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Historical Questions

What was the Holocaust?

The Holocaust was the murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Between the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Nazi Germany and its accomplices strove to murder every Jewish person under their domination. Because Nazi persecution of the Jews began with Hitler's accession to power in January 1933, many historians consider this the start of the Holocaust era. The Jews were not the only victims of Hitler's regime, but they were the one single group that the Nazis sought to destroy entirely.




Is it "Holocaust" or "Shoah"?

"Holocaust" is the term that has been used since the 1960s in the English-speaking world; it has been adopted by the Germans as well. The word comes from the ancient Greek translation of the Bible, and originally meant a sacrificial offering that was burnt completely, until nothing remained. Some people object to using this term, as it attaches some sort of sacrificial or religious significance to the event. "Shoah" is a Hebrew word, and means a very large catastrophe. There are no theological underpinnings.




How many Jews were murdered in the Shoah? How do we know?

There is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed in the Shoah. The figure commonly used is six million quoted by Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official. Most research confirms that the number of victims was between five and six million. Early calculations range from 5.1 million (the Holocaust researcher Raul Hilberg) to 5.95 million (the demographer Jacob Leschinsky). More recent research, by Israel Gutman and Robert Rozett in Yad Vashem's Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, estimates the Jewish losses at 5.59-5.86 million, and a study headed by Wolfgang Benz presents a range from 5.29 million to 6 million. The main sources for these statistics are comparisons of prewar censuses with postwar censuses and population estimates, as well as contemporary documentation, such as the daily reports of the killing units, collections of deportation lists and others.

For more information visit About the Holocaust on our website.




How do you define a Shoah victim?

At Yad Vashem, we define Shoah victims as persons who were subject to systematic anti-Jewish persecution by the Nazis or their accomplices during the years of Nazi regime, 1933-1945. Many non-Jews were also persecuted at the same time, but they are considered victims of Nazism, not as Shoah victims. This distinction originates from the Nazis’ unique ideology striving to annihilate the Jewish people in its entirety.

Among the Jews who were victims of persecution during the Shoah close to six million were murdered in a variety of ways, among them gassing, shooting, burning or burial alive, drowning, exhaustion through forced labor, starvation, epidemic disease, deprivation of basic hygienic conditions and medical care, and more. Jews who lived and were killed under Nazi rule while engaged in armed resistance are counted among the murdered. The same is true for Jews who died within six months of liberation (the end of October 1945) due to their inability to recover fully from their physical trauma, as well as for Jews killed during mass evacuations while fleeing the stunning advance of the Nazi armies into Belgium, France, Poland and the USSR.

Jews who fell as soldiers in the Allied armies are generally not regarded as Shoah victims, but rather as soldiers killed in war. However, tens of thousands of Jewish soldiers serving mostly in the Soviet army, who were taken as prisoners, selected as Jews and murdered in Nazi POW camps, are considered to be Shoah victims. Jewish men conscripted in militarily-structured but weaponless slave labor units in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria are also considered to be Shoah victims.

Many survivors suffered from the consequences of their torment for decades. While they are not counted among the six million, their plight underlines the fact that there are two meanings to the term Shoah victims: those who were murdered and those who were persecuted and tormented but survived.




How do you define a Shoah survivor?

Philosophically, one might say that all Jews, anywhere in the world, who were still alive by the end of 1945, survived the Nazi genocidal intention, yet this is too broad a definition, as it lacks the distinction between those who suffered the tyrannical Nazi "boot on their neck," and those who might have, had the war against Nazism been lost. At Yad Vashem, we define Shoah survivors as Jews who lived for any amount of time under Nazi domination, direct or indirect, and survived. This includes French, Bulgarian and Romanian Jews who spent the entire war under anti-Jewish terror regimes but were not all deported, as well as Jews who forcefully left Germany in the late 1930s. From a larger perspective, other destitute Jewish refugees who escaped their countries  fleeing the invading German army, including those who spent years and  in many cases died deep in the Soviet Union, may also be considered Holocaust survivors. No historical definition can be completely satisfactory.




Why the lack of clarity? Didn't the Nazis keep meticulous lists?

