NEW YORK (Apr. 22)
As the generation of Holocaust survivors dwindles, Jewish community leaders are making a worldwide appeal to gather the names of those who perished in the Shoah before it is too late.
On April 13 — Holocaust Remembrance Day — the American Society for Yad Vashem, relaunched its campaign to complete the Pages of Testimony, a document that records basic information on the victims of the Shoah.
They have put out a call for synagogues and schools around the world to alert friends and family about the project.
“Shuls are distributing them, schools are receiving them, children are getting them as homework assignments,” American Society Chairman Eli Zborowski said. The United States is “electrified now by this appeal.”
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem has collected the Pages of Testimony from relatives of Holocaust victims since the early 1950s. It acts as a death certificate for the victims by asking questions like family status, places and activities during the war, and the circumstances of their death.
“These people died without a taharah or anyone to say Kaddish for them,” said Rochel Berman of the society, using the Hebrew word for pre-funeral purification rites.
“In many ways, the Pages of Testimony are a ceremonial gravestone for each person who perished.”
Last Friday, leaders of the American Jewish community, along with Holocaust survivors and their children, gathered at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to emphasize the need to complete the document.
“The victims deserve to be remembered not as cold, anonymous numbers, but as individual human beings,” Zborowski said. “The Pages of Testimony will preserve the unique identity and personal dignity that the murderers tried so hard to obliterate.”
The endeavor, which has been compared to the biblical reference to the Jews as stars that God counts and names even when they cease to shine, started almost 40 years ago.
Slowly, names and data were collected and stored in Yad Vashem — but the effort was eventually shelved.
“Nothing was done for many years,” Zborowski said in an interview with JTA. “But now we are launching it with full force.”
“These pages will be of great importance to historians and genealogists who wish to study the lives of the Holocaust victims,” Berman said.
“But most of all, these Pages of Testimony are for the future generations who may not be able to learn about the Shoah from the actual eyewitnesses.”
“In less than a generation, there may be no one living who personally remembers the victims,” Selma Schiffer, director of the American Society for Yad Vashem, said at the conference, where she urged anyone with information to fill out as many Pages of Testimony as possible.
Many survivors, however, are hesitant about filling out the form because it may trigger painful memories of their loved ones.
More than 3 million names are in the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, where some 1,200 data entry clerks and software technicians are storing them in a special computerized database.
Now the goal is to collect the names of the remaining 3 million Holocaust victims by the year 2000.
“The survivors of the Holocaust, who are the main repository of those that perished, are very quickly dying out,” Berman said. “It’s important that these Pages of Testimony are completed in order that they are not forgotten.”
Pages of Testimony may be obtained by calling the American Society for Yad Vashem at (800) 310-7495 or access the Yad Vashem Web Site at http:// www.yadvashem.org.il