Jewish leaders in a dispute with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over its practice of posthumous baptisms say there is new evidence that the names of Jewish Holocaust victims continue to show up in the church’s vast genealogical database.
“We’ve been dealing with it for 11 years, since 1995, and we continue to deal with it,” said Ernest Michel, a Holocaust survivor and founding member of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
A cross-referencing of more than 1,500 Dutch Jews whose names should have been deleted from the church’s International Genealogical Index remain in the database, Michel said.
Over the past three months, the entries were matched by Salt Lake City researcher Helen Radkey against a 1995 list of deleted names provided by church leaders to Michel’s organization, which has contracted with Radkey for research services since 1999.
Michel, whose parents were posthumously baptized, said Wednesday he is in talks with church leaders and is working on setting up a July meeting to discuss the latest findings.
Mormon church spokesman Mike Otterson said Friday that no meeting had been scheduled, but that Michel is encouraged to bring his concerns before a working group of church staff and Jews set up in April 2005 to continue to work out database issues.
“One of the benefits of previous meetings is that we established an ongoing joint working group that would address what would appear to be any anomalies, or anything that appears to be slipping through our screening process,” Otterson said. “That committee continues to meet and continues to be the best place for addressing these concerns.”
Posthumous baptism is a sacred rite practiced in Mormon church temples for the purpose of offering membership in the church to the deceased. Church members are encouraged to conduct family genealogy research and forward their ancestors’ names for baptism.
Church President Gordon B. Hinckley has said the baptismal rite is only an offer of membership that can be rejected in the afterlife by individuals.
“So, there’s no injury done to anybody,” Hinckley told the AP in an interview last November.
But Jews are offended by the practice and in 1995 signed an agreement with Mormon leaders that should have prevented the names of Holocaust victims from being added to the genealogical index. The agreement would also have limited entries of other Jewish names to those persons who are direct ancestors of current Mormons.
Also that year, church family history officials gave Michel a compact disc, which they said contained 380,000 Holocaust victims’ names which had been removed from church records.
An analysis of the CD by New Jersey-based Jewish genealogy expert Gary Mokotoff, however, showed the CD contained only 247,479 names, of which 31,688 were duplicates.
Since then Radkey has documented thousands of database entries that indicate the practice of adding names has not stopped.
In April 2005 five boxes of Radkey’s research – more than 5,700 entries – were given to Mormon leaders during a meeting with Michel and others from his organization in Salt Lake City.
Afterward, D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the church’s leadership group called the Presidency of the Seventy, said the two groups would work toward an arrangement that would not “compromise our core beliefs and practices,” while “still addressing the concerns of Jewish leaders.”
The most recent 1,500 names of Dutch Jews are only a sampling, Radkey said. But the numbers are sufficient to raise questions about whether Jewish names were ever removed from the index, or have been re-entered into the system, which has an estimated 400 million records, she said. She also believes the church is ignoring the “direct ancestor” portion of the agreement.
“The sheer volume of entries in the IGI of Jewish, Yiddish names is overwhelming,” said Radkey, who also noted nearly 1,000 marriage records that raise similar questions. “You can’t have that number of obvious Jewish Holocaust victims and say that all of them are related to Mormons.”
Michel said he has a good personal relationship with Mormon leaders and appreciates that they continue to discuss the issue.
“But they did sign (the agreement) and I think they’ve regretted it ever since,” Michel said.