Yad Vashem and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry have embarked on a project to record the names of Soviet-era Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Their emissaries will spend a month attempting to visit the roughly one million Russian immigrants in Israel to create a database of names, the ministry said.
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Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said there was a need to "knock on every door" to ask for information about the people who were murdered in Nazi-occupied Soviet territory during World War II.
The "Immortalization Month" campaign aims to gather as many names as possible of the hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews who perished. Yad Vashem has 3.1 million names of Jewish Holocaust victims in its database, of which only 350,000 names belong to Soviet Jews.
The Nazis and their collaborators murdered six million Jews. The low proportion of victims from the Soviet Union whose names have been recorded led Yad Vashem and the ministry to launch the campaign.
According to the ministry, only 20 percent of the victims from Soviet areas have been recorded, as opposed to about 80% from Western European countries and about 40% from nations like Hungary, Poland and Romania.
For example, Yad Vashem has the names of only 7,000 Jews murdered at Babi Yar in the Ukraine, although it is known that some 33,000 Jews were murdered there.
Boris Maftzir, who heads the project for Yad Vashem, lists several reasons for the dearth of recorded names from the former Soviet Union.
During Soviet times it was impossible to commemorate and document the Holocaust, and there was no access to archival material. In addition, the large migration of Soviet Jews in the '90s hampered efforts to collect information about those who perished, Maftzir says.
Another reason names were not readily accessible, according to Maftzir, was that the Germans had only begun to develop their systematic killing machine when they invaded these areas, and, despite tallying the number of dead, did not document their victims' names.
To date, Yad Vashem has collected the names of 30,000 victims from Jews living in Russia and the Ukraine. Only several thousand names have been documented as a result of questioning Russian-language immigrants in Israel. Yad Vashem estimates that many of the missing 3,000,000 names are of Jews from Soviet lands.
The project will be conducted during February all over the country, especially in areas with large concentrations of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They will be presented with a "Witness Document" questionnaire.
Officials from the ministry will focus on its branch offices, immigrant centers, clubs, housing projects, libraries, local authorities, as well as working through immigrant organizations.
The questionnaires, which will collect biographical information about victims from the general public, survivors and the families of victims, will be collated and kept in the hall of names at Yad Vashem.
The Absorption Ministry is also recruiting dozens of volunteers from the immigrant community to conduct interviews with survivors and relatives of victims.
Boim said the campaign would also help to fight anti-Semitism, and called on the Russian-speaking immigrant community to cooperate in the "holy endeavor."
"The time we have to immortalize those who perished is running out," he said.