When a small staff of researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) set out to document all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and various other types of internment centers established by the Nazis and their allies during the Holocaust, they estimated the number of sites to be between five and ten thousand. Thirteen years later, they have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos, camps, and Gestapo prisons throughout Europe, astonishing even seasoned Holocaust researchers. While many of these ghettos and camps had been known to individual Holocaust historians, no one had ever sought to put all the pieces of this blood-soaked puzzle together. It turned out that not only was the total number far higher that anyone had imagined, but it has become clear that nearly seven decades after the Holocaust, the full scope of Nazi atrocities has yet to be uncovered.
In an interview with Hamodia, Dr. Geoffrey P. Megargee, one of the lead editors on the project, revealed that this staggering number only lists places where inmates were forcibly held, and not countless massacre sites where Jews and others were killed and buried in unmarked mass graves.
The USHMM is to be commended for their dedicated and praiseworthy efforts to document each and every one of the Nazi camps and ghettos.
At the same time, these new revelations serve to remind us all — both as a community and as individuals — of our own obligations towards the kedoshim.
As a community, we must do much more to support Torah-true Holocaust education and research.
As individuals, we must rededicate ourselves to reaching out to members of the rapidly dwindling population of Holocaust survivors. In addition to making certain that all their needs are met, listening to and learning from their tales and personal memories is in itself a most uplifting and enlightening experience. Many members of our community are descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors, and it is time for each of us to ask the questions: Do I know the full story of what happened to my family during WWII? Do I know where my relatives were killed, or even what the names of the kedoshim in my extended family are? Do I know how some of my relatives survived the war? Of course, great sensitivity and common sense must be used when attempting to discuss these events with frail and elderly survivors, for not all of them can, or should — for reasons of emotional and physical health — relive their terrible memories.
It is our sacred obligation to make certain that not only are the kedoshim remembered, but that their fate isn’t relegated to only a listing of names and statistics. We owe it to them and we owe to ourselves to ensure that their mesirus nefesh for Torah and mitzvos under the most difficult of circumstances, their cries of Shema Yisrael as they were killed al kiddush Hashem, will never be forgotten.
Let us constantly recall that behind each number from one to six million, behind each name both known and unknown, glows an eternal soul, a light that the crematoria were unable to extinguish. At a time when Klal Yisrael is in such desperate need of Heavenly intercession, in the merit of the efforts to keep their memory alive, may these holy souls plead on behalf of those of us in this temporal world.