Googling for Holocaust survivors
July 8, 2004 1:42 PM   Subscribe

High school students in Israel are harnessing the community-building power of weblogs to locate survivors of the Holocaust.
posted by arco (21 comments total)
"We have a small window of opportunity. If there are enough blogs on the Internet, the ties between the survivors can be found"

Wow! This is amazing - and, when you come down to it, so simple. Thanks for this post, arco!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:49 PM on July 8, 2004

it's a great idea...and hopefully the blogs will remain active and online for a long time as another resource of the era.
posted by amberglow at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2004

Neat, it's kind of like a 21st Century version of Yizkor books. Although not to be too depressing here, but the sad truth is that most of these kids' relatives are dead and long gone. The Nazi's were pretty damn thorough, and then the Communists appeared... Still, there's hope that maybe a lone survivor or two will know something about one of their relatives, maybe be able to contribute an anecdote about them or a clue to their fate.

(And speaking of clues to relatives' fates, the Lodz Ghetto lists Holocaust database--240,000 names!--just went online a few days ago, and it's free.)
posted by Asparagirl at 3:56 PM on July 8, 2004

That's amazing - and it looks like they're basically leveraging blogs and google, to design a distributed database, and designing/adding their own metadata.
posted by carter at 4:45 PM on July 8, 2004

The Holocaust was a dreadful thing.

But why don't we spend some of that energy in trying to document and prevent present-day genocide? While the horrors in East Timor were going on, there wasn't a month when the Holocaust (almost fifty years old by that time) didn't get over 10 times the press coverage (in column inches) of the killings that were going on at that very moment. (I believe this number "10" is from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting but I can't find it on their site). Same is true of the mass killings in Rwanda. We hear very little about the 9 or so million people killed by Stalin, and nothing at all of the 10 million or more killed by Mao.

This may be heresy but our prime duty now is to save people who are living today from a similar fate and not to obsess about people who died over two generations now.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:14 PM on July 8, 2004

you're right, lupus, but that doesn't mean this shouldn't still happen. It's a small thing, but can potentially help people. We should be preventing/stopping genocides everywhere and always--it may be one of the lasting lessons of WW2 for many of us.
posted by amberglow at 5:22 PM on July 8, 2004

But lupus, survivors - even Jewish survivors - are also alive. Granted, it would have been a lot easier if they'd all been killed but, hey, even Hitler wasn't perfect.

Seriously, don't you understand all these genocides are connected and that awareness of one leads to awareness of others? How can you think it's an either/or situation? Do you honestly think Holocaust survivors and their families are less sensitive to other acts of genocide?

Do you think there's a quota of human attention reserved for genocide - say 1% of the average span - and that locating Holocaust survivors and their relatives hogs all the available "bandwidth"?

Are Jews - even high school students blogging to find survivors - once again accused of hoarding all the precious resources?

Please think again.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:33 PM on July 8, 2004

Miguel, calm down. While you're right that there's no mercantilist system whereby people can only care X amount about any one genocide at a time, Lupus is right in the sense that we've been neglecting our responsibility to document ongoing atrocities (Darfur, Zimbabwe) and recent-past ones (Kurds and Marsh Arabs in Iraq, concentration camps in Bosnia, ethnic cleansing in Rwanda). We need to more actively call-out and shame those who don't want to do anything about them. James Moore wrote a great blog post about this just today:
"The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was the single most important element of international law to be adopted in response to the Holocaust. It was intended to be the embodiment in law of the commitment “never again.”

Unfortunately, the result has been “never intervene” rather than “never again.” The Convention apparently has never been used to prevent a genocide. According to my reading of history, and fact checking in the comprehensive book on Genocide written by Samantha Power of Harvard, no US president has ever intervened to stop a genocide in the 55 years since the Convention was adopted.

What we do is punish the criminals after the fact.
He goes on to discuss the situation in Darfur (the Sudan) in more detail, and slams both Kofi Annan and Colin Powell for refusing to call what is going on right now in the Sudan a genocide. Then he ties the whole thing into the war on terrorism angle. Good, but depressing, reading.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:42 PM on July 8, 2004

Asparagirl: You may have already seen it, but the New York Public Library is putting the majority of its Yizkor book collection online. They only have 19 posted at the moment, but we are all really excited about the prospect. (I work in a Holocaust research library.)

The Committe on Conscience at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum tries to raise awareness of current and potential acts of genocide (such as Darfur), in the hopes that the lessons learned from the Holocaust can prevent such acts of state-sponsored mass murder in the future. Jerry Fowler, the Director of the CoC, has visited the Darfur region of Sudan and reported on the crises with editorials and interviews on NPR, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. But it is really disheartening how quiet most of the world's leaders have been on the issue.

(And thanks for the link to Moore's post. He links to Passion of the Present, which also looks to be a great resource for news from Darfur.)
posted by arco at 6:24 PM on July 8, 2004

Miguel -- the point is that there IS only a certain amount of time in the day, only a certain amount of energy that people can spend dealing with the world's injustices.

It seems pretty obvious to me that awareness of the Holocaust has contributed nothing whatsoever to people's awareness of this issue. Try it yourself -- walk up to someone on the street and ask them what Dachau was. Chances are, they'll know. Now ask them about Pol Pot, East Timor, Rwanda, etc. etc. You'll get a blank stare.

