Holocaust researchers use AI to find unnamed victims

Holocaust researchers use AI to find unnamed victims

Researchers in Israel are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to comb through piles of records to try to identify the hundreds of thousands of Jews killed in the Holocaust whose names are missing from official memorials.

More than six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II, a genocide commemorated around the world on Monday on Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In preparation for the commemoration, staff at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem say they are working to improve searches for details of known and unknown victims after developing their own AI-powered software.

Over the years, volunteers have tracked down information on 4.9 million individuals by reading statements and documents, reviewing film footage, cemeteries and other records.

“It’s very difficult for humans to do that – just to check everything and not miss any details,” Esther Fuxbrumer, head of software development at the center, told Reuters.

There is a huge gap in their existing 9 million records. The Nazis “just took people, shot them, and covered them in holes. And nobody was left to tell about them,” Fuxbrumer said.

And then there’s the huge task of linking individuals with dates and family members and other details, spotting duplicates and comparing accounts.

The AI system, developed over the past two years to sift through records in English, Hebrew, German, Russian and other languages, is currently undergoing testing.

“The technology works very fast, it takes a few hours to check hundreds of testimonials and it’s very accurate, the results,” said Fuxbrumer.

“We saw that from each description we could get between six or seven names with full details that we could automatically put into our database, and about 10% of the names we found we already had in our database, but 90% are new names we don’t know.”

In one case, they found information about Yehudit and Ruth Rosenbaum, two four-and-a-half-year-old twin sisters from Romania who were taken to Auschwitz. Yehudit survived. Ruth was killed.

“And we were able to bring more information about Ruth from someone who wasn’t her family at all, someone who met her at camp,” Fuxbrumer said.

In the experiment, the staff conducted tests on 400 of their 30,000 testimonies, including many videos recorded over three hours of survivors.

Fuxbrumer said 1,500 new names have been added, and more are expected in the coming weeks, once the system is applied to all 30,000 testimonials. The next phase of the trial will cover diaries.

“We believe that way we will be able to bring many stories of many victims who were killed, little children that no one else knows, to tell us the story of what happened to them.”

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