The Anguish of Liberation and the Return to Life
Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2005
"Unto Every Person There is a Name"
Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day
5 May 2005 – 26 Nissan 5765
Letter from the International Committee, Unto Every Person There Is A Name
Six million Jews, of whom one and a half million were children, perished in the Shoah while the world remained silent. The world-wide Holocaust memorial project, “Unto Every Person There is a Name”, now in its sixteenth consecutive year, is a unique project designed to perpetuate their memory as individuals, through the public recitation of their names on Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. By personalizing the individual tragedies of the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany and its collaborators, this project seeks to counter persistent attempts to universalize the message of the Holocaust and cast off its principal characteristic as a unique calamity of the Jewish people. “Unto Every Person There is a Name” also builds appreciation of the Shoah’s continuing impact on the Jewish reality today and helps frustrate continued efforts by Holocaust deniers to present the Holocaust as a hoax.
While Yom Hashoah focuses our attention each year on the victims of the Holocaust, it also inherently provides an opportunity for us to reflect on contemporary forms of antisemitism and recommit ourselves to fighting them.
The preceding year has undoubtedly been a watershed in terms of Holocaust commemoration, with many events held to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, and international recognition of the scourge of contemporary antisemitism. Some of the unprecedented events that captured considerable world attention include the first-ever UN General Assembly Special Session on the Holocaust, the state ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau with the participation of heads of state and foreign delegations, the first European Parliament conference on antisemitism, the OSCE’s conference on antisemitism held in Berlin, the UN’s first seminar on combating antisemitism initiated by the Secretary General and the specific reference to “antisemitism” in the principal UN General Assembly resolution condemning racism and religious intolerance. This year has also seen the publication of groundbreaking, state-sponsored reports on contemporary antisemitism. These include the first-ever comprehensive report on global antisemitism, issued by the US Department of State that poignantly adopted the position – long held by Jewish observers – that the main source of antisemitism in recent years is strong anti-Israel sentiment that crosses the line from objective criticism to anti-Israel bias. Also worthy of note is the report by human rights advocate Jean-Christophe Rufin, commissioned by the French government, that concluded that “antisemitism is the common enemy of Jews and the Republic”, and recommended that unfounded anti-Israel stances be criminalized to the same extent as antisemitic acts.
Although the Jewish people will never again put its existence in the hands of the international community that so badly failed it during the Holocaust, we cannot but be hopeful that this flurry of activity will produce a safer environment for Jews in the future. In the meantime, though, antisemitism remains the most universal of hatreds and continues to grow around the world, with recently-released 2004 year-end reports showing an increase by over 50% in antisemitism incidents in such countries as Canada and France compared to 2003.
Perhaps the most significant Holocaust-related event since this committee’s last communication in advance of Yom Hashoah 2004/5764 was the inauguration of Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History Museum. Forty state delegations attended the opening ceremony to pay tribute to those murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust – the worst genocide and act of state-sponsored theft in human history. The new museum, with its focus on the trials and tribulations of the individual victims through the testimony of survivors, advances the goal of “Unto Every Person There is a Name” to turn the victims into more than just a mere statistic.
Yad Vashem - Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority - also launched this year its on-line directory of names, another invaluable tool in its efforts to memorialize the victims individually. The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names - now available anywhere in the world at www.yadvashem.org - commemorates and preserves the legacy of each individual Jew who died at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. A revolutionary milestone in Holocaust remembrance, this site provides an opportunity to search for names, photographs and brief histories of over three million Holocaust victims who died because they were Jewish. A singularly unique resource in scope, content and accessibility, the Database also allows users to record names and submit photos and documents on-line. “Unto Every Person There is a Name” events this year should be utilized to enhance the database by encouraging people to submit the names of family members and others who were murdered in the Holocaust. Details on accessing and utilizing the database appear below.
This Year’s Theme
This year’s central theme for Yom Hashoah commemorations, as determined by Yad Vashem is “The Anguish of Liberation and the Return to Life Marking 60 Years Since the End of WW II.” VE Day – May 8, 1945 – was a joyous day in New York, Moscow and many cities around the world. But in the concentration camps, liberated survivors did not rejoice. In a state of physical deterioration and emotional exhaustion, those who survived the after-shock of liberation suddenly had to face the difficult fact that the world they had known – family, friends, communities and possessions – were lost forever, and that they need to begin rebuilding their lives. The willpower that had enabled the survivors to stay alive until liberation was also what kept them going after it.
Many survivors initially made their way back to what had once been their homes. Hundreds were murdered by local populations, dismayed that Jews had the temerity to return. Others found their homes occupied by strangers and the streets full of visions of the unspeakable suffering visited upon themselves, their families and their friends. A small number of survivors took vengeance on their tormentors. Most chose to leave and dispersed throughout the globe, including Eretz Israel where this “surviving remnant” constituted about half the Jewish population when the State of Israel was declared in 1948. Their absorption took place precisely during the turmoil of Israel’s War of Independence. Thus upon arrival, Holocaust survivors did not find peace and tranquility; rather they immediately became involved in the young country’s struggle to defend and build itself. They succeeded in their endeavors, built new families and played a significant role in the development of Israeli society—in economics, security, education, industry, academe, science and technology, art and public affairs. They were also the first to seek to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust.
Personalizing the Holocaust
The International Committee of “Unto Every Person There is A Name” takes pride in the fact that its raison d’etre – advocating the personalization of the Jewish tragedy – has gained wide recognition in Israel and around the Jewish world as hundreds of Jewish communities now participate in this project. As time passes and fewer witnesses remain, it is of great importance to create a personal link between the Jewish people today and those who were murdered under the Nazi genocidal regime. Ceremonies in which names of Holocaust victims are recited together with such information as age, place of birth and place of death, personalize the tragedy of the Holocaust. Emphasis is thus put on the millions of individuals – men, women and children who were lost to the Jewish people and not solely on the cold intangibility embodied in the term “The Six Million”.
Collecting the Names – The Yad Vashem Database
“Unto Every Person There Is A Name” ceremonies provide a unique opportunity to continue the quest to collect the names of all those who were murdered in the Holocaust. Since Yad Vashem began its special project to collect Pages of Testimony in the 1950's, some 2 million have already been submitted and incorporated into the Hall of Names. However, many names are still missing, and it is incumbent upon us today, before the survivors of the Holocaust leave this world, to try to retrieve from their memory the names of any Holocaust victim about whom they have knowledge.
With the advent of the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names (www.yadvashem.org) – doing so is easier than ever. Attached you will find an urgent call from Yad Vashem to register names of Holocaust victims through the database and instructions on how to do so. The International Committee joins this appeal and urges that you utilize the memorial ceremony you are planning to reach out to the audience and others to register names. The database and the Pages of Testimony it reflects serve as symbolic gravestones for those who were murdered and disappeared, leaving little or no trace.
A World-Wide Effort
“Unto Every Person There Is A Name” is conducted around the world in hundreds of Jewish communities through the efforts of four major Jewish organizations: B’nai B’rith International, Nativ, the World Jewish Congress and the World Zionist Organization.
The project is coordinated by Yad Vashem, in consultation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project enjoys the official auspices of the office of the Speaker of the Knesset.
In Israel, the name recitation ceremonies of “Unto Every Person There Is A Name” have become an integral part of the official Yom Hashoah commemoration ceremonies, at the Knesset and at Yad Vashem, as well as throughout the country.
Recitation ceremony planning recommendations
The International Committee urges organizers of “Unto Every Person” ceremonies to invite all Jewish organizations and institutions in their community, including schools, synagogues of the various streams and community centers, and Israeli diplomatic representatives, to take an active part in the name recitation ceremonies and in the distribution of Pages of Testimony for the name retrieval project. The Committee specifically requests that members of the four sponsoring organizations actively cooperate in order to make the ceremony as inclusive and meaningful as possible. The Committee also recommends that non-Jewish groups and leaders in your larger community be invited to participate in the recitation ceremonies, which can be held in an appropriate public setting. Local and national media, especially television, should be encouraged to cover the ceremonies. Any visual products could be sent to Yad Vashem in order to be exhibited in the future.
We urge you to encourage young members of your community to search for names of relatives and friends who were murdered in the Holocaust, to compile your own personal and local lists of names and family members, for commemoration, and to submit names to Yad Vashem’s database (see above.)
Additional materials prepared by Yad Vashem relating to this year’s central theme, a number of personal accounts of the moments after liberation as well as a specially-compiled list of names, are available from the referent organization or from Yad Vashem (see contact list below).
The recitation ceremonies require coordination and planning but involve very little expenditure. Basic requirements for the ceremony are:
- a table or podium covered in black
- a sound system
- lists of names
- Pages of Testimony
- Sufficient volunteers to recite names
- Professional-standard video equipment (optional)
- Yizkor candles
- Yizkor and El Maleh Rahamim prayer texts
- Poem “Unto Every Person There Is A Name” by Israeli poet Zelda
- Master of Ceremonies
- computer terminals set on the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names to search for names. (optional)
We are available to answer any questions that might arrive and provide additional material as necessary.
Members of the “Unto Every Person There Is A Name” International Committee:
Rachel Barkai, Alexander Avraham (Yad Vashem); Alan Schneider (B’nai B’rith International); Laurence Weinbaum (World Jewish Congress); Naftaly Levy (World Zionist Organization); Martin Peled-Flax (Israel Foreign Ministry); Tsilya Kravchuk (Nativ).
Project Initiator: Haim Roet
Referents: Yad Vashem
Rachel Barkai, Director, Commemoration and Public Relations
Ossi Kraus, Project Coordinator
Alexander Avraham, Director, Hall of Names
POB 3477, Jerusalem 9103401, Israel
Tel. (972)-2-6443574; Fax (972)-2-6433569
For North America
B’nai B’rith International Center for Programming
823 United Nations Plaza, Suite 715, New York, NY 10017, USA
Tel: (212)-490-3290; Fax: (212)-687-3429
For Eastern Europe
Dr. Laurence Weinbaum
World Jewish Congress
POB 4293, Jerusalem 91042, Israel
Tel: (972)-2-5635261; Fax. (972)-2-5635544
For West Europe, Latin America, Australia
WZO Department for Zionist Activities
POB 92, Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: (972)-2-6202262; Fax (972)-2-5445141
For the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Director, Department for Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Issues
Division of World Jewish Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: (972)-2-5303198; Fax: (972)-2-5303159
For the Former Soviet Union
8 Hamelacha St., POB 21609
Tel Aviv 67251, Israel
Tel: (972)-3-5639714; Fax: (972)-3-5639713