Monday, May 9, 2016

Unto Every Person There is a Name: Remembering Ita Rochel Aronstein

Kristine Johansson-Smith, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor from Riga, Latvia, grew up never knowing what her maternal grandmother, Ita Rochel Aronstein, looked like. Kristine's mother, Ruta Johansson-Aronstein, born in 1936, was only five years old when the Nazis occupied Latvia. The young Ruta survived the war under the care of her stepmother, who was not Jewish, but her grandmother Ita was deported and never heard from again.
 
Kristine Johansson-Smith in the Hall of Remembrance
 "My mother survived the Shoah during the Nazi occupation of Latvia," Kristine related. "Her freedom was 'bought' from the Nazis during the war, while her mother – my grandmother – was deported and executed. According to my mother, my grandmother knew she was going die. She had given her blessing to my mother's wealthy stepmother who adopted and saved my mother." Kristine added, "All through my childhood in Sweden, I witnessed how much my mother missed her own mother, saying 'If I only had one photo of my mother,' 'I don't even  know where she is buried, where I can visit her.' 'One photo, if only I had one photo.'" 
Ita-Rochel Aronstein
Kristine relocated to Israel in January 2016. As part of her aliyah process, she contacted the Latvian State Historical Archive in search of documents to confirm her Jewish identity. In addition to the documentation she sought, Kristine was surprised to discover that the Archive contained a photograph of her grandmother. After contacting her mother and sending her a copy of the photograph, Kristine decided to commemorate her grandmother by registering her name with Yad Vashem.  
 
Pictured with Cynthia Wroclawski,
Deputy Director Archives Division
Kristine contacted Yad Vashem with the idea that it would be most befitting for her to complete the process of commemoration on Holocaust Remembrance Day. While Ita Rochel Aronstein's name does appear on Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, it is recorded as it appears in several archival sources documenting pre-war Jewish residents of Riga, Latvia only – as Rochel Jukowitsch nee Arenstein.
 
For this reason, the documents do not state the fate of the individual. With the goal of providing her grandmother with a personal commemoration and in order to attest to her murder, Kristine submitted a Page of Testimony for her grandmother, Ita Rochel Aronstein, along with the newly found photograph. Pages of Testimony are special forms created by Yad Vashem to restore the personal identities of each one of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices. Submitted by survivors, family members or friends in commemoration of the Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust, these one-page forms, containing the names, brief biographical details and, when available, photographs of each individual victim, are essentially symbolic tombstones. To date the names of some 4.6 million Holocaust victims are recorded on Yad Vashem's online Names Database.
 
Entry in Names Database for Ita-Rochel Aronstein
 In addition, Kristine will also submit a Shoah Survivor Registration Form for her mother Ruta, documenting her experiences during the Holocaust and briefly recounting her life history in its aftermath. She also consulted with experts from the Yad Vashem Archives on the region of Latvia regarding the fate of her family during the Holocaust.
 
After submitting the forms, Kristine took part in a moving ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, called "Unto Every Person There is a Name," wherein she publically read out her grandmother's name, granting her a sense of closure after so many years of doubt and heartache.

"Reading my grandmother's name in the Hall of Remembrance, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, was a deeply moving experience for me," recounted an emotional Kristine. "Finally she has a resting place, a place where she can be remembered by the whole world for generations to come. This is what my mother wanted for her all these years." Kristine hesitated, and added, "Wishes do come true. It may take your whole life. I believe this is one of the most beautiful miracles that has occurred since I landed in Israel."

 For assistance with submitting Pages of Testimony and for additional information, contact: The Shoah Victim's Names Recovery Project:  names.proj@yadvashem.org.il 

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