As the population of Holocaust survivors ages, Yad Vashem is turning more of its energies into identifying and memorializing individual victims and archiving stories which show the human side of the Holocaust era. As author Judith Miller has said, we must remind ourselves that the Holocaust was not six million. It was one plus one plus one. Today Yad Vashem is reinventing itself to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust victims without the first-person presence of the survivors.
In 2000 Yad Vashem opened the Central Database of Shoah Victims Names. There were two goals of this database. Yad Vashem wanted to take the opportunity, while survivors and their children are still alive, to collect as many names of Holocaust victims as possible. In addition to memorializing these people by name the Shoah Victims Names project would enable survivors and their families to view other testimonies and, perhaps, identify family members who had either died at the hands of the Nazis or survived. To date a number of family reunifications have take place due to the database and the attention of the staff members who carefully review all inquiries.
Individuals are invited to submit a page of testimony, based either on their own first-person knowledge or information that was passed on to them by a family member. Pages of Testimony aim to identify people, by name, who were killed during the Holocaust. To review the pages of testimony (for free) a user logs into the database and enters whatever information he knows about the people for whom he’s searching. The database is searchable in different languages and with varying spellings and pronunciations to help zero in on names of people and places.
Yad Vashem has been putting more focus on developing relationships with the Haredi community. The new Yad Vashem museum, opened in 2005, differs from the old museum by including personal testimonies that focus on the experiences of a diverse group of people, many of whom express the fact that they were able to survive the Holocaust — physically, spiritually or both — because of their adherence to religious observance. Whereas in the old museum, the focus was on the scale of the Holocaust, the new museum includes 90 personal stories including stories that detail the challenge of religious observance during the Holocaust. In the words of Mooli Brog, chief knowledge officer at Birthright Israel, “The collectiveness and concentration on symbols in the old exhibition has been exchanged for more individual and personal narratives.”
In addition to the exhibit Yad Vashem now offers special courses for Haredi educators on teaching the Holocaust in their classrooms and gender-separate classes.
At one time Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations section was mainly concerned with identifying and honoring individuals who had helped Jews survive during the years of WWII. The Righteous Among the Nations distinction was established by Yad Vashem in 1963 as a mechanism by which the State of Israel would recognize individuals who had risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. These included people such as Irena Sendler who sheltered Jews who were hiding from the nazis , provided false papers and false identities, helped Jews to escape and helped Jewish children.
Yad Vashem believes that most of the Righteous Gentiles have been identified and honored, but many of the stories have yet to be properly documented. As part of their personal testimonies project Yad VaShem is putting more effort into recording the stories of the Righteous Among the Nations and publicizing them.
Yad Vashem continues to publish its peer-reviewed semi-annual journal, Yad Vashem Studies, which features thought-provoking articles about the Shoah by leading thinkers and researchers from around the world. The journal aims to engage scholars and encourage multi-disciplinary discussion about a wide range of topics on all aspects of the Shoah with articles, documentary compendia, research reviews and new encyclopedias.
About the Author: Batya Medad blogs at Shiloh Musings.
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