Contrary to popular belief, in most cases they didn't. Most German Jews were registered, but not all; to a limited degree this was also true in other Western European countries. Almost none of the Jews murdered in the territories conquered from the Soviet Union were registered; Jews who perished due to starvation or epidemics in all but the largest ghettos were not listed; individual Jews hunted down in fields and forests were not recorded; and most significantly, the millions of Jews who were simply pulled off trains and into gas chambers, in most cases, were not listed by the Nazis. However, many Jews were listed in prewar documents, or were recorded at one point or another during the war, perhaps by ghetto authorities, or in a concentration camp; after the liberation, various projects recorded the survivors. Many of these names can be found in the Names Database. For additional FAQs about the history of Nazism and the Holocaust, see the Holocaust Resource Center.




Questions about the Database

What is this Database?

The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names (or Names Database) is a unique international endeavor initiated and led by Yad Vashem. Its primary aim is to recover the names and reconstruct the life stories of each individual Jew murdered in the Shoah. To date (beginning of 2014) an estimated 4.3 million murdered Jews have been commemorated. It is our moral duty to respect their last behest and remember them.

With the goal of making accessible the large amounts of information gathered at Yad Vashem regarding Jews persecuted during the Shoah, in April 2014 the Names Database was expanded to include details on previously unrecorded victims, among them many whose fate has yet to be determined. In all probability, a large number of these individuals did not survive. Efforts to search for reliable information testifying to their final fate are ongoing.




How many names are there in the Names Database?

As of April 2014 close to 6.5 million personal records from a multitude of original sources appear in the Names Database. Some people appear in multiple records: This occurs for example, when more than one Page of Testimony was submitted for the same person, or the same person's name appears on both a Page of Testimony and a deportation list or other source item. In addition, some records contain information on more than one person – for example, some of the Pages of Testimony submitted in the 1950s list entire families on a single Page. Currently, we estimate the number of separate individual victims who were murdered and are commemorated in the Names Database to be 4.3 million. In addition, the Database contains partial information on hundreds of thousands of victims whose fate cannot be determined on the basis of the sources available to us. These numbers will grow as we enrich the Database with additional data sources.




What is a "personal record"?

Yad Vashem experts are systematically gathering documentation and testimonies containing information on Jews during the Shoah period. Every name appearing in a document or testimony is indexed in a separate, digital "personal record," which includes the available information on that person exactly as it is registered in that specific source.

Some sources contain a wealth of information, while others include only very scant personal details, depending on the type of source. A "personal record" includes personal information based on one specific source. Information on the same individual may appear in multiple "personal records," each based on a different source.

A "personal record" is not a "personal file" that includes a collection of all the information we have on the same individual from various sources.




Where did the names come from?

Currently the Database is comprised of three types of sources:

  • Pages of Testimony:
    These are one-page forms, submitted to Yad Vashem primarily by survivors, remaining family members or friends, in commemoration of Jewish people who were murdered during the Holocaust. The first 800,000 pages were collected in the 1950s, and the rest since. There are currently some 2,600,000 names on Pages of Testimony, written in about 30 languages and four alphabets.

  • Historical documentation from archives:
    These include the correspondence of Nazi bureaucrats and their counterparts throughout Europe; personal documents of the Jews such as letters, passports, diaries and memoirs, as well as the documentation of Jewish organizations and institutions; lists detailing confiscation of assets, deportation lists or lists of victims; legal documentation from proceedings against Nazi criminals and collaborators; and much more. The documentation is in a range of European languages.

  • Local commemoration projects:
    There are dozens of local initiatives to record the names of Jews from a specific region, country or camp. Yad Vashem has joined efforts with these projects, and their results are integrated into the Names Database. Click here to view a list of our partners.

Please note: Standard searches on the Database will automatically cull information from all of the sources, so that there may be multiple results for a single individual. Conversely, since the Database is incomplete work in progress, many victims of the Shoah have yet to be included. As our efforts continue, more victims' names will be incorporated.

For more information see About the Database.




When will the names of all the Jews murdered in the Shoah (six million) be in the Names Database?

