[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 24 January, 2005, 04:20 GMT
Race to preserve Holocaust legacy
By Steven Shukor
BBC News

"Popocatepetl," Trude Levi repeated dreamily as if chanting it could transport her back to her childhood.

A photograph of Trude Levi just before the war
A photograph of Trude Levi taken just before the start of the war

In a narrow and paper-cluttered computer room in her north London home, Mrs Levi was browsing for the first time a new internet database listing the names and life stories of half of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

She had keyed in her father's name, Dezso Mosonyi, and noticed another entry under the same name. Dezso Mosonyi was also the name of her father's cousin.

"I never met him," she said. "But I always remember the postcard he sent me from Mexico when I was a child."

"It was a photograph of Popocatepetl," she said. "At the time, I thought it was a most funny word."

This is a race against time, we must record as many names as possible before the generation that best remembers them is no longer with us.
Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem directorate chairman

For someone who has dedicated two decades to writing about the Holocaust, receiving recognition from the likes of Schindler's List director Stephen Spielberg, the database was an unexpected discovery.

Yad Vashem, the centre for Shoah (Holocaust) remembrance in Jerusalem, has been engaged since 1955 in retrieving the names of the victims and preserving their memory.

The database went online in December and received three million visitors in a month.

There is a poignant quote as one enters the site. "I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger," wrote David Berger in his last letter from Vilna in 1941.

A lifetime's work

But time is running out. "We are reaching a crucial historical hour," says Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate.

"This is a race against time, we must record as many names as possible before the generation that best remembers them is no longer with us.

"We call on families around the globe to help honour the memories of their ancestors by recording their names.

Page of testimony of Holocaust victim
The page of testimony Mrs Levi filled for her father in 1969 is now online
"The availability of the database to everyone everywhere through the internet is critical to the effort to collect more names."

Mrs Levi devotes much of her time to giving talks to young people in universities and schools across Europe.

"I tell them my story to reduce the account of the death of six million to one individual, because six million does not mean anything to them," she said.

Her story of the war begins in March 1944, when German tanks rolled into Hungary, where, aged 20, she was a nursery school teacher.

She was rounded up with her parents in her hometown of Szombathely, and transported to Auschwitz.

Mrs Levi was split up from her parents on arrival at the camp. She survived Auschwitz, they did not.

A month later, there was a large selection process. People were split into two lines and sent to two large shower rooms.

Those put in the left queue survived, those on the right were gassed.

One of the soldiers was about to discharge his gun on me when another intervened and said: 'Save your bullets she's not worth it'
Trude Levi

"We were told to strip our clothes and go to shower," said Mrs Levi.

"When we went in the shower room, we knew two things could happen. Either we would be gassed or we would wash."

The pipes suddenly rattled and water came gushing through the shower heads.

Mrs Levi was among a minority considered healthy enough to go on living and she was sent to Buchenwald slave-labour camp.

Death march

As the war drew to a close in March 1945, Mrs Levi was among 15,000 emaciated Jews forced to march in sometimes freezing temperatures towards Dresden.

Trude Levi
Mrs Levi has devoted nearly 20 years to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust
Hundreds died on the death march. On what turned out to be their last day of captivity, Mrs Levi, worn down by cold weather and starvation, collapsed on the icy ground.

"One of the soldiers was about to discharge his gun on me when another intervened and said: 'Save your bullets she's not worth it.'"

Years later, Mrs Levi visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to fill in biographical forms for her parents, called pages of testimony.

And just as Mrs Levi reduces the story of genocide to the story of one individual, so does the database with its three million individuals and their silent appeals not to be forgotten.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific