|NAME – The Ultimate Presentation of a Person’s IdentityBlock 27, Auschwitz I Concentration Camp, Oświęcim, Poland (present day Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum) houses the permanent exhibition, “The Book of Names.” There is a stark contrast from the disturbing story of death and despair found in walking through the other blocks at Auschwitz I and what is housed in Block 27. A Red brick building, approx. 1,000 sq ft, no painful photographic reminders, nondescript paint, simplistic. The windows are uncovered to maintain connection between the exhibition and the historical surroundings just outside the window. The visitor’s route intentionally ends at the rear exit of Block 27 – facing barbed wire surrounding the concentration camp.
Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” was designed for the “annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe,” to erase the life and every name of every Jew in Europe. A name, millions of names, representative of lives, hopes and dreams, love and pain, family, to be forever forgotten.
Yad Vashem has spent six decades collecting the name of each and every individual victim of the Shoah. This vital ongoing project has resulted in the recording of 4.2 million names so far – a remarkable accomplishment.
“Our goal was to create an everlasting, permanent memorial to these murdered Jewish men, women and children – one that would encompass both their inconceivable numbers as well as their individual identities. I believe the Exhibition’s “Book of Names” does precisely that. Every name, birth date, home town and place of death is clearly printed on the meter-high pages, illuminated by a gentle strip of light that lies between each page. Thus one can search for, pinpoint and even touch the data of any individual victim, and commemorate him or her in a private, personal way. However, the monumental size of the exhibit – 58 volumes of 140 pages each, 500 names per page, measuring 2m high and 14m in circumference – also attests to the collective, immeasurable loss to the entire Jewish people, and to humanity. The blank pages of the book’s final volume, await the names still to be redeemed, recorded and memorialized in perpetuity by Yad Vashem.” (www.yadvashem.org)
To stand in this room and to touch the pages, to read the names, and to see the surrounding camp that witnessed so many murders just outside the window brings great sadness. But it also brings another feeling: Hope. Hope can be felt when the visitor realizes that the identity of even one individual will be preserved in this place, further proof that Hitler was not successful in his plan.