For the tenacious, 86-year-old Yehoshua Neiditz, surviving has been a way of life: evading Nazis in his native Poland and hiding out with the partisans, logging one lucky escape after another. But all of his family members number among the Jews murdered in World War II.
“I never wanted to think about it,” says Neiditz in his small, tidy apartment in Tel Aviv. “It makes me anxious to relive it. It’s not good for my mind.”
Sixty-seven years later he has at last found the courage to dig up painful memories, share his testimony and record the names of family members from his hometown of Pinsk in the main database of the Nazi genocide.The Media Line News Agency
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum has launched what may be the last viable campaign to get remaining Holocaust survivors to record the names of Jews murdered in the war.
A media campaign throughout Israel, which has the largest concentration of living Holocaust survivors, is urging them to come forward and submit the names of those who died. According to the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, an estimated 327,000 Holocaust survivors eventually received Israeli citizenship. About 167,000 are still alive today and most are over 80 years old.
When Yad Vashem was founded in the 1950s, one of its guiding principles was that “every victim has a name,” and thus it began the monumental task of identifying the victims of the Holocaust.
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It got off to a rough start. In the early years of the state, native Israelis ridiculed Holocaust survivors for not having fought the Nazis. The stigma caused many to hide their past. To date, Yad Vashem has collected the names of nearly four million victims and is trying to recover as many more identities as possible while survivors still live.
“A name is essentially a person’s soul,” says Cynthia Wroclawski, manager of the Holocaust Victims’ Names Recovery Project at Yad Vashem. “It is their identity. The Nazis tried to blot out every memory of their victim... and when we try and create a personal commemoration to each and every victim we are in a sense recreating the great and tragic loss of 6 million of our brothers and sisters who were taken from us brutally.”
The present campaign in Israel has included broadcasts on national radio stations and has generated hundreds of telephone calls a day. Identities can be added to the Yad Vashem Names Web site, but volunteers are also dispatched to the homes of survivors to help them fill out the forms.
“We are really in a race against time,” says Wroclawski. “Time is passing and we don’t know how many more years we have left to speak with actual witnesses who still remember this information.”
Volunteers, like Zahava Schwartz, whose parents went through the Holocaust, have been reaching out to survivors. She says approaching death has caused some survivors to finally speak before it is too late.
“Now they feel that they are old and they have to talk about it, otherwise it will be forgotten,” Schwartz says. “Every person is a new story and every person is a sad story, so it is difficult and sometimes we cry together, and sometimes I go home and then I cry.”
Wroclawski says there are about 250 volunteers from across the country helping with the program. Most of the missing identities come from areas of the former Soviet Union and eastern Poland. Also, the haredi community, which often shuns national institutions, has been hesitant to register names with Yad Vashem.
“For many survivors this really is the last opportunity to bear witness to what they know,” she says. “If they know the help is there they will reach out.”
Drinking hot water, Neiditz, a retired barber, seems like a bundle of energy and much younger than his 86 years of age. It is as if he has been holding inside of himself his stories of survival for decades and they are now bursting out almost uncontrollably.
“My mother held on to me, saying ‘they took your father and brother. You have to stay with me,’” he recalls. He describes how he hid under the floorboards as a Nazi officer came in and bellowed “‘Ver ist der manner
?’ ‘Gone to work camps’ my mother said. The officer knew that meant they had been sent to their deaths and said, ‘Das ist gut
“The most important thing is for a person who has suffered through this
to tell it like it was during the Nazi times, the annihilation of the
Jews, and that this be documented by the media,” Neiditz says. “To see
it and hear it, and for it to be told for another 200 years.”
Asked why he waited until now to give the names of his parents and
siblings, Neiditz sits back in his chair and says, “The train has
already left the station. There’s nothing to say. If I say, ‘What a
pity,’ will it help? No. What I’m doing now is better than nothing
because we are only a few remaining Holocaust survivors in our old age.”
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