How can the Holocaust adage “never forget” be applied to those who are too young to have directly experienced it? How can a society “not forget” something that it has only experienced indirectly through media and inherited cultural trauma?
It is the goal of Tracing the Past to establish an interactive, crowd-sourced set of online tools, which can bring this far-removed past more clearly into the residents of Europe’s sense of daily reality and provide a central database for Holocaust research, starting with the project Mapping the Lives. In the meantime, approximately two-thirds of the nearly 170,000 Shoah victims from Germany are now searchable for the first time by residential street address in the 1939 German Minority Census.
As the collective memory of the Holocaust increases in terms of archival material and an ever-burgeoning mass of popular media, the firsthand memories are decreasing with the passing of time: fewer and fewer people remain alive who witnessed the atrocities of the Third Reich and its collaborators. Most younger people today have a grasp of the history basics in these matters, but relatively few seem to have any kind of known personal connection to these events. They often have little idea of their family’s possible personal involvement, nor do they have much of an idea who the people were who once lived in these neighborhoods, these streets, sometimes in their very home — nor are they aware of the fates of their neighbors once-removed. It is extremely difficult to navigate the huge amount of media available on the topic, and most of it will remain more or less abstract to those interested: “Long ago” and therefore “far away”.
We are in a unique position to implement this vital historical information to enable the remembrance of individual lives destroyed by the Holocaust, form an extensive basis for accurate Holocaust research, and actively promote multicultural understanding for the coming generations.