AN East Renfrewshire man who obtained millions of pounds worth of compensation for Holocaust victims has been given an OBE in recognition of his work.

Michael Tobias, 64, was named in the New Year Honours List for services to the Jewish community.

He has created a database containing six million names dating back almost 250 years to help Jews across the world trace their ancestry.

Michael has also helped reunite survivors of the Holocaust, as well as securing compensation for them and their families.

Other beneficiaries of his work include Poirot actor David Suchet, television presenter Jerry Springer and broadcaster Esther Rantzen.

Michael investigated their Jewish ancestry as a consultant to both the American and British versions of hit TV series Who Do You Think You Are?

While working for the American version, he also researched the family trees of Friends star Lisa Kudrow and actress Rashida Jones, daughter of legendary record producer Quincy Jones.

One of Michael’s biggest achievements is the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, which he helped found in 2001.

It forced German insurance companies to pay $300million in compensation to those who died in concentration camps.

Michael, who is married to Jane and dad to grown-up daughters Suzy and Becca, told the Barrhead News: “The victims had all held life insurance policies before the Second World War but died in the Holocaust.

“Their policies had lapsed as there was no-one paying the premiums any more.

“The Germans agreed they would compensate if we could prove the victims had taken out the policies with them.

“I managed to devise a computer system to match claimants around the world with the original documents. Eventually, the German companies paid out.

“My mum got a small amount because of a distant cousin who had a policy and had perished.

“Until then, I hadn’t thought that anyone in my family had been badly affected by the Holocaust.”

Michael, from Giffnock, took up genealogy as a hobby in 1994 and is now a global expert in Jewish ancestry.

Barrhead News: Michael helped actress Miriam Margoyles study her family historyMichael helped actress Miriam Margoyles study her family history

In 1995, he helped found Jewish Records Indexing Poland, which contains the names and details of the six million people.

Michael added: “Our aim was to create searchable online databases of all Jewish births, deaths and marriages from Poland.

“I had to learn the Cyrillic language that a lot of the records were written in.

“Now people can also access the original certificates with all the family details.

“We can take most people back to the 1820s and, in some cases, the late 1700s.”

Through his genealogy, Michael has also formed a close friendship with the actress Miriam Margoyles.

She contacted him in 1998 to help trace her family origins for a BBC programme and invited him to Belarus as part of the research.

Michael added: “We have been friends ever since.

“A lot of people perhaps don’t realise that Miram’s parents were from Glasgow and I’ve also helped trace her Scottish ancestry.”

Michael spent most of his career as an insurance actuary until he retired last May as a partner at Hymans Robertson, in Glasgow.

“I decided in 1994 that I was doing far too much work and needed a hobby,” said Michael.

“My grandmother Tilly had passed away and my brother and I realised we didn’t know a lot about our family history.

“It also coincided with the beginning of the internet and I was able to connect with people across the world who were doing the same thing and searching for their families in Poland.

“I discovered that my great-grandfather had arrived in Giffnock having sailed from Hamburg to Leith.

“He had a ticket for New York but decided to stay in Scotland.

“It was common for people to leave Poland then because of persecution and the generally hard life.”

Michael has also pioneered the use of DNA in helping people trace their Jewish ancestry.

He works with the Red Cross and the Association of Jewish Refugee Holocaust Survivors to help people discover if their family perished in the Nazi concentration camps.

Michael has also organised Holocaust reunions in Montreal and Los Angeles for his own family members.

During his research, he discovered members of the Tobias family from Ostroleka who were Holocaust victims.

In 2012, Michael obtained a Masters Degree in Genealogy at Strathclyde University and is now an honorary research fellow there.

He admits he is “absolutely delighted” to get the royal seal of approval from the Queen.

“The OBE came as a bit of a shock, as I’ve no idea who recommended me,” said Michael.

“Although 2020 was a horrible year, this was a nice way to end it.”

Born and brought up in East Renfrewshire, he was educated at Williamwood High, in Clarkston, and Eastwood High, in Newton Mearns.

Michael then studied Maths and Physics at the University of Glasgow.

For almost 20 years, he worked for New York-based – the world’s biggest Jewish search site – where he was vice-president.

He is also vice-president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain.

Michael’s great grandfather David came from the Polish city of Ostroleka in the late 19th century and it is his story that prompted an interest in research.