The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum has compiled a list of 4 million confirmed names of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. During the past decade, Yad Vashem has confirmed the names of 1.5 million Jewish victims.
"It is a moral imperative, an obligation for us, to retrieve information and commemorate each and every individual who perished," Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem chairman, said yesterday.
Names have been collected in past years via a data base that was posted on the Internet in 2004, when Yad Vashem had a list of 2 million confirmed names. Names are added in two ways: via testimonial pages on which families of Holocaust victims list the names of loved ones who perished, and also via the collation of data on lists that are available in European archives.
A decade ago, Yad Vashem launched a "rescue" operation for the identification of victims by means of testimonial pages filled out by relatives. This operation yielded half a million new names; much of the information was provided by Russian speakers. Of the 4 million confirmed names, 2.2 million belong to victims whose relatives and acquaintances filled out testimonial pages.
In his statements yesterday, Shalev indicated skepticism regarding the possibility of Yad Vashem's retrieving the names of the additional two million victims of Nazi crimes. "I don't see that we will get to every last name," Shaled stated. He referred to the difficulty of verifying the deaths or survival of young persons, and also of those who were moved between death camps in Europe.
Yad Vashem researchers add that the main challenge in the obtainment of additional victim names pertains to Jews murdered in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Mass executions committed in these areas at the start of the genocide seldom found documentation.
Also, the researchers say, the liquidation of entire communities makes it difficult to obtain additional names.
In general, the ability to obtain victim names rises as Holocaust researchers move westward in Europe. With regard to countries such as France, Holland, Italy and Germany, virtually all the names of Holocaust victims are known and confirmed. Shalev alluded to hopes that researchers would identify at least 5 million of the victims in years ahead. The 6 million figure, he noted, is largely calculated on the basis of pre-war census tallies of Jews who lived in areas from which Jews were brought to death camps or otherwise murdered.
Yad Vashem has stepped up efforts to identify victims on the basis of lists accessible in the European archives. In Hungary, for instance, Yad Vashem operates a major project for the systematic obtainment of documents from local archives, in the effort to confirm additional names. A similar large-scale project should be launched next year in Poland.
Yad Vashem has in recent years intensified its efforts to identify victims partly in response to recent trends of Holocaust denial, spearheaded by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
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