Now, if there were the slightest evidence that the world were interested in genocidal activities happening right now, if even a fraction of the attention given to crimes against humanity that happened 60 years ago was given to crimes happening right now today, then I'd not care.

Here's a question for you all -- what was the second largest group killed by the Nazis? How many? Hint: you won't find them by looking through the Holocaust Museum.

(At least the Holocaust Museum has started putting banners about today's victims of genocide after a lot of complaints... a little progress there.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:43 PM on July 8, 2004

To clarify my question: what group had the second-largest number of victims of Nazi genocide (ie, not Russian soldiers)?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:52 PM on July 8, 2004

Fair enough, lupus. I definitely see what you mean. I'd argue, however, that we need to divert a scant 1% attention from the 99,9% of pap and drivel that occupy our daily lives to focus on all the genocidal drives and urges. And not only genocidal - on all the murderous crimes committed everywhere.

I don't think that genocides "compete" with each other for attention - all outrages compete with the drivel and the pap.

If only people knew. The masses are not stupid or uncaring - only uninformed.

If you look at charities, you might find that it's somehow "silly" to contribute to animal rights groups, when there's so much human suffering. But that's not the way human beings work. It's enough that each one of us does some good and helps his fellow creatures. Criticising those who send money to animal rights groups because they're not involved in Rwanda (or for choosing foxes instead of primates) seems, to me, beside the point.

Most people don't contribute at all to anything - that is the problem. And the tragedy is that lack of information is the cause of some of that indifference. It's really not the case that "since citizen X is concerned about genocide, direct him to genocide A". That seems self-defeating.

By the way, thanks for your reasoned reply (and for disregarding my facetious opening remarks).
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:03 PM on July 8, 2004

what group had the second-largest number of victims of Nazi genocide (ie, not Russian soldiers)?

Non-Jewish Polish citizens. An estimated 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were killed in prisons, work camps, concentration camps or other organized mass murder.
posted by arco at 7:10 PM on July 8, 2004

I always thought that the biggest tolls were in Russia - although by 'victims of Nazi genocide' I guess you're referring to systematic extermination rather than general military carnage (not that it mattered too much to the victims). Anyway I just found:

National Death Tolls for WW2. Which is part of Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Man-made Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century.


Apologies for unannotated links, I'm just finding these right now.

50 million died in WW2, I can't imagine it; and most of the survivors will be gone soon. A friend was researching Japanese-Americans interned in the US in WW2 who went on to work/fight with the US military, for oral history; same story, those that are left are in their eighties/nineties now.
posted by carter at 8:06 PM on July 8, 2004

arco, that's great news--I hadn't heard that they were going online. I actually made Xeroxes of this book's necrology list to translate from the Yiddish to add to the online JewishGen project...which, I, um, should actually submit to them one of these days. But the really creepy part was finding that the book had some pre-war photos reproduced in it, and that one of them showed a previously-unknown relative (paternal grandfather's first cousin, a teenage girl) who looked very, very much like my sister.

Do you work at YIVO?
posted by Asparagirl at 8:07 PM on July 8, 2004

PS: lupus_yonderboy, if you want to stop obsessing over those who died two generations ago, you're going to have to forget about Stalin ;)
posted by carter at 8:09 PM on July 8, 2004

oall outrages compete with the drivel and the pap.

Amen, brother.

Criticising those who send money to animal rights groups because they're not involved in Rwanda (or for choosing foxes instead of primates) seems, to me, beside the point.

Now, I don't think that sort of criticism entirely unreasonable. I do think it's deplorable that people in America and other places are so much more interested in their pets than in the world around them -- particularly when the actions of their country in their names is causing such great turmoil in the world.

The solution is increased awareness... we both agree...!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:10 PM on July 8, 2004

Ach, the Polish answer is right but not the answer I was looking for. Serves me right.

I was thinking of the Rom.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:13 PM on July 8, 2004

(Just an FYI: Here's information from the Holocaust Museum about the many millions of non-Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. There's also a series of booklets on Poles [linked above], Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the mentally and physically handicapped. You can also find bibliographies, essays, videos, and more on the rest of the Museum site. Full disclosure: I work in the USHMM Library, though I was not involved in any of the linked resources.)

Asparagirl, check your email.

posted by arco at 8:46 PM on July 8, 2004

Cheers, lupus - I'm proud to be a brother to you.

But, if I could advance your (our) cause just a second, the way I see it is that, in the year 2004, we're still way beyond even an approximation of humanity.

We're still arguing against genocide! Genocides still occur (I was very involved in the East Timor struggle, btw, and it was a great triumph for the Timorese, Bill Clinton and the much-maligned UN) and we do well do oppose them. But, dammit, how behind the times we are.

My hope, before I die, is that we can all be involved with "lesser" rights ("less" than killing millions because they are who they are), such as the rights of non-whites, gays, women, children, battered wives; older people; minorities everywhere, no matter how small.

I'll be happy when the main agenda for right-thinking people will be the right to eat Hungarian marshmallows at no extra cost; or watch Venezuelan beauty contests on cable; or smoke cigars in your own car.

Meanwhile, however, we're still occupied with the atrocious tragedies of our time. We must not desist!

But hope is a fine thing, right?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:09 PM on July 8, 2004

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