Lists of names, sorted by country of origin. Columns that provide ages and places of birth and death. Last names listed alphabetically, first names that you can find on a typical Hebrew school roster. Entire families follow, line by line. A grandparent, Mark, age 75; his child, Emanuel, age 40; and then the grandchild, Benjamin, age 7. An entire family, murdered by the Nazis.
These names became a program with the goal of remembering the victims of the Holocaust by reading their names aloud and in public spaces. This is the tribute to the six million Jews, one and a half million of them children, who were murdered. As the names of victims are read aloud, they are remembered. For many on these lists, it is the only time their name will be said aloud, as their entire family was murdered or there is no one left to remember them.
The program was inspired by the poem “Unto Every Person There is a Name” by Zelda, which begins “Unto Every Person there is a Name bestowed upon him by God and given him by his father and mother”. The program is held each year on Yom Hashoah, which is observed on the 27th of Nissan. The date was chosen by the Israeli Knesset to serve as Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, the commemoration will be on May 2nd.
The program was created to remind us that the victims were not just a number. Every individual had a name. They loved, worked and enjoyed their lives until they were murdered by the Nazis.
How do we remember each year? How do you bring more information to the participants who are part of the remembrance ceremonies? As survivors are passing away, the second and third generations of their descendants have committed themselves to bear witness. It is up to the Jewish community to support them in this task. B’nai B’rith became the North American coordinator of this program in 1989 and has brought the program to the community and campus for 30 years. Those who participate share stories of their experiences. Dignitaries and schoolchildren from public and parochial schools attend as readers. Passersby stop to listen and then ask if they can read as well. The readings take place in public places such as parks, in front of Holocaust monuments, the US Capitol (before 9/11), courthouse steps and shopping malls. It has also been held in cooperation with community events with synagogues, JCCs and Holocaust museums.
I remember when Congressman Jerome Nadler came to the District One ceremony in New York City in 1994. The program chair that year, Charles Friedman, president of the Leo Baeck Unit, shared a story about his family’s experiences during Kristallnacht. At another ceremony, B’nai B’rith leader Margarete Goldberger, who was saved as a child by the Kindertransport, was randomly given a list to read that included the name of a school friend in Germany who had not been able to flee the country in time. There are many memories that span the program’s 30-year history. Please share your own experiences at a program with us so that we can include these personal stories in our commemorations.
Names are also read on campus in conjunction with our partner, the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity. This year, over 130 campus programs were scheduled on campuses as part of their “We Walk to Remember” program. The brothers of AEPi wore stickers that said “Never Forget” and passed out information about the Holocaust as they walked silently through their campus. They proudly recognize their duty to be part of the remembrance, and we are grateful for their commitment to make this a part of their campus activity.
An international committee convened in Israel develops a theme and includes readings that relate to the topic. Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem, represents B’nai B’rith on this committee. The program is also under the auspices of the of President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, who sends a message of thanks to the communities that take on this important activity. This year, the theme is “The War Within the War: The Struggle of the Jews to Survive during the Holocaust”.
The names are available via a database. In many communities, the printed pages become part of an “Unto Every Person There is a Name” binder and are saved from year to year, as the lists take on a special significance to those who gather to remember them. Treated as a sacred object, the pages are brought out for special commemorations.
There is an ongoing project to collect as many names as can be found as part of the “Pages of Testimony Project”. In accordance with the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Israeli Knesset in 1953, Yad Vashem established a Hall of Names and maintains a database of information about victims of the Holocaust. To date, there have been 4.8 million names of Shoah victims documented in the Central Database of Shoah Victims.
B’nai B’rith International is grateful to Kurt and Tessye Simon (of blessed memory) for their support of the Unto programming. You can find information about the Unto Every Person There is a Name program at this link: http://www.bnaibrith.org/unto-every-person.html.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai B'rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B'nai B'rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
I had explained how caring about the people of our community and doing things that helped someone could be a profession and something that they and their families can do as volunteers. I also explained why we as Jews care about society because of something we call “tikun olam,” repairing our world.
We recently gave a similar challenge to leaders of B’nai B’rith at the 2016 Leadership Forum, held in Washington, D.C. We assembled a panel of experts who are the chairs and community leaders who deliver community programming year after year. They were given the task to describe in just five minutes their program and provide a take away to provide information on how it is done. The subject matter was diverse and each representative was able to deliver a message from their own heart and experiences and in record time. The time limit was to provide an “elevator speech,” about what can be said to involve people in what we do. The audience in that “elevator” or in your office or living room, is a potential participant, donor or member. If one can describe what a program or mission is all about in this short period, you have done justice to the cause and project you represent.
The content of this workshop was a diverse list of topics. Programs were presented to promote adult learning, provide opportunities for participation in activities such as sports and community service projects. It also described the Holocaust remembrance and awareness program, “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” held on Yom Hashoah. The programming is done each November for the annual observance of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, held in Latin America. They heard about the European Days of Jewish Culture, a vehicle to explore Jewish Culture across Europe. The secret to raising funds through community award dinners (recognizing community leaders and spotlighting B’nai B’rith) was shared. The audience also learned how the lodge and unit structure provides meaningful programming in many communities and how the Young Leadership Network is reaching out to young people with unique opportunities to participant in the B’nai B’rith agenda.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day) in Israel is not something that can be ignored. All the newspapers and broadcast outlets are dedicated to it. In thousands of ceremonies across the country, schools, academic institutions and government offices solemnly mark the murder of one third of the Jewish people during World War II. Traffic comes to a standstill and everyone—or nearly everyone—stops in their tracks while a piercing siren is heard across the land. I very much doubt that there is another nation in the world that shows greater respect for its national tragedy than Israel does towards the victims of the Holocaust.
Although the main thrust of the commemorations remain on the crimes of the Nazis and the devastation they wrought to a world of Jewish communities, rites, learning, traditions and individual victims, the B'nai B'rith World Center has been at the forefront of an effort to use these tragic events to fittingly turn the spotlight on Jews who went beyond the call of duty, endangering themselves and their families to rescue other Jews. Little known to most people today, thousands of Jews were engaged in such rescue activities in Germany, in the Axis states and in German-occupied territories. Together with a dedicated group of volunteers, members of the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B'nai B'rith World Center have held annual large scale events on Yom Hashoah in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. JRJ was established over 15 years ago at the initiative of Haim Roet, who survived in Holland as a child through the heroic efforts of two non-Jews who were subsequently recognized as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem and a Jew, Max Lions.
This event is, to the best of our knowledge, the only annual tribute dedicated to Jewish rescuers anywhere in the world. Through it we strive to inspire the nearly 1,000 school students and border police cadets present with the understanding that contrary to the popular perceptions validated by some Holocaust historians, Jewish solidarity did not die in the Holocaust—although it was, undoubtedly, put under tremendous strain. In reality, thousands of Jews rose to the challenge and, when the opportunity arose, found ways and the wherewithal to help fellow Jews.
The contemporary message we wish to promote is clear: these days when divisions among the Jewish people are escalating and dialogue has become polarized, the example of those Jews who rescued others in the face of annihilation should encourage us to rally our sense of solidarity and common Jewish destiny. Hundreds of thousands more in Israel are exposed to this message through the press coverage the event receives and other initiatives undertaken by the Committee.
Another 8,000 young German Jewish men released from Nazi imprisonment—many ransomed using his own fortune—were rescued through a scheme he proposed to establish internment camps in Britain. Israel died on June 1, 1941 along with actor and British intelligence office Leslie Howard when their plane was brought down in the Bay of Biscay by the Luftwaffe on a flight from Lisbon, Portugal. At that time Israel was busy planning the rescue of children from Nazi-occupied Europe to pre-state Israel for the Jewish Agency. He is credited with saving 50,000 Jewish lives. Each rescue story—like these two examples—is a narrative of heroism and selfless dedication to fellow Jews.
