Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tombstones Tell the Stories of the Shoah

Mass Gravestone in Jerusalem cemetery
When visiting a Jewish cemetery it is usually on specific occasions or dates, for example the annual yahrtzeit (anniversary of the date of death) of a relative or friend. One is not likely to pay much attention to the words imprinted on the various tombstones surrounding him. But if one pauses and scans the "small print" engraved into the tombstones in the labyrinth of the cemetery he may reveal many fascinating stories, shedding light onto details regarding the fate of the buried person as well as his or her extended family during the Holocaust period. This phenomenon is commonly found in Jewish cemeteries in Israel and around the world, providing testimony and telling stories that have been carved for eternity onto the stone monuments.
Esther Erlich, z"l 
Many such stories and other invaluable information are collected and documented by the dedicated staff of Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project from among the ultra-Orthodox world.  Working since 2007, the staff is specially trained to photograph the names of Holocaust victims from Memorial Plaques and Judaic artifacts in Synagogues, from gravestones in cemeteries and from names in the dedications found in books of Torah and Judaic literature.
In the Har Hamenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem, one large mass gravestone stands out: a tombstone of a mass grave of eight Jews who were brutally murdered in the Holocaust while hiding in a bunker in Poland. Their remains were brought to Israel for burial and they were re-interred in Jerusalem. The stones of the monument tell the story of the eight individual victims and highlight the devotion of the Jewish people, and their acts of communal kindness and their efforts to save their brethren even during the most difficult times. Among the eight were Esther Erlich, her mother, father and brother. Esther was born in 1928 and was only 15 years old when she was murdered. Inscribed next to her name is a short epitaph giving a glimpse of her actions.
Page of Testimony in memory of Esther Erlich

"Such was her noble essence. During the hardest of days she endangered her own life to save others." 

Since 2004, over 1.5 million names have been collected through The Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project. Of these, over 700,000 names of Shoah victims have been collected from Torah world sources and commemoration projects as well as from Pages of Testimony within the ultra-Orthodox sector.  To date, the online Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names now includes 4.3 million names of Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust.

For more information about submitting names or volunteer opportunities, please contact:

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