The Polish “Zg. Files”
Have you ever heard about the "Zg. files”? Well, if you are interested in Polish-Jewish genealogy you should! "Zg.”is an abbreviation in Polish for the word “Zgon” which means “Death”. “Zg. files” are files created from 1945 on by Polish courts as a consequence of applications for death declarations submitted by family members of persons who died during WWII. Although not exclusively Jewish, a significant portion of the “Zg. files” refers to Jews who were murdered in concentration camps, ghettoes and elsewhere and for whom no death certificate was issued by the authorities at the time of their death.
Once the war ended their family members needed death certificates in order to settle inheritance matters or change their marital status from married to widow/er and thus enable them to remarry. To this end they applied to local courts requesting the issuance of death declarations with which it was then possible to obtain death certificates from the relevant authorities.
The “Zg. files” usually contain some 10-30 pages in Polish, but, in most cases, the really important one is the application itself where the applicants provide the information required by the courts in order to consider their request: name of the deceased, place, date and circumstances of death and names of witnesses. From this point of view the “Zg. files” resemble to some degree the Yad Vashem Pages of Testimonies (POTs) but there are a number of important differences. First of all, most of the applications where submitted during the second half of the 1940s while the submission of POTs only started in 1955, which means, of course, that the memory of the applicants was much fresher. Secondly, the applications were written as a free text and not as a questionnaire which made it possible for the submitter to enter information which would usually not be included in POTs. And, of course, there are many “Zg. files” for which there are no corresponding POTs.
Take, for example, the following application for the death declaration regarding Rojza aka Ryta Sznejberg submitted in 1946 by her husband, Anatol-Naftali Sznejberg:
“Rojza aka Ryta Sznejberg nee Przepiorka, born in Warsaw on 2 August 1895, was captured in the Warsaw ghetto on 25 March 1943 and deported to Poniatowo …People caught on 25 March 1943 were immediately loaded upon railcars and, after arrival in Poniatowo, murdered on the next day”.
After two witnesses corroborated the facts included in the application the court issued the requested death declaration with 26 March 1943 as the date of death.
If we compare this application to the only existing POT for Rojza Sznejberg, submitted in 1991 by a distant relative by marriage, the differences are of major importance. According to the POT, Rojza was born in Grodno (?) [question mark in the original], c. 1890 and was deported from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942.
How to find the “Zg. files”? Well, the first step I would recommend is to execute a simple search by the name of the decedent on the Jewish Record Indexing Poland (JRI) or the JewishGen site and look at the last item on the results page titled “List records from no special Region” and then at rather inadequately named category “Monitor Polski; Survivors Proclamations & Family Searches”. This category is an index to Jewish-sounding names appearing on the pages of the “Monitor polski” (the Polish Official Gazette) where basic information about the application was published prior to the relevant court session.
The JRI listing for the above Rojza aka Ryta Sznejberg file looks as follows:
It is worthwhile to notice that, in this case at least, the JRI listing contains much of the relevant information, except for the name of the applicant and a slight mistake in the date of death (25 March 1943 instead 26 March 1943 as proclaimed by the court) and thus, to a large degree, makes it unnecessary to obtain the original application.
But one will not always be that lucky. Take for example the case regarding my grandfather, Szabse (Stefan) Majorek.
The JRI listing does not contain much information but it does contain in the fourth column (which, quite surprisingly, was not translated into English and is still titled in Polish - “Akta”) the name of the court to which the application was submitted: The District Court in Kalisz.
I applied to the State Archives in Kalisz, where the old files of the Kalisz Court are now kept, paid the (modest) requested fee, and obtained the complete file.
The 1946 application submitted by Szabse’s widow and my grandmother says the following:
“In 1939 Szabse Majorek, a permanent resident of the town of Kalisz, was, as a result of racial persecution, deported from Kalisz to Warsaw. At the time of the deportation Majorek was gravely ill and on 17 December 1939 died of liver cancer in Śródborów [a resort near Warsaw].”
Now, this is, of course, some very important information which I could hardly expect to find elsewhere. And, of course, the application also carries my grandmother’s signature and her 1946 address.
Some additional good news is that most of the “Zg. files” which were created by the Magistrate Court in Warsaw were copied by the USHMM and can be located by the “Name search” on its site. If you find a name of interest, you are requested to fill out a short form and, hop, in no time at all you get a copy of the entire file in your mail box. This is, most probably, how the genealogical research will look in, say, 2050!
The USHMM also has lists of the “Zg. files“ from a number of additional courts in Poland (including Lodz) but the names of the decedents are not (not yet?) included in their “Name Search”. You can find the lists by using their “Collections Search”, searching by location, locating the Zg.files, and then by opening “Finding Aids” which lists the names of both the applicant and the deceased person or persons.
Too simple? OK, let's add an additional twist. In Communist Poland some of the "Zg. files" were removed from their respective courts by the Institute of National Remembrance (known by its Polish abbreviation IPN). You can search for them on the IPN site at https://inwentarz.ipn.gov.pl/#.
(Written in April 2023, updated in August 2023)