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Polish Town Searches For Pre-World War II Residents

The population of the Polish city Gdynia dropped by more than 75 percent during World War Two. The city is now using the Internet to track down pre-war residents and their relatives to find out what happened to them.

Two people walk behind barbed wire at the Auschwitz concentration camp

The city of Gdynia wants to know if its residents were sent to places like Auschwitz

The people of Gdynia have a chunk missing from their history books. During the Second World War, Gdynia's population dropped from 127,000 to just 30,000. The city is now using a Web site to try to find out what happened to the missing people: Were they deported, killed, or did they escape abroad?

Ryszard Toczek, lawyer and head of the project, told DW-WORLD.DE that in the past, the city has received conflicting information about the number of residents killed during the war.

"Every now and then we receive information that many people were killed, and then other information that only a few were killed," he said.

The project was launched at the beginning of September to mark the 69th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland, which began World War II.

Toczek said a number of people have already contacted the Web site with details of relatives who used to live in Gdynia.

Emaciated inmates lie on bunk beds at the Buchenwald concentration camp

At least one of Gdynia's residents ended up at the Buchenwald concentration camp

The most recent was a German man who said his father was deported and died at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. That information now has to be checked with city records and, if it matches, one mystery will have been solved, said Toczek.

Escape from Gdynia

It is believed that many of the city's pre-World War II residents escaped the war -- and the concentration or labor camps that came with it -- by moving to other parts of Poland, other European countries, or even to other continents. Toczek said that so far his organization has received reports of Gdynia residents who moved to France and Germany.

Time is running out for towns like Gdynia to discover what happened to their residents. Witnesses are dwindling from one year to the next and the people of Gdynia want to know their city's history for the sake of the younger generation, said Toczek.

Anyone with information on the pre-World War II residents of Gdynia can contact Ryszard Toczek via the "Kontakt" section of the Polish-language Web site below.

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