25 November 2008

Baptism: Holocaust survivors break off Mormon negotiations

Since 1992, some Jewish genealogists have been aware that the Mormons have performed posthumous baptisms and confirmations on innocent Holocaust victims and other Jews. Since then, many more people have learned of it. In 1995, the church signed a pledge saying it would no longer perform these posthumous baptisms on Holocaust victims.

It is well known in some Jewish genealogy circles that new names have been continuously added, that some names removed have again been entered and that both prominent and ordinary Jewish individuals have also been subjected to these rites.

This posting has been in draft since November 15, when I went offline due to our recent family emergency. The delay has allowed me to add in Gary Mokotoff's excellent latest article in his Nu? What's New? e-zine as a resource on this topic.

Writes Gary:

In 1992, the Jewish genealogical community discovered that 128,000 German Jews murdered in the Holocaust were posthumously baptized by the Mormon Church. The source was a memorial book called Gedenkbuch. At that time I was president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. I informed the Church that if these baptisms were known to the general Jewish community there would be a public outcry. After two years of discussions, in the summer of 1994, the Church told me they planned to do nothing about it. Bill Gladstone, then president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Canada, was a writer for the Jewish Telegraph Agency. He wrote an article that was published in Jewish newspapers. The reaction of the Jewish community was instantaneous and the Church started back-pedaling furiously, apologizing for what they did. It led to
the Church signing an agreement in May 1995 with a number of Jewish organizations to limit their posthumous baptism practice of Jews — of all Jews, not just Holocaust victims — to only direct ancestors of Mormons.

The last time Tracing the Tribe wrote on this issue, many comments were posted.

A history of the issue, by Bernard Kouchel, is on JewishGen here, and Gary's article includes links to others. Dedicated researcher Helen Radkey of Salt Lake City has done extensive work on uncovering inappropriately entered individuals. Gary's article links to Helen's reports here, here and here.

Many Jewish genealogists have found their own relatives listed in the International Genealogical Index (IGI), an index of all individuals who have been subjected to this rite.

Over the years, Helen has provided me with her reports and studies. She always asks why the Jewish community doesn't step up to the plate and and get involved. I have no answer for her, as I have asked the same question.

For 14 years, there have been fruitless negotiations, meetings after meetings, empty promises and continuing baptisms.

We Jews have not been the only ones questioning this distasteful procedure. In 2003, the Armenian Church publicly denounced the practice and, a few years later, the Russian Orthodox Church did the same. In May 2008, the Vatican ordered Catholic dioceses to keep member registries from Mormons so that Catholics could not be re-baptized.

While other groups made very public statements about their feelings, the Holocaust survivor community - which grows older and smaller each year - kept negotiating quietly year after year with not much happening. Jewish genealogy associations refused to make public statements out of what some called fear that the church would keep Jewish genealogical resources from them. Few other Jewish organizations thought the matter important enough to join the indignation bandwagon.

When famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, however, was found to be entered in the IGI a year after his death, the Jewish world woke up and protested loudly. Supposedly, Wiesenthal was not posthumously baptized - merely cleared for the rite - and his name was removed from the IGI. Holocaust victim Anne Frank has been entered numerous times, as have other of her family members.

To bring it closer to home, some of my own relatives were entered in the IGI just because one church member decided to submit for baptism the names of all those buried in one Connecticut Jewish cemetery.

Finally, Ernest Michel - who first called major attention to the issue after finding his Holocaust victim parents listed in the IGI - has said enough is enough and ended negotiations following the last meeting on November 10.

Some in the Jewish genealogy community repeat that we shouldn't make waves as speaking loudly and publicly would somehow restrict Jewish access to genealogical records that we need. Others have called that particular attitude akin to selling one's soul for microfilm access.

And, while the church contends that the rite does not make the deceased a member of the Mormon church, the text of the proxy rite reads differently. Gary quotes the text in his article: "in the name of Jesus Christ we lay our hands upon your head, for and in behalf of [name of the deceased), who is dead and confirm you as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and say unto you, you receive the Holy Ghost. Amen."

For many years, my own reasoning has been that while I know what the IGI is - and I have spent long hours attempting to remove inappropriately entered relatives from it - my descendants may not be aware of the real story. When they start looking for family - as I hope they will - what they will see is that family members who were lifelong Jews with no interest in other religions, are baptized Mormons. This will be completely false.

The names of my family members - whether Holocaust victims who met tragic and untimely death at the hands of Nazis or ordinary American Jews who lived long natural lives as good Jews - have been entered by unrelated church members who have proxy baptized my relatives without permission (either the deceased or living relatives).

Under church policy, members are to submit only their own relatives' names, and are also supposed to obtain permission from living relatives to enter names of others. These rules have not been followed.

It is about time that Ernie Michel has called an end to negotiations with the church. Year after year, meeting after meeting, he has been promised that the practice will end, that safety controls will be put in place. Some experts, indeed, have said over the years that the church seemed to be sorry it signed the 1995 agreement.

