REHOVOT, Israel — With a hand on her chest, 82-year-old Rivka Fringeru battled back tears as she reeled off a list of names she has rarely voiced in the past 70 years: her father, Moshe, then her mother, Hava, and finally her two older brothers, Michael and Yisrael.
All perished in the Holocaust after the Harabju family from Dorohoi, Romania, was rounded up in 1944 and sent to ghettos and camps. Only Rivka and her brother Marco survived, and like many others, they spent the rest of their lives trying to move on and forget.
Now, Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial and museum, is asking them to remember.
Decades after the Holocaust, experts have documented the names of about 4.2 million of the roughly 6 million Jews who were killed by the Nazis in World War II, and officials are going door-to-door in a race to record the memories of elderly survivors before their stories are lost forever.
It is a painstaking process, complicated by trauma, attempted cover-ups and limited record-keeping.
The Names Recovery Project has been Yad Vashem's flagship mission in recent years. It's a vigorous campaign to complete a central database of Holocaust victims' names by encouraging survivors to fill out pages of testimony about those they knew who were killed.
The outreach effort has taken on a greater sense of urgency, with volunteers spanning the country to engage the fewer than 200,000 remaining survivors in Israel and etch the names of their dead relatives into the pages of history. Elsewhere — primarily in the United States and the former Soviet Union — testimony also is being collected from those unable to do so online.
With the passage of the years, Fringeru's recollection of the details of her traumatic past has become sketchy, but the emotions remain raw. Her voice quavered as she tried to trace her memory, often taking a break to compose herself with a sip of water. Her voice was low and her gaze was pained as she stared at her lone memento — a faded family portrait on a cracked piece of cardboard. When she recalled the last time she saw her brother before they were separated in the Mogilov ghetto, she grabbed her chest again.
"It's hard. I never thought we were going to part so quickly," she said, her voice cracking. "I wish I would have wondered with them. I wondered on my own."
After the war, she moved to Israel and later married, had a daughter, two granddaughters and six great-grandchildren. On occasion, she would bring up an old memory with Marco, who died 10 years ago, but largely kept them to herself, even shielding stories from her immediate family. The memories mainly surfaced in her sleep, she said, as nightmares, and she saw no reason to delve further into them.
"Why suffer? Why go back into that trauma?" Fringeru said.Comment on this story
Now widowed, she lives with her partner Baruch Bruner, 88, a widower and fellow Holocaust survivor. Only after he sought out Yad Vashem and filled out pages of testimony about his extended family did she relent and do the same.Yad Vashem's goal is to collect the names of all 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The memorial's very name — Yad Vashem is Hebrew for "a memorial and a name" — alludes to its central mission of commemorating the dead as individuals, rather than mere numbers like the Nazis did.