Israel's Holocaust Memorial Opens Photo Archive on the Internet

July 7, 2008 - 7:06 PM

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Tova Mendel looked worried as she and her husband Salomon Findling and their four children walked down the street of Stropkov, Slovakia, with other members of the Jewish community in May 1942. We'll never know what she was thinking, but a picture of the family carrying their belongings as they were being deported by the Nazis now appears on Web site of Yad Vashem, Israel's main Holocaust memorial.

In honor of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, marked in Israel on Thursday, Yad Vashem expanded its Internet presence this week by opening an online database containing nearly two-thirds of the 200,000 photos in its archives.

Tova's picture is one of 130,000 photos that can now be accessed online. Another photo shows Jewish women and children at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Deemed "not fit for work," they are sitting on the grass before being gassed. A third photo shows dozens of Jews gathered in the Westerbork Camp in Holland as a young Jewish man lights Hanukkah candles.

"It is part of the ongoing [effort] to harness technology to further the cause of Holocaust remembrance," said Estee Yaari, Yad Vashem's foreign media liaison. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said that putting the photo collection on the Internet would make the vast collection easily accessible to the public.

"We are hoping that it will increase public awareness of the archives' tremendous importance and encourage people who have similar photographs and documents to send them to Yad Vashem for safekeeping," Shalev said.

Dr. Haim Gertner, director of the Yad Vashem Archives, said he hopes the public will join the ongoing efforts to decipher the pictures and identify the people in them.

Gertner told Cybercast News Service that the archives are the largest and most comprehensive collection of photos of the Jewish people from that period.

The online edition contains photos of the lives Jews before, during and after the horrors of World War II.

The Web site makes it easy for users to search for words that are spelled in a number of different ways. Another feature provides Google maps to help viewers find the location of towns shown in the photographs.

Earlier this week, Yad Vashem launched two YouTube sites. The English version includes sound bites from President Bush and French President Nicholas Sarkozy on their visits to the memorial.

"I would hope that as many people in the world come to this place, it would be a sobering reminder that evil exists and a call that when we find evil we must resist it," President Bush says.

The YouTube clips also includes short video testimonies of survivors, among them Zanne Farbstein. She and her two sisters were among 1,000 women who were the first Jews to arrive at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Auschwitz was the Nazis' largest concentration camp. It is estimated that up to 2.5 million people were murdered or died there.

"I worked sorting clothes and I found Father's prayer shawl. There were five crematoria. They burned day and night. Transports kept arriving and there was no room in the crematoria, so the children were thrown into pits and burned - little children...Alive!" Farbstein recalled in one video.

"We were all sick, so we would drag each other to work. Until one morning my older sister Edith said: 'You know what? I can't go on any more. Enough!'

"I cried. I shouted. Nothing helped. I had torn shoes. She had good shoes. She said to me, 'Let's exchange shoes.'

"So we went to work. When we returned, she was no more," Farbstein said. She and her other sister were in Auschwitz together for three years, waiting for death every day, she said. "That was the worst part: the fear."

Farbsten says she never would have believed that she could live a normal life - marrying and having children and grandchildren. "Sheer joy!" she says.

The Arabic version also has testimonies and archival footage about the Holocaust subtitled in Arabic, Yad Vashem said in a statement.

Shalev said the YouTube sites are intended to counter the "plethora of misinformation and deliberate lies available on the Internet" and make reliable information more readily available.

"By meeting the survivors through their testimonies, and seeing the foremost experts in the field address difficult questions, viewers will be able to connect on yet another level to this pivotal, and defining event," he said.

On Thursday, Israel came to a standstill as a two-minute air raid siren wailed in remembrance of Holocaust victims.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.