The major news stories say the church was surprised by Michel's statement and action. I wonder why the church thinks that 14 years of negotiation without tangible results, along with continuing baptism and re-baptism of those removed, is an impetus for more of the same?

For other sources on this topic:

A November 10 article in the Jerusalem Post also quotes Gary. The story is no longer online, but had received many viewer comments.
NEW YORK - Holocaust survivors said Monday they were abandoning negotiations with the Mormon church over its posthumous baptisms of Jews who were killed in Nazi death camps.

Survivors claim elders of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have refused to systemically search for and remove the names of Holocaust victims from their master genealogical database and have failed to prevent "zealots" from adding thousands of new Jewish names to the list in recent years - including thousands lifted from Yizkor books of Jews massacred at Berdichev in Ukraine.

"We are not going to continue meeting with the Mormon Church," said Auschwitz survivor Ernest Michel, head of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, who has spearheaded efforts to scrub the Mormon lists since discovering in the 1990s that his parents were among 380,000 Holocaust victims having been baptized into the Christian faith.

Gary Mokotoff, a Jewish genealogist who participated in meetings with Mormon leaders, described the negotiations as "fruitless."

"We go round and round, and they refuse to change their position," Mokotoff told The Jerusalem Post.

He and Michel claimed the church had failed to enforce rules it agreed to in 1995 to prevent Holocaust victims' names from being added and had not reprimanded those who moved to restore thousands that had been removed form baptismal lists.

"The Church's actions show disrespect for us - they revise history, intentionally or not," said Michel, who cited July correspondence with church leaders at a Manhattan news conference in which elders stated they would only remove the names of Jewish Holocaust victims upon request rather than conducting their own records search.

"Leave our six million people, all victims, alone," Michel said. "They have suffered enough."...

According to the article, the church - instead of removing names automatically - is requiring Jewish groups to continue supplying names of victims. Researcher Helen Radkey began checking the IGI for people with Jewish names after her research showed multiple baptismal listings for Anne Frank. She says the church failed to remove all 380,000 known Holocaust victims' names after the 1995 agreement and her searches of password-protected Mormon databases revealed many baptized Mormons with typically Jewish names like Solomon or Esther who had died between 1941 and 1945.
"The list problem is something the church could have cracked down on, should have cracked down on, and has not cracked down on," Radkey told the Post. She said the database could be easily compared against lists from Yad Vashem or other Holocaust clearinghouses.
Holocaust survivor Roman Kent, who appeared with Michel and Radkey, said at the press conference: "Forget the lists - it is not a numbers game. If it is even 100 people, it is too many."

Here's the JTA.org story, "Survivors say Mormons reneging on 1995 baptism pledge."
..."They tell me that my parents’ Jewishness has not been altered," said Michel’s prepared remarks for the news conference, which was held on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. "But in 100 years, how will they be able to guarantee that my mother and father of blessed memory, who lived as Jews and were slaughtered by Hitler for no other reason than they were Jews, will someday not be identified as Mormon victims of the Holocaust?"...

The Genealogy Insider blog at Family Tree Magazine also carried a posting here.
...The Associated Press reported on yesterday’s American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors (AGHS) press conference. The organization claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hasn’t enforced a 1995 agreement to permit its members to submit for posthumous baptism by proxy (often described as “temple work”) names of only those Holocaust victims who are direct relatives.

Posthumous baptisms by proxy are central to Mormons' faith because the practice allows families to be reunited in the afterlife. They see the baptisms as an offer that the deceased individual can refuse; many Jews view the practice as disrespectful to those who were killed for their religious beliefs.

A researcher the AGHS hired reported finding several thousand names in the
church’s genealogy databases, some submitted as recently as July.

The church removed Jews’ names after the 1995 agreement, but told the Associated Press that since then a few well-meaning members have “acted outside of policy.”...

The full AP article is at CNN.com here.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Holocaust survivors said Monday they are through trying to negotiate with the Mormon church over posthumous baptisms of Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps, saying the church has repeatedly violated a 13-year-old agreement barring the practice.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say they are making changes to their massive genealogical database that will make it more difficult for names of Holocaust victims to be entered for posthumous baptism by proxy, a rite that has been a common Mormon practice for more than a century.

But Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, said that is not enough. At a news conference in New York City on Monday, he said the church also must "implement a mechanism to undo what you have done."

"Baptism of a Jewish Holocaust victim and then merely removing that name from the database is just not acceptable," said Michel, whose parents died at Auschwitz. He spoke on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-incited riots against Jews.

"We ask you to respect us and our Judaism just as we respect your religion," Michel said in a statement released ahead of the news conference. "We ask you to leave our six million Jews, all victims of the Holocaust, alone, they suffered enough."