It is unlikely that we will ever recover all the names of the Jews murdered in the Shoah. Some left behind no trace. Either they were murdered with their entire families, so there was no one left to submit Pages of Testimony for them; or they left no documentary traces; or the traces they left were destroyed, either during the war, or afterwards. In the 1960s and 1970s, archivists sometimes burned entire collections of what were then perceived, unfortunately, as documents with no lasting value.

However, we at Yad Vashem do estimate that the extant source data can probably offer some information on at least five million of the approximately 6 million Jews murdered in the Shoah, perhaps even more. This can be achieved by investing the necessary funds and labor in uploading all the relevant documentation into the Database.




What's new in the Names Database?

Until April 2014 the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names offered access to more than five million personal records documenting and commemorating the names of 4.3 million Jews murdered in the Shoah.

We have expanded the Database to include an additional 1.5 million personal records containing information regarding the ordeals of Jews during the Shoah: as prisoners in ghettos or camps, in hiding and under occupation, etc. We have included these new personal records even though the final fate of the Jews that they document cannot be determined on the basis of the specific source. Among these new records there is also information regarding about 600,000 Jews who fled or were evacuated towards the central parts of the USSR during the Nazi onslaught.

This new information is based on sources of different types gathered in the Yad Vashem Archives that have gradually been indexed during recent years and have been available to researchers and visitors at Yad Vashem. It has now been made accessible to the public at large.




Does the expansion of the Names Database add information previously unknown to the public?

It certainly does. The Database continues to present information on 4.3 million murdered Jews. Some of the personal records recently added provide additional information on many of the murdered, and help significantly to deepen our knowledge of the victims and in some cases enable us to trace different stages of their lives as well as their fate during the war period.

In addition, this expansion gives public access to extended and variegated information from different sources on persecuted Jews whose final fate has yet to be determined. Furthermore, it presents, for the first time, information on close to half of the 1.5 million Jews who fled or were evacuated to the central parts of the USSR as a result of the Barbarossa campaign. 




Does every name in the Names Database relate to a victim murdered beyond any doubt?

No. The Database is based on thousands of different sources. Yad Vashem experts have analyzed each source and have distinguished between sources that attest to murder, sources that point to a very high probability of murder (presumably murdered) and sources that lack a direct reference to murder.

It is probable that part of the individuals whose names appear only in sources of the third category, that is, lacking a direct reference to murder, were murdered at a later stage, but this cannot be determined on the basis of the documentation available as of now.    




Why is it that on the personal records based on lists of Jews in some of the ghettos (Lodz for example), it is stated "presumably murdered"? I know that the person was murdered!

Yad Vashem experts have analyzed each source in the Database and have distinguished between sources that attest to murder, sources that point to a very high probability of murder and sources that lack a direct reference to murder.

For example: The list prepared by the Organization of Former Residents of Lodz in Israel contains some 240,000 personal records. It is known that the vast majority of the Jews imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto were ultimately murdered, but the editors of the list did not make a distinction between those who were murdered and those who survived. Due to the limitations of the list itself, there is no way of knowing with any measure of exactitude which of the individuals on the list was not murdered, and therefore we stated next to each name on the list "presumably murdered." The names of those for whom we have documentation attesting that they did indeed survive do not appear at this stage on the Database.

If you find the name of a ghetto prisoner and you know that she or he survived, please fill out a Shoah Survivor Registration form. In this way you can help us distinguish between the names of the murdered and the survivors on the list. In the future, we intend to give online access to the names of the survivors as well.




Is it possible that information on the same individual appears in a number of sources (personal records)?

Yes and this will occur more frequently as additional records are added to the Database. The Database presents, side by side, personal records each based on independent sources of information. It is therefore possible that an individual name appears multiple times in as many different sources. Some of these sources may clearly attest that the person was murdered, while others document his or her fate at different stages during the Shoah, and therefore lack a direct reference to the murder.

This kind of overlapping documentation results in a richer picture of the individual, as each source adds information that the other source did not provide.  




Is it possible that different personal records relating to the same individual state his or her fate in different ways?

