No cemeteries, no headstones, no traces were left to mark the loss of the six million Holocaust victims. The Hall of Names at Yad Vashem is the Jewish People’s memorial to each Jew murdered in the Holocaust – a place where they are commemorated for generations to come.
Yad Vashem, with the support of Jewish communities and organizations around the world, is leading the historic mission to memorialize Jewish victims of the Holocaust by collecting “Pages of Testimony" – special one-page forms designed to restore the personal identity and brief life stories of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices. Submitted by survivors, remaining family members or friends and acquaintances in commemoration of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, Pages of Testimony document the names, biographical details and, when available, photographs, of each individual victim. The first 800,000 names on Pages of Testimony were collected during the 1950's, with ongoing global outreach efforts to identify the unnamed victims of the Shoah so they will always be remembered.
Collection efforts continued throughout the years in Israel and among Jewish communities throughout the world. A “Room of Names” was opened in 1968 on Yad Vashem’s campus on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. The room was the repository for the original handwritten Pages of Testimony stored in special black Yizkor files, catalogued alphabetically in Hebrew according to first and last names. In 1977 the “Hall of Names” was inaugurated in a specially designed building in the presence of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Joseph Burg, the Chairman of Yad Vashem’s International Council.
Between 1984 to 1985 Yad Vashem undertook to microfilm close to 1.1 million Pages of Testimony that had been collected up to that time. On the backdrop of a growing number of public inquries on the fate of Holocaust victims, the microfilm enabled staff to search for victims' names more efficiently thereby improving their service. At the same time it created a vital backup copy of the Pages of Testimony collection. During the 1980’s the average number of Pages of Testimony collected at Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names was 15,000 new pages per year. The fall of the "Iron Curtain" separating the former Soviet Union from the West, resulted in a dramatic increase of new Pages of Testimony in the 1990's, raising the annual collection to around 35,000.
In 1990, the Hall of Names extended its scope beyond Pages of Testimony, and began to actively gather and process lists of names originating from deportations, camps and ghetto records. The computerization of the names from all sources began in late 1991 and expanded until the end of 1998 when almost one million names had beed computerized.
A milestone in the history of the Hall of Names was reached in 1999. Yad Vashem embarked on an impressive and intensive project to computerize more than 1.1 million Pages of Testimony, including the scanning of all 1.6 million paper forms collected up to that time. The project was implemented together with Tadiran Information Systems and Manpower Israel in conjunction with, and funded by the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons (ICEP) established to resolve the public issue of the dormant accounts in Swiss banks. The project spanned from February to May 1999 with the assistance of a staff of 1,000 and 100 IT and content specialists working two shifts in two different locations, Jerusalem and Beer Sheba. The computerized database with over two million names of Holocaust victims, enabled the ICEP representatives to cross-reference the names with owners of the the dormant accounts.
On May 8th 1999, under the auspices of President Ezer Weizman, Yad Vashem initiated a well publicized world wide media campaign to collect Pages of Testimony. The public response was overwhelming: a call center with 20 phone lines and 90 staff members working double shifts was established to handle the large volume of incoming inquiries in real time. During the months of April and May alone some 147,000 Pages of Testimony were received, amounting to a total of about 380,000 by the end of 1999. The aftermath of the campaign was felt in 2000 as well; an additional 70,000 Pages of Testimony were collected. Although the names collection campaign was targeted also to Jewish communities around the world, around 85% of the Pages of Testimony collected had been submitted in Israel. Surprisingly, more than 80% of all incoming pages actually contained names of victims that were not previously recorded at the Hall of Names. This statistic reinforced the great significance of the campaign at that point in time.
By the year 2000, the initial computerization project and media campaign resulted in the creation of a database containing close to 2.5 million names of Holocaust victims at the Hall of Names. Founded on a sophisticated technological platform the names database was updated and upgraded. Advanced search capabilities including soundex and synonym searches were developed in order to enhance retrieval possibilities. On November 22nd 2004, the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names was launched and uploaded to the Yad Vashem website offering the general public full and free accessibility to close to three million victims' names in English and Hebrew. In 2007, the option to consult the names database in Russian (Cyrillic characters) was also made available.
The new Holocaust History Museum complex inaugurated in spring 2005, includes a newly designed Hall of Names, built with the generous contribution of the Rothschild-Caesarea Foundation. The Hall of Names currently houses about 2.7 million original Pages of Testimony in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Surrounded by fragments of Pages of Testimony and portraits of Holocaust victims from different countries and backgrounds, visitors to the Hall can reflect on the destruction of the pre-war Jewish world. Adjacent to the circular memorial is a computer center where the public may seek information on the fates of the victims through the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.