Michel said talks with Mormon leaders, held as recently as last week, have ended. He said his group will not sue, and that "the only thing left, therefore, is to turn to the court of public opinion."...
The full article indicates that the church kept part of the agreement by removing more than 260,000 names from the IGI, although researcher Helen Radkey says that, since 2005, there have been resubmissions and new entries of Dutch, Greek, Polish and Italian Jews.

According to Radkey, her research:
suggests that lists of Holocaust victims obtained from camp and government records are being dumped into the database. She said she has seen and recorded a sampling of several thousand entries that indicate baptisms had been conducted for Holocaust victims as recently as July.

Wickman said lists of names have been entered into the database by a small number of well-meaning members who were acting "outside of policy." He said that church monitors have identified and removed 42,000 names from the database on their own, and that the church welcomes research from others.
The church said that a new database version - New Family Search - is being tested and should reduce the problem. It is also proposing the rejuvenation of a monitoring committee set in 2005 - which has met only once since then.

Tracing the Tribe will continue to post information on this issue as information becomes available. Learn more about this issue by accessing the resources, reports and links provided above.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is an issue that has aggravated - no, angered - me for years as well. I was unaware of the latest developments.

    You are a brave woman and a hero as far as I'm concerned - there are many people who would not even post about certain topics for fear of being blackballed in the genealogy community which seems to be dominated by those of the Mormon faith.

    Please don't let this topic fade away.

  2. Anonymous1:35 PM

    I have read the text of the 1995 agreement several times over the years. I fail to see exactly what part of it that the LDS Church has failed to fulfill.

    Quoted below is the portion of the text from the 1995 agreement setting forth what the LDS Church agreed to do.

    "As a consequence of these discussions and the First Presidency's directive, the Church has agreed to:

    "Remove from the next issue of the International Genealogical Index the names of all known posthumous baptized Jewish Holocaust victims who are not direct ancestors of living members of the Church.

    "Provide a list of all Jewish Holocaust victims whose names are to be removed from the International Genealogical Index to the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Commission, the N.Y. Holocaust Memorial Commission, the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel, and confirm in writing when removal of such names has been completed.

    "Reaffirm the policy and issue a directive to all officials and members of the Church to discontinue any future baptisms of deceased Jews, including all lists of Jewish Holocaust victims who are known Jews, except if they were direct ancestors of living members of the Church or the Church had the written approval of all living members of the deceased's immediate family.

    "Confirm this policy in all relevant literature produced by the Church.

    "Remove from the International Genealogical Index in the future the names of all deceased Jews who are so identified if they are known to be improperly included counter to Church policy.

    "Release to the American Gathering The First Presidency's 1995 directive."


    The names were removed from the next edition of the International Genealogical Index.

    The list of names removed was provided.

    The directive was issued. The fact that some rogue members ignored that directive has no bearing on whether or not the directive was issued. The agreement never said that the LDS Church would do anything in particular to insure compliance with that directive, OTHER THAN to repeat this directive in all relevant literature published by the Church. The LDS Church has, to the best of my knowledge, done so.

    Anytime removal of additional names is officially requested, they are removed. The 1995 agreement never required the LDS Church to be proactive in removing names before it was asked to do so, or to be proactive in keeping names from being added to the IGI in the first place.

    And I assume that a copy of the guidance was provided to the Jewish community since I have seen no allegation otherwise, thus complying with the last term of the agreement.

    I think you might have a lot more success negotiating with the LDS Church on terms for a more comprehensive and robust agreement if you were to quit asserting that the LDS Church has failed to fulfill its obligations under previous agreements.

  3. "Anonymous," please read the detailed report at http://www.avotaynu.com/mormons/RadkeyReportDetail.pdf .

  4. Anonymous2:14 PM

    The above Anonymous is probably the hateful mormon who calls himself "Ancestry Insider". He has recently tried to smear Helen Radkey, because he objects to researchers publishing the truth about his church.

  5. Anonymous1:45 PM

    I am the "Anyonymous" that posted with a time stamp of 10:35 pm. Given the ad hominem attack that my previous post received it was obviously a good decision on my part to post anonymously. However, I am not the person who blogs as "Ancestry Insider."

    The post by the other Anonymous was ad hominem because it consisted of replying to my assertion that the LDS Church has lived up to the terms of its 1995 agreement by declaring that I am therefore a hateful person who smears people. It would be much more productive to the discussion if this other Anonymous would have instead addressed the substance of what I asserted. If I am incorrect in my analysis of the 1995 agreement, I welcome being corrected but I do not welcome being attacked just because my analysis reached a different conclusion than that reached by Helen Radkey.

    In other words, attack my argument, not me. Thanks!

  6. Anonymous 10:35 PM and 10:45 PM, what do you dispute in Helen Radkey's report at http://www.avotaynu.com/mormon/RadkeyReportDetail.pdf?

  7. Anonymous 10:35 PM and 10:45 PM, what do you dispute in Helen Radkey's report at http://www.avotaynu.com/mormons/RadkeyReportDetail.pdf?