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Giving an identity to Holocaust's fallen

Israel’s national Holocaust memorial has launched an online database of Holocaust names.  NBC's Paul Goldman reports.
A visitor looks at images of Holocaust survivors that were taken on liberation day at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on display at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on Monday.
A visitor looks at images of Holocaust survivors that were taken on liberation day at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on display at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on Monday.Kevin Frayer / AP
/ Source: NBC News

"If something were to happen, I would like someone to remember that a man by the name of David Berger once lived."

These were the last lines David Berger, 19, wrote to his girlfriend, before he was shot to death by German soldiers in 1941.

Berger’s last wish has now been granted thanks to 21st century technology and 10 years of unstinting effort.

Yad Vashem, “a monument and a name,” situated in the hills of Jerusalem, is Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and late last year it launched an online database of 3 million Holocaust names.

The Names’ Database at  is an attempt to reconstruct the names and life stories of all the Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The ultimate aim is to collect information on all 6 million Jews who died at hands of Nazi Germany.

To date, more than 3 million people around the world have already logged onto the Internet site which contains “Pages of Testimony” that have been collected at Yad Vashem since 1955. The pages and site contain a wealth of information with an advance search tool to help narrow down the search to the victim, his or her name, occupation, place of birth and "approximate age at death."

A turning point
For 78-year-old Eliezer Ayalon, the turning point was Aug. 28, 2000.

Ayalon, who lives in Jerusalem, told me it took 47 years before he could start talking about what had happened in the camps and how he managed to survive that hell. Eliezer kept the stories, as he said “ in my stomach” until August, 2000 when he decided to open his heart and let the horrors out.

He went to Yad Vashem and filled out five Pages of Testimony for his whole family who was murdered at the Treblinka death camp. Then it all came pouring out, he wrote a book and started giving lectures to students around the world on his first-hand experience of life before and after the Nazis.

The first thing I did after my conversation with Ayalon was to search the Yad Vashem site for his family. I typed in his former family name, before it was changed when he came to  Israel. It took the database two seconds to find his family name, Hershenfis. I immediately got acquainted with his past family and got drawn into a whole world, a world of one family and the story of a single survivor.

There was his father, Yisrael, 62, who was a shoemaker; brothers Meir, 27, and Aboush, 24, were both tailors; his sister Khalia, who only got to celebrate 20 birthdays; his mother Rivka, 58, who had stayed at home raising her children. They were all transported from the Radom ghetto in Poland to the Treblinka death camp where they died. 

Ayalon, among other survivors, sees these pages as a living gravestone for his family, who otherwise would have no physical record of existence. Now that there is an online database, he receives calls from people around the world asking questions about other survivors and victims he might have information about.

Finding a relative
Ruth Neuwald Falcon, of Seattle was in Israel attending a conference. While visiting Yad Vashem she searched the database and found information about a lost relative. Falcon was then reunited with her 95-year-old cousin, Miriam Roth, who lives on a kibbutz in the north of Israel.

There is no doubt that this Database is going to change the lives of Holocaust survivors and their families. Stories like that of Falcon are becoming more and more frequent in the Israeli media.

Yad Vashem points out that the Database is a work in progress and urges any survivors or their children to fill out Testimony Pages.

The site not only acts as a search tool, and an educational one, but also as a platform for submitting a testimony from anywhere in the world.

As the world this week mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Yad Vashem sees this as a critical moment in history, a small window in time before many of the survivors themselves pass away.