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UN exhibition gives Holocaust victims an ‘everlasting name’

A Holocaust survivor and diplomats discussed the massive “Book of Names.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (center); Gilad Erdan (left), Israel's ambassador to the United Nations; and Dani Dayan, Yad Vashem chair, at the exhibit “The Yad Vashem Book of Names of Holocaust Victims.”/UN
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres (center); Gilad Erdan (left), Israel's ambassador to the United Nations; and Dani Dayan, Yad Vashem chair, at the exhibit “The Yad Vashem Book of Names of Holocaust Victims.”/UN

It’s a book with an unresolved ending.

Yad Vashem and the Israeli Mission to the United Nations unveiled an exhibition on Thursday at U.N. headquarters in New York City.

The installation, called The Book of Names, includes 4.8 million alphabetically-arranged names of Holocaust victims, who are known to Yad Vashem. When available, it includes birthdates, hometowns and place and circumstances of death.

Measuring in at 26.45 feet long, 6.56 feet tall, and 3.3 feet wide, the “book” concludes with empty pages, commemorating 1.2 million yet-unidentified Jewish victims.

At the exhibition opening on Thursday, held the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres thanked Yad Vashem for giving the millions of victims an “everlasting name” by bringing the show to the U.N.

“Six million men, women and children are lost forever, but their names will never be forgotten,” he said. “This exhibit is a call to action–a call to remembrance, as we have to find new ways to carry the torch of remembrance.”

Alexander Avram, who directs Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names, told JNS that although the Israeli memorial’s names database is open and freely accessible online, it is “very symbolic” for the memory of the victims to have the brick-and-mortar exhibit.

“Many people need something concrete–tangible–that you can touch,” he said. “You can have empathy with this display.”

Bronia Brandman was one of the Holocaust survivors who attended Thursday alongside U.N. delegates and politicians. She told JNS that she was overwhelmed.

“I always think in terms of 6 million. How do you show it?” she said. “I thought of this display as a book, and I could not imagine how you could show 6 million.” Having seen the display, she both understands and finds the treatment “extraordinarily touching,” she told JNS.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., said the Nazis murdered his grandfather’s wife and seven children, who “are eternally enshrined in the Book of Names downstairs,” and whose “memory will live on forever.”

Erdan told attendees that Holocaust denial and distortion–the very scourge against which he initiated a successful U.N. General Assembly resolution–are on the rise.

“There are those working to erase the memory and lessons that must be learned from our horrific atrocity,” he said. “They question the right of the Jewish people and Jewish state to protect ourselves. Even here at the U.N., such bigots can be found.”

Having “rose from the ashes of the Holocaust,” the U.N. “bears a responsibility to actively combat antisemitism,” he said.

Robert Skinner, deputy director and chief of partnerships and global engagement for the U.N.’s outreach division, told JNS his employer’s partnership with Yad Vashem “is critical for us this week, to be able to shine a spotlight, to remember, to look back on the Holocaust and the horrors of the Holocaust, but also to remind people why it’s still important today.”

Prior to the program, Guterres, Erdan and Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan thumbed through the displayed pages. Dayan shared his personal story with Guterres before sharing with attendees as well that the Nazis murdered his great-uncles Nachman and Aryeh.

“They are two names I grew up with,” he said. “Names I associate with pain, sorrow, longing.”

The U.N. will display The Book of Names in its headquarters until Feb. 17, after which it will travel to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for permanent installation. There, it will open in time for Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, beginning April 17 in the evening.

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