Where known, the Book also includes their places of birth, dates of birth and places of murder.
The inauguration of the new exhibit was completed as part of preparations for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2023 – Yom Hashoah – which is observed one week after the end of the Passover holiday. Israel’s official Holocaust memorial day is set on the anniversary of h the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Alongside the Book, the exhibit also features a short film featuring Holocaust survivors and the importance of remembering the names of the victims of the Holocaust.
“My father was a human being, he wasn’t just air,” remarks Holocaust survivor Giselle (Gita) Cycowicz. The name of Giselle’s father, Willhelm Friedman, is registered in the Book of Names thanks to a Page of Testimony Giselle filled out in his memory.
The names that are included in Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, which up until now have only been accessible on Yad Vashem’s website (in six languages), are now displayed on the Mount of Remembrance in tangible form in the Book of Names, where visitors can touch the names and understand the enormity of the personal and collective loss of the Jewish people, and of humanity as a whole. The names themselves have meticulously gathered over the past seven decades and carefully reviewed by Yad Vashem experts. Last year, Yad Vashem managed to collect and locate about 40,000 new names.
According to the Yad Vashem estimates, in the coming years some 200,000-300,000 additional names will be added to the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names – leading to a total of more than five million identities out of the estimated six million victims of the Holocaust.
Locating all of the names was not an easy task, explained the Director of the Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names and the Names Recovery Project Director, Dr. Alexander Avram, especially with the passage of time since the Holocaust ended.
“As we move further away from the events of the Holocaust, our task of remembrance and commemoration becomes much more challenging,” he said.
“While it is still possible to collect new names, the rate at which we are able to do so will decrease dramatically over the coming years,” he added.
The most challenging part of the effort, according to Avram, had to do with finding all of the names of the children who were murdered. Children, especially those born after the Germans invaded countries like Poland and Russia and who may have been just babies when they died, did not all have recorded birth certificates and many died from disease.
“We will never have a complete record of all the names,” said Avram, “because the Nazis were deliberately not interested in documenting their crimes and even tried to cover them up. That’s why every new name we manage to discover and perpetuate is another small victory against the Nazis and their accomplices, and their attempt to wipe the Jews and the Jewish religion off the face of the earth.”
The names of the victims are printed on rigid pages one meter (3.3 ft.) wide and one-and-a-half meters (5 ft.) high, with the information illuminated by a delicate beam between the pages. The length of the Book in total is about eight meters (27 ft.). Its gargantuan proportions indicate the collective, unimaginable and enormous loss for humanity as a whole – and the Jewish people in particular.
The last pages of the Book are blank pages that symbolize the names that have not yet been located, documented and immortalized and may never be located. The Book comes to answer the emotional need of the relatives of the families and acquaintances for a physical, tangible place where the names can be seen and touched: a symbolic collective tombstone.
A previous version (2013) of the Book of Names with 4.3 million names is on display at Yad Vashem’s “Shoah” permanent exhibition in Block 27 of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland. This new Book of Names was produced thanks to the generous support of Yad Vashem Visionaries Marilyn and Barry Rubenstein (USA). It was debuted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York as part of the events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day that was observed on 27 January. Now the Book of Names has reached its permanent home here in Yad Vashem.