It is possible. The Database presents, side by side, personal records each based on independent sources of information. Some of these sources may clearly attest that the person was murdered, while others document his or her fate at different stages during the Shoah, and therefore lack a direct reference to the murder. That is why the statement in the column "Fate based on this source" may be different in each of the personal records, according to the specific source.




Did you consolidate in one "file" all the sources relating to the same individual?

Not at this stage. Due to the extreme variety of the pieces of information and their multiple variants contained in the different sources, as well as to the fact that there exists no consolidated "list of Jews residing in Europe" on the eve of WWII, systematically linking together all the sources related to one individual is a highly complicated process involving complex methodological and technological challenges. Yad Vashem is working on developing this capability, and has plans to present them to the public in the future.  




What should I do if I find the name of someone I know was murdered, but this fact is not listed in the personal record?

You should first check the Database to see if there exists a Page of Testimony in memory of that person. If there isn't, or you think your testimony can add to our information about that individual, you should fill out a Page of Testimony and send it to Yad Vashem. Pages of Testimony may also be filled out online.

Once your Page of Testimony is processed at Yad Vashem it will be made accessible on the online Database (updated four times a year).




What should I do if I find the name of someone I know was or is a survivor?

You should fill out a Shoah Survivor Registration form and send it to Yad Vashem here.

The Shoah Survivor Registration forms do not appear on the online Database at this stage. In the future, Yad Vashem plans to upload the Shoah Survivor Registration forms for online viewing by the public.




Are there survivors in the Names Database?

There may be some, but inadvertently. Part of the information in the Database comes from archival documentation such as deportation lists, lists of camp inmates, and so on. These documents attest to Jews persecuted by the Nazis during the Shoah. Most of them were murdered. A tiny minority managed to survive. They were victims of the Nazis, in that they suffered horribly and were persecuted nearly till death, but fortunately they survived. Names of known survivors are not listed in the Database at this stage. If you identify someone who survived, please fill out a Shoah Survivor Registration Form and send us a postwar document for verification, and we will remove his or her record from the Names Database.




Are there soldiers in the Names Database?

Yes. Tens of thousands of Jewish soldiers, serving mostly in the Soviet army, were taken prisoners, selected as Jews and murdered in Nazi POW camps; they are considered Shoah victims. Because the actual fate of large numbers of Jewish soldiers during WWII is not known (“missing in action”), and we cannot always distinguish those singled out as Jews among the POWs and murdered, all Jewish soldiers in the Names Database are listed as “killed in military service.”




Are there any non-Jews in the Names Database?

The Database is an attempt to record the names of all those murdered or persecuted as Jews, on the basis of the Nazi racial legislation, during the Shoah. When non-Jews are listed, it is either because they chose to share the fate of their Jewish spouses or parents, or because their names appear in the same archival documents that contained the names of Jews and could not be distinguished.




Why is it called "The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names"?

Yad Vashem is the only institution that initiated and has been making a concerted effort to create a database of all Jews murdered in the Shoah. However, we are not working alone, and are honored to have highly committed and professional partners. The Names Database is the central place where the efforts of all these partners are integrated, so that a person can find names culled from various projects with a single search.




How to Use the Database

In what language should the Database be searched?

The Database is multilingual; it can be searched in Hebrew, English, Spanish, German and Russian, or, more accurately, in Hebrew, Latin or Cyrillic characters. Documents written in one language are generally transliterated into the alphabet(s) of the other(s). Please note, however, that the transliteration is not always exact: nicknames, for example, are rendered as the official name, not as a nickname. A document in Hebrew about "Avraimaleh," for example, will appear transliterated in Latin characters as "Avraham." Places should be searched for in Latin characters.




What about geographic locations?

Names of places are generally spelled the way they were recorded in the source documents. Whenever specified, or obvious, these are followed by their exact location as defined by administrative units (e.g. district, region and country). The administrative division used is the one valid throughout the 1930s (before maps began to be redrawn in 1938). For this reason, a specific place will always appear in the Database with the same administrative location even if at later stages during the war it became part of another region or country (e.g. Lwow, Poland, later Lvov, Ukraine (USSR) will appear as Lvov, Poland). Accordingly, names of larger or cross-border historical units such as Galizia or Grodno Gubernia are not retrievable at this stage, having been dismantled after WWI. Others will refer to smaller units with similar names, as in the case of Volhynia (Wolyn, Poland), Transylvania (inner Transylvania, Romania), or Silesia (Upper Silesia, Germany).

