November 22, 2004

Learning Their Names

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum has launched a website offering online access to their recently completed database of over 3 million names of Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust (via The New York Times).

It would not have been possible, of course, to gather the names of all six million Jewish victims:

The half-century effort could not identify all the six million, Mr. Shalev said. In large parts of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, no documentation was kept by the squads who shot to death entire Jewish populations of some towns or by Nazi troops who dispatched ghetto inhabitants to death camps, where they were gassed upon arrival. In Hungary, most of the lists of the 437,000 Jews rounded up by the Hungarian police and sent to Auschwitz in a period of 56 days in 1944 were never located, Mr. Shalev said.

But the opportunity to truly understand the sea of humanity that was removed from the earth but, more importantly, to be reminded that these were people, not just victims, is an incredible thing:

Mr. Roth spoke about his grandfather, Shimon Rosenwasser, who was killed at Auschwitz. Mr. Roth remembered him “as an observant Jew but also an outdoorsy type who owned a lumber business and could pick up a hatchet and cut a tree down.” He hopes his own grandchildren will learn about his grandfather from the Web site. “These were human beings,” he said, “who lived, laughed, cursed, fought, who did the things human beings do.”

I have no specific knowledge of having lost family members to the holocaust, and I knew that my tenuous searches for people named 'Bron' or 'Brunn' or 'Braun' wouldn't enlighten me, nor would searching for Levines for any trace of my mother's side of the family. Probably no distant relatives are there waiting for me. But the exercise has been very affecting. Even if you're not Jewish, try entering the names of Jewish people you've known or admired. It's a way of reaching into this awful history and rescuing its victims from anonymity.

And it occurs to me that one way to honor the lives of the people in that database might be to learn about the lives of people still living in Darfur and see what we might be able to do. This is a good place to start.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at November 22, 2004 12:52 AM
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