Through the efforts of the World Center and the Committee, key institutions and leading figures have become aware of the phenomenon of Jewish rescue. Writing to me and to Roet last month, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot noted that “our letter to him (about rescue by Jews in the Holocaust) brought home the importance of memorializing the Jews who endangered their lives to rescue the lives of their brethren during the Holocaust. As a result of this I found it appropriate to note these heroic rescue activities in my comments at a symposium of the General Staff at Yad Vashem prior to Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. We must remember and not forget the bravery that was shown alongside the pain. The principals of courage and camaraderie upon which the Jewish people acted in order to rescue their brethren, accompanies us—the commanders of the IDF and its soldiers…”
Also, in a letter dated May 17, Asa Kasher, professor emeritus in philosophy at Tel Aviv University and the author of the IDF’s code of ethics and a leading moral voice in Israel, wrote to the Committee in support of its initiative to amend the Yad Vashem Law and charge it with recognizing Jewish rescuers.
Another recent breakthrough is the acceptance of an MA thesis by the University of Haifa Faculty of Humanities, Multidisciplinary Program in Holocaust Studies by Noa Gidron, “Jews Saving Jews—individual initiative during the Holocaust 1939-1945” in which the World Center’s work on this issue was recognized.
These developments have inexorably set Jewish rescue on a path to become the next major topic of Holocaust research and attention.
More from the World Center:
Last month, we had the opportunity to remember and honor. This began on Yom Hashoah, when we remembered the victims of the Holocaust. B’nai B’rith has made this remembrance a part of its calendar of activities by bringing the program, Unto Every Person There is a Name, to communities and campuses in North America. On Yom Hashoah, the names of victims are read aloud as part of ceremonies that brings the community together to commemorate and observe the day. There are readings, poems and personal stories shared by survivors. This also includes second and third generations of families. It is a time to salute the liberators of the concentration camps and recognize rescuers of Jews, whether they be Jewish themselves or of another faith.
Since 1989, B’nai B’rith has been responsible for the distribution of program materials provided by Yad Vashem and an international committee each year. B’nai B’rith is represented by the B’nai B’rith World Center on the committee and assists in the selection of an annual theme that is incorporated into the observance. In addition to the community events, we are especially proud that the program is linked to campuses across North America, via the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi’s program, We Walk to Remember, held on 161 campuses this year. B’nai B’rith provides the materials for the campus program and AEPi brothers walk through their campus in silence, beginning and/or ending with name readings. They pass out a fact sheet about the Holocaust and proudly wear a simple message “Never Forget” on their tee shirts. The sticker reminds them and those who they pass that they are committed to remembering and bringing awareness about the Holocaust each year.
A week later, communities gathered to observe tributes to Israel. On Yom Hazikaron, the Jewish community remembered the soldiers who have given their lives to create and protect the Jewish state. The day precedes Yom Haaztzmaut, designated to remember the anniversary of Israel’s founding. Both days offer the opportunity to remember and honor, bringing pain and joy together as one day ends and the other begins. These days remember and celebrate the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people. B’nai B’rith leaders and representatives of lodges and units across the globe, joined with the Jewish communities to remember and celebrate the fact that we are all connected to Israel no matter where we live.
We concluded the month of May here in America with Memorial Day, created as a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of our country. It was proclaimed after the Civil War in 1868, to honor those who had died and to decorate their graves.
As continued, it became a day to remember those who gave their lives fighting for their country around the world. It has also become a time to remind us that while it is a day off, it should not be known as the time to have a barbeque, get to the official opening of swim clubs or to take advantage of a sale at the shopping mall. B’nai B’rith’s commitment to remember those members who lost their lives is evident in archival information and in memorials around the country. Another way to remember and honor those lost and those who have been wounded is through community service at programs at Veteran’s Affairs hospitals.
The Jewish people remember and honor their history. Individuals also observe the days such as those described above and in another very personal way, when we observe the anniversary of a family member’s death. This is dedicated to my mother Rochelle Boltino, whose Yahrzeit was observed on May 31.
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