Until The Last Jew... Until The Last Name
Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2004
Until the Last Jew … Until the Last Name
The Central Theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2004
by Dr. David Silberklang
“If you live—I will live within you…The city’s Jews have disappeared from the streets. There is nowhere to flee.”
Last letter by Pinchas Eisner, Hungary, October 1944).
Sixty years ago, on 19 July 1944, the Germans began rounding up the 2,000 Jews of Rhodes and Kos. After being detained for several days, they were loaded onto barges headed for Athens. During the eight-day journey, the ships stopped at Leros and collected the island’s sole Jewish resident. Once in Athens, they were all loaded onto a train; four weeks after the round-up they reached Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nearly all whohad survived the torturous journey were murdered immediately upon arrival.
1944 was a decisive year in World War II. Allied victory was clearly in the offing and, despite stiff resistance, defeat after defeat was inflicted on the German forces, pushing them back towards Germany. And 1944 was the year in which Nazi Germany determined to complete the most important task it had set for itself—the murder of European Jewry, the achievement of the “Final Solution.” Driven by a radical and uncompromising antisemitic ideology, the Nazis redoubled their efforts to reach every last Jew before the war ended. They were in a rush; time was running out.
Drawing on sorely-needed resources from the war effort, German forces swept across Europe, assembling and annihilating community after community, individual after individual, from their homes, ghettos and hiding places. In this way, the Nazis murdered more than 700,000 Jews in the last full year of the war, including most of the Jews of the last large community in Europe, Hungary. In one of the most efficient deportation and murder operations of the Holocaust, the Nazi and Hungarian regimes deported 437,000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau in just eight weeks (May 15-July 8), and killed tens of thousands more later that year.
But this was not enough. In the same year, as their empire crumbled around them, the Nazis garnered their remaining resources to slaughter the last Jews in Lodz, Kovno, and Shavli; the Jewish inmates of Majdanek, Kaiserwald, Klooga, Koldyczewo, Starachowice and other forced labor camps; entire communities from Corfu, Rhodes, Kos, and other Greek islands; and as many Jews as possible from Italy, France, Holland, Berlin, and elsewhere. Jews in hiding were hunted and killed; partisans attacked and shot. Thousands upon thousands of camp prisoners were marched hundreds of kilometers, away from the front and towards other German camps and labor installations, where their bodies could be further exploited before they finally gave out and expired. Three hundred children and their carergivers were seized from Izieu and other childrens’ homes in France and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from 21-25 July, just five weeks before France was liberated. Holland saw the last deportation train leave for the East on 3 September 1944, with 1,019 Jews on board.
Who were these men, women and children the Nazis were so determined to kill, whose memories they tried to obliterate? The Jews murdered in the Holocaust were six million universes entire. One of Yad Vashem’s very first projects was documenting their names and ultimate fates. Since 1953, approaching 3, 000,000 names have been recorded, but much remains to be done; indeed, some of the names may never be known. For there were entire families, even entire communities that were annihilated, leaving behind no trace and for whose memory there is no one who can step forward. After five decades, Yad Vashem reaffirms its commitment to redeem their names, their faces, and their life stories. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to retrieve the memory of the life of every Jew killed in the Holocaust.
Sixty years since that dramatic and fateful year, we stand at a threshold. In a few months, we will upload the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names onto the Internet, thereby making this unique and precious resource available to every Jewish household worldwide. As we strive to salvage the memory of each of the six million from the oblivion the Nazis intended; as we reclaim our families, their neighbors and friends, and our people’s lost worlds, we continue to search everywhere for more information, photographs and personal stories about each and every one. It is upon the Jewish world and the world at large to help restore their memory. We must assist remaining survivors to complete Pages of Testimony for all those they knew who were murdered in the Nazi drive to exterminate our people. We must salvage the memory of six million individuals, until the very last name.
The author is Editor of Yad Vashem Studies