On Thursday, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, will hold a joint event marking the conclusion of a decade-long project collecting names of Holocaust victims from Greater Hungary with the French Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah (Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah).
A representative from the French Embassy will attend the event, as well as President of the Comité Francais pour Yad Vashem and son of the late Simone Veil, Pierre-François Veil and representative of the French Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah and Historian Annette Wieviorka.
This major project was funded by the Foundation and supported by the late Simone Veil, who was appointed as its first President. At the event, Yad Vashem will pay special tribute to Veil, a Holocaust survivor and long-time supporter of Yad Vashem and this project since its inception. World-renowned Holocaust historian and Holocaust survivor Serge Klarsfeld, a trusted advisor to the current President of the French Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah David de Rothschild, also recognized the importance of gathering the names of victims of the Holocaust from Hungary and supported this project.
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement: “Simone Veil saw special importance in the collection of names of Hungarian Jews. She witnessed first-hand the arrival and extermination of Hungary’s Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was important to her that their identities be memorialized and therefore decided to support this important initiative.”
Shalev continued: “In fact, this is the most successful project that Yad Vashem’s Archives has undertaken. The holistic approach of the project has become a model for other endeavors we are currently promoting in the name-gathering process, in particular the Polish Names Project, and we hope that with the continued support of the French Foundation we will achieve similar results to those we obtained in collecting names of Jewish victims from Hungary.”
Yad Vashem has also applied this process to its names recovery efforts in the territories of the former Soviet Union and the Balkan States.
“Some 600,000 Jews from Greater Hungary were murdered during the Holocaust,” Dr. Alexander Avram, Director of the Hall of Names and the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names at Yad Vashem, explained. “This number represents approximately one out of every ten victims of the Holocaust and one in every three victims of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the overwhelming majority of deported Hungarian Jews were sent.
“Approximately ten years ago, Yad Vashem embarked on a critical project to map, copy, catalogue and record the names and personal data of Hungarian Holocaust victims. The project of systematically collecting the names of Hungarian victims of the Shoah began in 2007. At the outset of the project, only some 260,000 names were known (representing less than 40% of the total victims from Hungary); after years of intensive work and research, most of the names of the Hungarian Jewish victims – close to 500,000 names (80% of the total number of victims) have been accounted for. Furthermore, the project has uncovered much more than just the names of the Hungarian victims, it has revealed part of their individual stories, and in some cases, for the first time was able to connect a rare photograph with the name of the faceless murdered.”
Dr. Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives and Fred Hillman Chair for Holocaust Documentation reflected: “The project was coordinated by experts in Yad Vashem and supported by two professional teams abroad: one team in Hungary, led by two renowned experts with 12 researchers; and another group in Transylvania, led by a well-known expert with three researchers. The privacy laws in Hungary changed at the outset of the project providing full access to all relevant information throughout Hungary, but we knew that under different circumstances this could reverse.”
The success of this project uncovered more than a list of names. During the project, Yad Vashem has copied 2,463,000 pages of documentation and catalogued almost 170,000 files, expanding its current Archives with a plethora of information about the Jewish communities that once existed and thrived in Hungary. One interesting story revealed by the project was that of Sámuel Léderer and his younger brother, Rezső, who were born in the small village of Magyarmecske in Baranya County. In 1940, only 13 Jews lived in Magyarmecske, amongst 185 Roman Catholics and 330 Calvinists.
Sámuel actively participated in the public life of his village and the county. For decades, he was a magistrate of the village, and for 40 years, he was a member of the county council of Baranya. Both of the Léderer brothers farmed their land, which they had inherited from their father in 1910.
In 1939, the Second Anti-Jewish Law in Hungary was passed, allowing for the confiscation of the estates of Jewish landowners. The brothers appealed against the confiscation of their land – some 310 acres in total – in the court of Pécs in 1941. Their lawyer was Dr. József Greiner, the president of the Neolog Jewish community of Pécs. Nonetheless, the Hungarian State confiscated the Léderers’ land; the final resolution of the confiscation by the Minister of Agriculture was issued on October 1, 1942. Sámuel Léderer and his wife Gizella were murdered in Auschwitz on May 28, 1944.
Information on Sámuel Léderer was discovered during the research phase of this project from two different collections: a card catalogue of the Labor Battalions in Hungary, prepared by the Hungarian Ministry of Defense; and a collection of documents from the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture regarding the confiscation of Jewish-owned land in Hungary.
These facts where discovered only through a thorough search of archives across Hungary, and by the professional use of unique methodology and sophisticated technology connecting them to the vast archival collection of Yad Vashem. Currently, the Yad Vashem Archives house the most comprehensive collection of Holocaust-era documentation in the world, which includes some 201 million pages of documentation. The case of the Léderers demonstrates the range of information one can gather about a Holocaust victim, after the documents have been located, scanned, catalogued and indexed.