Yad Vashem hopes to have collected the names of the overwhelming majority of the
six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust in the coming years, Yad
Vashem chief archivist Dr. Haim Gertner told The Jerusalem Post on
He cited a wealth of documentation that has become available
since archives in former Soviet bloc nations began to grant access to Israeli
“We hope in the coming years to come close to six
million,” Gertner told the Post.
“Millions of Jews were murdered, and
most of them in Central and Eastern Europe, but unfortunately more than half of
the names of the Jews who were murdered [there] are still unknown. The Nazis
didn’t only want to destroy the Jews but also to erase the ability to know what
happened to them.”
Gertner said that in 2004, Yad Vashem had
approximately 2.7 million names. Now it has 4.2 million. The archivist called
the 1.6 million increase “huge.”
“We now know half of the names of the
victims of Poland. Before we knew much less,” he explained. “We know
today a third of the names from Russia and the Ukraine.”
The museum “has
signed more than 40 agreements all over the former Soviet Union” over the past
five or six years, he said, adding that it has begun intensive research efforts
archives and national archives” all over Eastern and Central
“When we speak about what happened, there is a special need to
know the names of the victims and information about the victims,” he said. Some
1.8 million of whose names are still unknown but Gertner indicated that they are
likely to be found in archives such as the Latvian National Archive in Riga,
which was opened to Yad Vashem researchers in 2009.
One of the central
figures in Yad Vashem’s efforts to uncover the fate of Latvia’s Jews is Bella
Nocham, the purchasing manager of the museum’s archives and an immigrant from
Yad Vashem has been trying since almost immediately after the fall
of the Iron Curtain to gain access to the Riga archives, Nocham said during an
interview in her Jerusalem office.
“Everything is connected to the
price,” she said, explaining that officials in Riga relented only after Latvia
was hit by an economic downturn and Yad Vashem received donations from the
Genesis Foundation and the Claims Conference.
“Genesis gave us the money
to get in there. They didn’t have enough staff either. Now they need money
because the economy is down. They opened the gates,” she said.
found a wealth of information in her old country.
“It’s possible to find
all the files on every Jewish family,” she said, noting that she was even able
to find information on members of her own. “I know Riga and Latvian Jews and it
was easy for me to take out of the documents some private stories.”
the facts that she uncovered was of the existence of an uncle she had not
previously known about, who had died of starvation at the age of
Gertner said that Nocham’s work is “a good example” of the type of
work necessary to complete the listing of all of the Nazis’ victims.
are copying documents from a lot of collections. One, for example, are copies of
all the passports that the Jews in Riga had to fill out. It means that you have
a passport with the names of family members, an address; you have a photo,” he
These passports, which he termed “very important,” were dated from
the beginning of the war. “You can reconstruct the whole list of Jews in
Riga,” even if you “don’t know of that who was murdered” yet.
documents, such as the records of building superintendents, Gertner added, you
can “reconstruct the entire Jewish population of the ghetto.”
90,000 Jews in Latvia before the war, out of whom 70,000 were murdered, he said.
By copying all of the documents from the Riga archives, he hopes it will be
possible to “fill up” most of the gaps in the historical record.
the difficulty in ascertaining the names of the remaining six million, the
archivist said, was caused by the tendency in the Soviet Union to refer to those
killed in the war as Soviet citizens and not refer specifically to Jews as such
in records or on monuments to the war’s victims.
“In the former Soviet
Union, it’s very hard to locate or to know if a collection in an archive is
connected to our issue, because you would never find the words ‘Jew’ or
‘Holocaust’ there,” he said.