigrated to the US and became US citizens. As usual, not all the claims are of the same value from the genealogical point of view but whenever the claimant was not the only owner of, or heir to the asset in question, he or she had to show who were the other co-owners and what happened to them. Thus, some claims include family charts, vital records, information about living relatives, etc.
A good example of such a case is the claim submitted by two brothers from New York, Kalman and Samuel Wachtelkonig. Their claim, which referred to real estate in the Polish town of Leżajsk, included the following family chart:
The file also included an English translation of an extensive land deed, the first page of which is displayed here.
How to find the Polish Claims? Go to https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5917183 and scroll down until you reach "Online resources". Click on "Index" and a scanned volume listing the names of claimants will appear. The claim files themselves are not online so you will need to order a copy from the National Archives.
The bound volume listing the Polish claims and the first page of the list (Source: The National Archives)
Now, it may not directly belong to the topic of this post but I was always fascinated by the huge gap between the USA and other countries in regard to privacy issues. And here is a good illustration of this phenomenon: after much ado I was able to locate the records of the Canadian equivalent of the FCSC. Very pleased with myself, I ordered the list of files and this is what I got!
The first page of the list of Polish claims submitted to the Canadian FCSC (Source: Library and Archives Canada)