By Beth Panitz SIX MILLION. The number echoed in Zak Kolar’s head as he joined in a prayer to remember the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Sitting in that memorial service two years ago, Zak, 13 at the time, was suddenly awe-struck by the magnitude of the tragedy. “It hit me just how big of a number six million is,” says Zak, from Naperville, Illinois. One short prayer couldn’t cover such an enormous loss. “I wanted a way to remember Holocaust victims more individually, instead of as a faceless mass.” Inspired to keep the memory of those individuals alive, Zak went on to launch a web site dedicated to them. The site, Each of Us Has a Name, lists more than 6,000 Jews who perished in the Holocaust. “It’s been said that one death is tragedy, but six million deaths is a statistic,” says Zak. “I want people to remember that every one of those six million was a person, just like you or me. They each had a life, but it was taken away.”
The Internet seemed the perfect way to spread his message. With help from his father, Zak developed a web site, learning coding in three computer languages. He created a database of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, along with each person’s birth date and Hebrew date of death. Jews traditionally remember the deceased on the anniversary of their death--their yahrzeit--so Zack set up the site to automatically update itself to highlight the individuals that we should call to mind on each date.
Web site visitors can even “adopt” one of the deceased to pay tribute to--perhaps someone with the same last name or birth date. They receive yearly e-mail notifications about the yahrzeit approximately one week ahead, allowing time to commemorate the date by lighting a memorial candle, reciting the Mourner's Kaddish, or simply keeping the person in mind. Each of Us Has a Name has special significance around Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, Sunday, May 1, this year. “Yom Hashoah is an important time to talk about the Holocaust,” says Zak. “By remembering this tragedy, we can make sure it never happens again.” To help communities prepare for their local Yom Hashoah memorial services, Zak created a downloadable document with the names of ten Holocaust victims per page, allowing each participant to focus on a small group of individuals. This year, Zak is also helping coordinate Yom Hashoah activities at his synagogue, including a name-reading ceremony in which volunteers take shifts reciting the names of those who perished. At an arts-and-crafts station, kids will create butterflies for a project led by Holocaust Museum Houston to gather 1.5 million homemade butterflies, one for each child killed in the Holocaust. As important as Yom Hashoah is, Zak’s goal is to remember year-round those who perished. Each night before he goes to bed, he reads aloud the yahrzeit list, accessing it from his iPod. “I think about how much each person could have accomplished,” says Zak. “Six million is much more than just a number.” Help Keep the Flame Alive You can pay tribute to those who perished in the Holocaust by helping Zak add names to his database. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, has granted Zak permission to enter the three million names in its records. To help, log onto www.eachofushasaname.org/getinvolved.php.