Search for Holocaust Victims' Names Continues

Race against time: Yad Vashem is seeking the names of close to 3 million Holocaust victims from the former Soviet Union. The hope is that the new Russian interface on its central database will help.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 3:36 PM

The Russian interface of Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah [Holocaust] Victims’ Names was uploaded to the internet this week, on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.

“Yad Vashem regards the completion of the Names Database as vitally important," said Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, "and the estimation is that many of the nearly 3 million missing names belong to Jews from the territories of the Former Soviet Union. To raise awareness of its commemorative enterprise, and to encourage names collection from the Russian-speaking community, Yad Vashem experts have spent the past year translating the Names Database into Russian.”

Over 8 million visitors from 215 countries have visited the Names Database since its uploading in Hebrew and English to the Yad Vashem website in November 2004. Only a small percentage of these visitors came from former Soviet Union countries, despite the fact that these areas contain a high proportion of Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

The new translation, which Yad Vashem reports was made possible due to the support of the Nadav Foundation of Israel, will help make it accessible to Russian-speaking populations in Israel and elsewhere. More names will thus be able to be added to the Pages of Testimony online. These are the same Pages of Testimony Yad Vashem has been collecting since the 1950s, on which friends and relatives fill out the names and biographical details of the victims.

Over 2/3 of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust lived in the areas of what used to be the Soviet Union, yet only about a quarter of these victims have been identified and registered on the Pages of Testimony.

Yad Vashem has also initiated a project to collect Holocaust victims’ names in cooperation with local Jewish and Israeli organizations in the former Soviet Union and in Israel. Boriz Mafzir, head of the names recovery campaign in the Russian-language sector, said, "We plan to work intensively with help of all Jewish organizations in Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Russia." Efforts will be channeled through Jewish schools, universities, welfare centers and more, as well as in Russian-immigrant centers in Israel.

The Pages of Testimony have helped reunite many long-lost relatives. In Feb. 2005, for instance, two elderly sisters who had been living in Israel within an hour of each other for the last several decades did not know that the other was alive - until the granddaughter of one searched the Pages of Testimony for her grandmother's family.

More recently, silverware belonging to a Jewish family in Riga finally made its way from Australia to Haifa, Israel; the son of the non-Jewish woman with whom the silver had been deposited for safekeeping was able to locate the family that owned it, with help from the Pages of Testimony.