Search tip: Places should be searched for in Latin characters (Hebrew searches are limited to names of large cities or towns). Graphic and linguistic variants are linked within the system: a search for Lwow, for example, will retrieve also Lvov and Lemberg. If the exact spelling of a place is not known, it should be written as is sounds (phonetically) in English.




What if I can't find someone?

The Database contains information only on about two thirds of the six million Shoah victims, so statistically there are chances that a particular victim does not appear in it.  However, before giving up, you should try using the search options on the Advanced Search page.

In the event that you don't find a victim who you know was murdered, please fill out a Page of Testimony. Pages of Testimony may also be filled out online or a Shoah Survivor Registration Form for victims that survived / were evacuated here or contact the Reference and Information Services (see below)




Is Yad Vashem interested in corrections of the information?

Yes, we are!

Submit corrections to any individual record through the "Corrections/Additions" form on the "record details" page. This saves time and confusion in identifying the record in question.

If the Page of Testimony/source is correct, and we agree that the information was keyed in improperly in the record, we will correct it. If we disagree, we will tell you that we disagree and why.

Note: It can take several months before these corrections appear in the online database, which is only updated only four times a year.

If the correction requested is for information appearing on a Page of Testimony/source and not due to an error in our transcription, we cannot alter the original, which is itself an archival data source. We suggest submitting a new Page of Testimony or providing a relevant document to support the veracity of the requested correction.

In the case of a minor mistake on a Page of Testimony which you yourself submitted, we will alter it as per your specific instructions.

We encourage the submission of photographs of the victims as well as personal documents, letters or a brief biography. Submit additions through the “attach image or documentation” form, or send them by regular mail.




Is there any other information at Yad Vashem?

Definitely. The Yad Vashem Archives contain more documentation than that which is already in this Database, albeit not always in an easily accessible form. Some of our archival resources are accessible in our digital collections online.

In addition, the public can send queries to our Reference and Information Services section.

Sometimes finding information requires archival research that can be conducted only at Yad Vashem and not online.




Can Yad Vashem help me find submitters of information?

Yad Vashem's goal and mandate in collecting Pages of Testimony and developing the Names Database was to commemorate the victims of the Shoah. While we are delighted to learn of such discoveries, reconnecting family members is a secondary function. Unfortunately, we rarely have information on whether the submitter of a Page of Testimony is still alive, nor on how to contact them today.

To locate a person's current address in Israel:

  • Look for them in the online Israel phone book http://english.b144.co.il
  • Use the various services on the JewishGen website www.jewishgen.org. Note: There are many different services on this website, some of which require registration.

For survivors outside of Israel, there are local and online phone books, as well as various Internet services such as Yahoo's People Search.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum maintains a registry of Holocaust survivors, which includes survivors primarily, but not exclusively, from North America.

The Yad Vashem Archives and Library include extensive offline information about survivors, but few of the records go beyond the year 1954. As such, the submitter's information on the Pages of Testimony is usually more recent than what we are likely to find for you at Yad Vashem. However, you are welcome to contact us. Note: There is a fee for the research, and it may take us up to two months to respond. You are also welcome to visit the research reading room, where our staff can help you to research the matter yourself.

We hope that you will find this information helpful, and that you will succeed in contacting your family members.

In the event that you do make a discovery/connection with family please share your story with us. Contact: names.proj@yadvashem.org.il

Read highlights of family discoveries and reunions that resulted from information documented on the Pages of Testimony in the Names Database.




Where can I get assistance with filling out the Pages of Testimony?

Yad Vashem has a dedicated network of trained volunteers, primarily in Israel, but also in other parts of the world.

For assistance in Israel contact:

Hebrew Speakers: 02-6443808 or volunteers@yadvashem.org.il  

Russian Speakers: 02-6443235

English Speakers: 02-6443470

For help in other parts of the world send us an email with the name, address and phone number of the person in need of assistance to: names.proj@yadvashem.org.il