Isser Greber proudly shows the certificate he received from the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in recognition of the 1,778 pages of testimony he personally filled out, representing 1,778 of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Not for nothing is the 95-year-old survivor known to his friends as a “one-man commemoration project.”
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Greber, who lives in an apartment in an assisted living complex in Or Yehuda, began his commemoration project after he came to live in Israel, a few years after World War II, in which he lost all his family together with almost the entire Jewish community in the city of Ostrowiec in central Poland.
In 1955, Greber began commemorating his relatives. The list included his grandfather and grandmother, Yossel and Tzina Sherman, his father and mother, Baruch and Zelda Greber, his aunts and uncles, Avraham, Herschel, Hava, Gedalia and Paula Sherman, and his brothers, Gedalia, Meir, Yudel and Hertzkeh Greber.
Then he made room in his life for raising a family and working. He returned to his project only in 2009, in his nineties. “I knew that until I completed the commemoration of my family and the community, who were murdered by the brutal Nazi soldiers, my war would not be over,” he said.
For the past two years, he has rallied his strength and marshalled his memories to document the names of as many people from his city that he can who were murdered in the Holocaust.
With the assistance of Yad Vashem, which began in the 1950s with the establishment of a Holocaust commemoration authority, he wrote down his memoirs, including all the names he could remember and got in touch with survivors from his city.
“It was clear to me that if I didn’t overcome the difficulties and enlist all my strength, this community would probably be forgotten. That is, its memory would be lost forever,” he said. “Old and young, full of life, who never did anything bad to anyone, died. It was very important for me as much as I could and as much as I remembered, to commemorate them,” he said.
Greber was born in 1922 in Ostrowiec. His father, Baruch, had a tailor’s shop where he made fine men’s suits. Greber and his brother went to the Sephardic Jewish school Yavneh, which belonged to the Mizrahi movement, and later studied at a Polish school.
When the Nazis invaded his city, in 1939, he was 17. Two years later he was sent to a ghetto with his family. At the end of 1942, the Nazis began emptying out the ghetto and sending its inhabitants to the Treblinka extermination camp. Greber was saved from that action and in 1943 he was sent to a slave labor camp. In 1944 he escaped, before the inhabitants were sent to Auschwitz.
Greber subsequently joined the Polish partisans in the forests, killing Germans and stealing their weapons. This he did under an assumed identity as a Christian, fearing that the partisans, whom he said hated Jews no less than the Germans did, would harm him if they knew he was Jewish. Eventually he joined the Polish army “to take revenge on the Germans,” as he said, and entered Berlin with the Polish forces on May 9, 1945. In 1949 he came to live in Israel, after time in a detention camp in Cyprus.
Cynthia Wroclawski, assistant director of the Yad Vashem archives, is also in charge of the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project. More than 4.7 million names have now been documented, alongside information about the victims provided by people like Greber (“our oldest documenter was 103,” she said). Yad Vashem has a number of volunteers who comb the country and the world looking for names to add to the list. They find them in transport lists, commemoration books, tombstones, memorial plaques in synagogues and other places.
“This is the most meaningful Jewish commemoration project in modern history. Every Jew in the world has a part of it,” Wroclawski said.