This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Nameless Ciphers in Genocide

Hungarian Jews arrive in Auschwitz, 1944
Yad Vashem, Israel
"These people [Holocaust survivors] are dying out. We won't be able to access the information they have in their minds."
"Members of the family [of those who were murdered] don't remember the names of small children. Cousins who lived 60 kilometres away never knew those newborns [whose young lives were obliterated]."
"[Children or grandchildren call Yad Vashem to ask] 'Maybe you can talk to my grandfather and convince them [to recall]'."                                                       "The difficulty is compounded by the fact that sources can be in 30-40 different languages, most are handwritten and can be in different scripts, such as Latin, Hebrew and Cyrillic. Our staff not only need to be linguists but they need to know calligraphy,"
Alexander Avram, director, Yad Vashem, Hall of Names
A visitor pauses under photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis in the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial  in 2005.
David Silverman / Getty Images   A visitor pauses under photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis in the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in 2005.
"I thought I should leave this evidence behind. For me they are not just names, there are faces behind these names."
"It's all etched into your memory: their faces, they will always be there."
Vera Schiff, author, Holocaust survivor, Toronto
The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem's staff has managed through patient effort to identify most of the six million victims of the Holocaust; their names, ages, genders, where they lived, who their relatives were who died alongside them. Anything relevant about each of these victims of genocide that would help to put a human face, a life, an existence to a dead memory. To ensure that their presence is not lost in a dead zone of forgetfulness. They lived, and their lives should be documented as much as can be possible.

The researchers in Jerusalem have an estimated 1.3-million dead whose backgrounds, whose family names have yet to be revealed, for lack of testimony that would identify them and bring them back to life through recognizing their identities. They hope yet to be able to persuade reluctant survivors to document whatever little they may know of extended family members to enable the researchers to make that vital identification of individuals. Understandably, Holocaust survivors would prefer not to remember the horrors that marked those traumatizing years of suffering and death.

The Center has so far recorded 4.7-million names of Jews whose lives were extinguished in the Final Solution of Nazi Germany's death camps. That gigantic task was initiated in 1950 and has been carried on ever since, but is still far from completion. And it will not be completed until every last Jew who was murdered by order of the Third Reich is documented properly. Archives containing victims' names through a collection of over 2.5 million "pages of testimony", single-page forms containing whatever is available of the personal details identifying a person represents the last-stage resource.

Each was completed by a survivor of the Holocaust, by a descendant of the dead, or by a friend whose memory of the dead has been invaluable in the documentation process. Where the person was born, lived, married, how they made their livelihood. Holocaust survivors are declining steadily in numbers after the passage of so much time. And those who are left may or may not wish to divulge what they are reluctant to recall of painful times and memories that torment them still.

The issue of child victims who died while other family members managed to survive is another complicating factor. There were one-and-a-half million Jewish children alone murdered during the Holocaust, and of that number an estimated half have been named. "It's one of the saddest things, we have reports where parents are named with say three or four children, unnamed. They were little children and people just don't remember", says Dr Avram

"Filling out this page of information saying this was my father, mother, grandfather, nephews and nieces - you cannot bury your relatives who perished but you can remember them in a way that will commemorate them forever, so this is very important and also therapeutic for many survivors", explained Dr. Martin Auerback, at Amcha, a support service for Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem.

Beyond the death camps that gassed Jews to death with Zyklon B, then moved their bodies into giant crematoria where dense black clouds of smoke covered the skies and rained down particles on the land below, the stench of burning flesh and bones making no secret to nearby residents in various Nazi-occupied countries of Europe of what was occurring, there were other methods employed by the Third Reich to rid Europe of its Jews.

Mobile killing squads called Einsatzgruppen shot an estimated 1.5-million Jews to death after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. And in Ukraine, at Babi Yar, 33,000 Jews from the capital Kiev alone were shot to death and toppled into a ravine in 1941, half of whom are awaiting identification. Yet other Jews died from starvation, disease, or slave-labour-related exhaustion in ghettos and in labour camps, or killed in the extermination camps with which the work camps were twinned.

They were seen by their killers, and treated as sub-human ciphers to each of whom a number was assigned as their identification, the infamous branding of human beings as a means of keeping records. Naming them, elaborating as much as possible on their identities with details of their existence can be viewed as a gesture to restore a modicum of dignity to them in their appalling deaths, a restoration of sorts denied them by their murderers.

Bar chart of number of identified victims

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