Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Faces of the Fallen

"Faces of the Fallen" is a volunteer project, established in 2012, to research the lives of fallen soldiers in Israel and complete the details engraved on their tombstones. Sponsored in cooperation with the memorial unit of Israel's Ministry of Defense, the project works collaboratively with Yad Vashem to research soldiers who were born in Europe and immigrated to Israel either prior to or immediately following the Holocaust. Yad Vashem serves not only a source of vital information about the soldiers' lives, but also helps shed light on the soldiers' family backgrounds and sometimes locate living relatives by making 
use of information in the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names. 
Grave of Moshe Willinger
Many of the fallen in Israel between the years of 1940-1950 
were soldiers who immigrated before World War II. The majority of the families they left behind were murdered in the Holocaust. Other fallen soldiers were themselves survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust who were recruited into the army soon after their arrival and fell in the battle for Israel's independence. Often there is very little information about their experiences during the war or their family background. "Faces of the Fallen" is currently researching the lives of some 300 soldiers from Europe, mainly Holocaust survivors. Headed by Dorit Perry and Uri Sagi, project volunteers "adopt" soldiers and research their biographies in archives in Israel and abroad. 

The cooperation with Yad Vashem allows the project team to access archival
databases and learn more about the fallen soldiers. Thanks to information in Yad Vashem's Names Database, project staff were able to learn more about Moshe Willinger, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, who fell in the line of duty on August 15, 1948 at the age of 20. Tracing the history of Brent Willinger, Moshe's father, volunteers found evidence that Moshe's sister may have been murdered together with her father. They also found the name of his mother, as well as further information about his family's experiences during World War II. During an emotional ceremony held on April 21, 2015 at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl attended by Moshe's cousins, his friends from the Bnei Akiva youth movement as well as the young volunteers who had tirelessly researched his story, Moshes Willinger's tombstone was replaced with a new stone containing all the updated information that was discovered.

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