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Yad Vashem uses AI technology to identify names of Holocaust victims

IDF soldiers visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, May 2, 2024, ahead of Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Vad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem is the world’s leading institution for preserving the memory of some six million Jews who perished during the Nazi Holocaust.

The memorial center's Hall of Names has, to date, identified around 4.9 million names of Holocaust victims. Yad Vashem’s innovation center is currently deploying artificial intelligence (AI), to dramatically speed up the identification process of previously unknown names.

The tech-driven project was launched two years ago and uses a Large Language Model (LLM), to facilitate name identification. About 400 new entrees were recently added to the Hall of Names, and many more are expected to be added in the future.

Dr. Alexander Avraham, Director of the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, explained how AI plays an important role in advancing the study of the Holocaust period.

“The use of artificial intelligence helps the study of the Holocaust in many different ways. The technology helps Yad Vashem to review in a short time hundreds of hours of testimony given by Holocaust survivors over the years, to extract from them new names of the murdered and details that have never been revealed,” Avraham said in an interview with the Calcalist news outlet.

The AI model enhances the speed of identifying not only specific individuals but also their families and extended circles of relatives. However, the identification process remains time-consuming. Yad Vashem estimates that examining approximately 20,000 pieces of testimony will only yield about seven new names.

Esther Fuxbrumer, software manager at the innovation center, further explained the complexity of the name identification work.

“First, we had to take each testimony – video or audio – and turn the speech into text. We tagged 30 testimonies in each language. This is a task that is not easy to complete at a high syntactic level, especially in Hebrew,” she said.

“Then the ‘entities’ must be extracted from the texts, which is also not an easy task because the language of the testimony is different, it is not the spoken language of today," Fuxbrumer continued. “The purpose of the manual labeling of the testimony is to prepare information with which to train the model. Once the model has learned from the examples how to label, it can continue to label additional testimonies.”

Yad Vashem recently launched, “Who is Your Holocaust Hero?” a unique digital project that encourages the public and influencers to form a digital connection with individuals who witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan explained the importance of the new project.

“This unique campaign comes at a particularly critical juncture,” Dayan said, referring to the current dramatic increase in antisemitism worldwide.

“As the eyewitness generation fades away, we are left with an irreplaceable void. By sharing their stories, we are ensuring that they will never be forgotten. By sharing and creating a community of remembrance on social media we can amplify their voices, garnering global attention.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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