Tuesday, December 21, 2010

4 Million Victims of Holocaust Identified

Today, Yad Vashem announced that it has identified two-thirds of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust - 4 million names.

“In the past decade (2001-2010) we have succeeded in adding about 1.5 million victims' names to the Names Database, increasing by some 60% the information we had,” said Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem. “The Germans sought not only to destroy the Jews, but to obliterate any memory of them. One of Yad Vashem's central missions since its foundation, the recovery of each and every victim's name and personal story, has resulted in relentless efforts to restore the names and identities of as many of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices as possible. We will continue our efforts to recover the unknown names, and by harnessing technology in the service of memory, we are able to share their names with the world.”

In 2004, Yad Vashem launched the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names onto its website, with 3 million names. At the same time, a new 11th hour project to recover unknown names was initiated. Names are recovered via Pages of Testimony, special forms filled out in memory of the victims by people who remember them, and by combing archival lists and documentation for names.

Of the 4 million names currently known, some 2.2 million (about 55%) come from Pages of Testimony and the remainder from various archival sources and postwar commemoration projects. While in Western Europe in particular there were often lists kept of the Jews and deportation, making identification easier, in countries of Eastern Europe and the areas of the former Soviet Union, as well as Greece, much information was still lacking.

“During the last five years we have concentrated our names recovery efforts in areas where most of the names remain unknown,” said Alexander Avraham, Director of the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem. “We have made great progress. In 2005, we knew the names of some 20% of Jews murdered in Ukraine, today we know 35%; in Byelorussia the figure has risen from 23% to 37% today, Poland (1938 borders) from 35% to 46%, Hungary from 45% to 65%, and Greece from 35% to 70%.”

The indexing of the names database and the names recovery project are supported by the Victim List Project of the Swiss Banks Settlement, Hi-Tech Entrepreneur Yossie Hollander, the Claims Conference, Dayenu Ltd led by Gail & Colin Halpern and family, the Nadav Fund and the Noaber Foundation, The National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, the American Society for Yad Vashem, the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah, Wexner - The Legacy Heritage Fund, Stichting Collectieve Marorgelden Israel, Dora Zitno, Hanna Rubenstein, Edith Steinlauf, and additional supporters.

The entire Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names is available on www.yadvashem.org in English, Hebrew and Russian. Assistance in filling out Pages of Testimony in Israel is available at: +972 2 644 3808.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Exploring hiding, sheltering and borrowed identities as means of rescue during the Holocaust

Yesterday the annual international conference of Yad Vashem's research institute opened. This conference, the 18th since they began, looks at various issues connected to hiding, sheltering and borrowed identities as means of rescue during the Holocaust.

In the opening session, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev noted that Holocaust research has undergone different phases, when varying questions were at the forefront of study. Now, questions relating to the individuals’ actions are at the center. He noted that the activity of Jews during the Holocaust was so important to all the rescue efforts and that the sessions ahead would examine Jewish efforts at rescue as individuals and groups.

Prof. Dan Michman, the chief historian of Yad Vashem, expanded on Shalev's remarks regarding the trajectory of research, and added that the study of the Righteous Among the Nations has also come into being in recent years. However, he said he disagreed with those who attributed all of the Righteous' motivations to altruism. While this was certainly the case in some instances, Michman noted that this does not provide a convincing explanation for those who rescued Jews despite being antisemites, or those who acted out of ideological or religious reasons. He also noted that one cannot speak of a "national character" when it comes to rescue, at least not based on the Righteous Among the Nations, and looked forward to the next three days as an opportunity to shed more light both on the Righteous, as well as on Jewish efforts and involvement in rescue, failed attempts at rescue, and more.

Dr David Silberklang reminded attendees at the full auditorium that during the Holocaust not everyone behaved as one would expect. People behaved in unpredictable ways -- for the good and the bad -- and Jews could not predict what to expect if they turned to someone for help.

It should be an interesting few days.

The full program is here.