The President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, looking for names of their family murdered during the Holocaust
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28 March 2023
In preparation for Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2023, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, inaugurated this week the Book of Names of Holocaust Victims' Names in the presence of President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and Holocaust survivor Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, and several other Holocaust survivors whose families are recorded and commemorated in the Book of Names.
This monumental exhibit presents 4,800,000 million names of Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazi Germans and their accomplices during the Shoah. Accompanying the installation of the Book is a touching short film featuring Holocaust survivors and the importance of remembering the names of the victims of the Holocaust.
Holocaust survivor Giselle (Gita) Cycowicz remarked:
"My father was a human being, he wasn't just air."
The name of Giselle's father, Willhelm Friedman, is registered in the Book of Names thanks to a Page of Testimony Giselle filled out in his memory.
The names that are included in Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, which up until now have only been accessible on Yad Vashem's website (in six languages), are now displayed on the Mount of Remembrance in tangible form in the Book of Names, where visitors can touch the names and understand the enormity of the personal and collective loss of the Jewish people, and of humanity as a whole. The names themselves have meticulously gathered over the past seven decades and carefully reviewed by Yad Vashem experts. Last year, Yad Vashem managed to collect and locate about 40,000 new names.
According to the Yad Vashem estimates, in the coming years some 200,000-300,000 additional names will be added to the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names – leading to a total of more than five million identities out of the estimated six million victims of the Holocaust.
Israel's President Isaac Herzog said:
"The Nazi Satan sought to erase the image of God in man. By erasing his identity, by trampling on his name – by turning him into a number – man is like an animal. The essence of this holy Mount of Remembrance on which we stand with courage and trembling is a call to ″And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a Yad Vashem)... that shall not be cut off.' We don't remember numbers. Instead of remembering unnamed prisoners, we remember lives, human beings: mothers and sisters, fathers and sons…. We remember life – and that is our great victory. Because every Jewish name that went up in flames and eighty years later is read out loud in Jerusalem, in the democratic nation state of the Jewish people, is the greatest victory in the world... Precisely in these days, when our earth is shaking, the Book of Names must remind us where we came from, and more importantly – make us think carefully – where we are going."
Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan stated:
"Every Jew murdered during the Holocaust had a name, a face and a unique life story. They were not anonymous victims as the Nazi Germans wanted us to see them. Seventy years later, our duty remains to continue to search every archive, scour every source of documentation and turn every stone in order to retrieve every name that can be rescued from oblivion. The Book of Names exhibit comes to restore in black and white the identity of those murdered Jews, and to allow all of humanity to realize that they were not just victims – but also human beings, like you and me."
Director of the Yad Vashem's Hall of Names and the Names Recovery Project Dr. Alexander Avram:
"As we move further away from the events of the Holocaust, our task of remembrance and commemoration becomes much more challenging," s " While it is still possible to collect new names, the rate at which we are able to do so will decrease dramatically over the coming years. Naturally, the survivors of the Holocaust and their contemporaries are getting fewer, and those who did never managed to give testimony or names will no longer be able to do so. The documentation of names from the Holocaust period in Eastern Europe is the most incomplete: We are in contact with many archives and bodies that deal with remembrance and commemoration worldwide, but we are close to exhausting these possibilities."
Avram also points to objective difficulties in the work of locating the names.
"From the beginning of our collection efforts, we realized that locating the names of children would be particularly challenging, since in many cases they were not recorded when they were murdered with their families. We will never have a complete record of all the names, because the Nazis were deliberately not interested in documenting their crimes and even tried to cover them up. That's why every new name we manage to discover and perpetuate is another small victory against the Nazis and their accomplices, and their attempt to wipe the Jews and the Jewish religion off the face of the earth."
All the names that have been located to date are presented in the new Book of Names, which presents the names of the 4,800,000 Holocaust victims collected by Yad Vashem from the day of its establishment until today. Where known, the Book also includes their places of birth, dates of birth and places of murder.
The names of the victims are printed on rigid pages one meter wide and one-and-a-half meters high, with the information illuminated by a delicate beam between the pages. The length of the Book in total is about eight meters. Its gargantuan proportions indicate the collective, unimaginable and enormous loss for humanity as a whole – and the Jewish people in particular. The last pages of the Book are blank pages that symbolize the names that have not yet been located, documented and immortalized and may never be located. The Book comes to answer the emotional need of the relatives of the families and acquaintances for a physical, tangible place where the names can be seen and touched: a symbolic collective tombstone.
A previous version (2013) of the Book of Names with 4.3 million names is on display at Yad Vashem's "Shoah" permanent exhibition in Block 27 of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland. This new Book of Names was produced thanks to the generous support of Yad Vashem Visionaries Marilyn and Barry Rubenstein (USA). It was debuted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York as part of the events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day that was observed on 27January. Now the Book of Names has reached its permanent home here in Yad Vashem.