Aging survivors give up precious Holocaust relics

For Yad Vashem campaign described as "race against time," thousands of survivors' personal relics are collected and preserved.

Hershel Yoffe, his wife Gittel in 1932 311 (photo credit: Yad Vashem)
Hershel Yoffe, his wife Gittel in 1932 311
(photo credit: Yad Vashem)
For 80-year-old David Ariel, a survivor of the Holocaust, parting with cherished letters from his mother, killed at Auschwitz, was a painful but necessary duty.
Ariel and thousands of other elderly Israeli survivors answered a call by Yad Vashem to hand in Holocaust-era keepsakes to preserve their memory for future generations.
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Ariel's contribution to Yad Vashem's "Fragments of Memory" campaign consisted of the few letters his mother Zelma had written to him and other family members before she was killed at Auschwitz during World War II.
"I felt like I was separating from her all over again when I handed them in, even though I knew I didn't have the proper conditions to preserve them and they were starting to yellow and tatter," he said.
Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said the drive to collect fading memorabilia, including letters, photographs, toys and articles of clothing, before survivors died was "a kind of race against time so that they will be remembered".
Recent attempts to deny the Holocaust, particularly by Israel's arch-enemy Iran, have refocused Israeli efforts to collect survivors' testimonies and relics.
"Imagine if we had six million testimonies, it would stand for ever against all the Holocaust deniers," Shalev said. "Perhaps this is thinking virtually, but practically any new testimony or artifact adds something to this process."
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Ariel, born in Czechoslovkia and a retired lieutenant colonel in the Israeli military, wept as he described his wartime ordeals.
Taken at the age of 13 to Auschwitz, in Poland, he spent a week in the death camp before being sent to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he survived for months on food scraps as a slave laborer.
"People all around me were dying like flies. I don't know how I survived," said Ariel, whose father, a brother and a sister perished at Auschwitz.