60 years later, putting Holocaust victims' names to numbers still a daunting task

Saturday, February 10th 2007, 4:07 pm
By: News On 6

BUCHENWALD, Germany (AP) _ The hunt begins with a number.

Harry Stein sits nose-to-screen, squinting at the fuzzy digits in column after column on faded microfilm, searching for clues to a mystery: Who was Auschwitz inmate 185403?

The number was tattooed on the left forearm of one of the thousands who were processed through Auschwitz, shipped off to Buchenwald concentration camp, and never seen again.

Male? Female? Old? Young? Jewish? Christian? Reason for arrest? The list Stein is scrutinizing says nothing. There's only that number.

More than six decades after the Nazi Holocaust ended, historians such as Stein are still struggling with a gargantuan task _ to make a semblance of order among hundreds of thousands of dead by finding, at least, their names.

There is no central catalog _ just miles and miles of files, scattered across Europe, the United States, Israel and elsewhere. Of 56,000 people who perished behind the barbed wire at Buchenwald alone, or on the way there, 23,000 on the camp's records remain unidentified.

The object of Stein's attention on a late autumn day is prisoner 185403. In the end, after four weeks of poring over lists, each dozens of pages long and collected from different archives, Stein will have found the name. ``We have pulled out one more person,'' he will say. ``Back from the forgotten.''

But it will turn out that 185403 was not forgotten after all.