There are people today who are tired of hearing about the Holocaust. They say Jews always play the victim card. They say it was a long time ago and it’s time to move on. They say it was from a different era and the world is not like that anymore. Some deny it happened, and say if it did, it wasn’t as bad as the Jews make it out to be.
I grew up never knowing a time when I didn’t know about the Holocaust. It was something that was a part of my makeup, my psyche, my character, my subconscious. It doesn’t mean you think about it every day, but it does mean you reflect upon it and are aware of it. And it was something that you would often be confronted with. I would meet people with a tattooed number on their arm. I would see old Jewish people who had escaped from Europe and were now leading tours of Jewish museums. I would talk to people whose family came from places in Europe with names I could barely pronounce – places where Jewish life and culture once thrived and flourished only to be extinguished in the fires of hatred and intolerance.
The Holocaust, for us, is a living history, something that stays with us, genetically encoded into our DNA. It is not a dead history whose stories are tucked away in dusty cobwebbed shelves in the corner of dilapidated libraries. And one cannot praise enough the work that goes into scanning those archival documents that can be found and bringing them online so that they are accessible to all. But despite all the amazing work that goes into that, there are so many documents and letters and pictures that can never be found, lost to the abyss, and often our main source to the stories and the events of those times lie with real people, survivors who did not study the Holocaust, but lived it.
Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust that is based in Jerusalem, has an ongoing project called The Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project. It’s part of its mandate to preserve the memory of Holocaust victims and its mission is to record the names of the 6 million Jewish victims. Remarkably they’ve been able to record 4.5 million names so far, based on Pages of Testimony that survivors or their descendants fill out, pages that contain details of the victims. They’ve also obtained names by painstakingly analysing documentation from archives found in the various countries of Europe. However, it is a race against time to record as much information as possible as the last remaining survivors of that era will soon pass from this world.
Sadly, despite all the amazing ongoing work that happens, there will still be millions of other victims whose documents were destroyed, or did not even live long enough to have ones recorded in the first place. For them no records exist. No pictures. No documents. No birth certificates. No diaries of their dreams. No certificate of their wedding. No record of their joys or their sorrows. Nothing. There will be no recorded piece of paper on the face of this earth to even say they were once here.
Many in this world wish the same for Jews. They wish our history would be blotted out. They wish our records would disappear and they try to deny our thousands of years of existence. They want our connections to Israel to be gone. And when the records are undeniable they try to distort history, to manipulate it and change it and corrupt it.
But we don’t forget. And whatever nefarious intentions others may have, our record too is a living one that continues to this day. Your proof is Israel and the Jews around the world.
Everyone who perished in the Holocaust had a name, even if we don’t know what that name was. Every person was someone’s husband, or wife, or child, or friend, or father, or daughter, or son. Everyone had dreams and hopes and aspirations. Everyone was someone special. Everyone.
As the generation that lives now, it is our duty to always remember those with names that are known and those without. It is our duty to all past generations and to future ones as well. No Jew that was ripped from our world will ever be one that didn’t exist.
Everyone had a name.
And we are a people with a memory — a memory that will make sure that name will not be forgotten.