Remembering the Lost Children of the Holocaust

Jewish National Fund-USA’s ambitious project ties today’s youth to prior generations lost in the Holocaust


By Jodi Bodner


The sepia photos, funny looking knickers, and old-fashioned haircuts told then 12-year-old Max Levin that the pictures of kids he was looking at were from pre-war Europe. The smiles behind the kids’ eyes told him that despite the years between them they had more in common than not. Then the facts told the rest of the story: most of the children recorded in Jewish National Fund’s Children’s Books of Honor, housed in Jerusalem, had been killed in the Holocaust. Worse, many are lost; no one knows they ever existed. The Books of Honor are the only record they ever lived.


Almost two decades ago, in honor of his Bar Mitzvah, and as a way to link Diaspora teens with Israel and remember the lost children of the Holocaust, St. Louis, MO residents Max and his parents Judy and Bud Levin, launched “The B’nai Mitzvah Remembrance Wall” together with Jewish National Fund-USA.


Erected in honor of Max’s Bar Mitzvah, the wall allows other Bar and Bat Mitzvah-age children to link their names to a child who perished in the Holocaust and continue the circle of life. Located in Jerusalem’s American Independence Park, the stone wall, designed to look like a Torah scroll, has glass tiles embedded in it, each available for an $1,800 donation, and will bear the name of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child, his/her hometown and date of Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the name and home country of a child who perished at the hands of the Nazis. A certificate will be sent to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child as well.


Bnei Mitzvah Wall


Through his family’s generosity, Max is forever linked to Pinchas Cohen, of blessed memory, from Berlin.


In the lead up to Max’s Bar Mitzvah, his invitations included a description of the project and a note that he would not accept any personal gifts; all gifts would go to building the Remembrance Wall.


The initial spark of inspiration for the wall was ignited on a previous trip to Israel while the Levins were visiting Jewish National Fund’s Offices. During the visit, they observed several old books that had recorded gifts from Germany, Poland, Russia and other European countries, during the years of 1901 to 1941.

Thousands were from families honoring their Bar Mitzvah boys during that period. They didn’t have many Bat Mitzvahs in those days, but there were recordings of girls who were honored on special occasions as well.


“There they were,” said Max, “thousands upon thousands of names. Some of them could even have been my long-lost great cousins who perished in the Holocaust. Just try to imagine!”


Max added: “Out of the 6 million Jews who were murdered, 1½ million of them were children! That means that at least 150,000 were at the Bar Mitzvah age.  There are very few records and very few stories left about these children. Almost all of their families had been killed and almost no trace of them ever has been found. Researchers at Yad Vashem identified most of them as victims of the Holocaust and the only way we can prove that they once lived is from the Jewish National Fund Books of Honor that are kept in the Jerusalem offices.”


Information about hundreds of thousands of Jewish National Fund donors has been preserved in seven Honor Books dating back to 1901, when Jewish National Fund was created in Basel, Switzerland. These books -- the Golden Book, the Children’s Book, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Book, the Marriage Book, the Book of Plantings, the Book of Special Gifts and the Aliyah Book -- together constitute an expression of the tie between the Jewish Diaspora and the land of Israel.


The books are beautifully bound and preserved in a special climate-controlled room.


Over the years, the pages of the Golden Books have filled with thousands of names. The second gift in the first book was actually signed by the founder of the modern Jewish state, Theodor Herzl, in 1901. Kings, presidents, and statesmen from many nations including Lord Balfour, Sir Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK, Harry S. Truman, Zvi Schapira, David Wolfsohn, Theodore Bikel, and Moses Montifiore have also signed the book. The Golden Books have become a kind of “medal of honor” awarded to all who have been recognized by the Jewish people for their contribution to Zionist work. 


In ancient Israel, it was customary to plant a cedar tree when a boy was born and a pine when a girl was born. When the child married, the tree was cut down and the boughs used to construct the wedding canopy. When Jews were exiled to the Diaspora, the tradition fell by the wayside, but was reborn when Jewish National Fund began planting trees in Israel. The Children’s Book commemorates those tree plantings which record births, birthdays, graduations and accomplishments, as well as a photo of the child. Eighty percent of the 91,000 names inscribed in the Children’s Book by 1933 perished in the Holocaust.


The Bar Mitzvah Books were initiated in 1936 and hold more than 100,000 names and photos commemorating their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. In the Children’s Book and the Bar/Bat Mitvah Books there is also a place for a photo. For pre-Holocaust Bar/Bat mitzvahs, these may be the only surviving photos available of the individual who perished in the Holocaust.


For information on the B’nai Mitzvah RemembranceWall and to order plaques and certificates, call (800) 542-TREE. JNF-USA’s Travel and Tours can help set up a trip that includes a ceremony unveiling your plaque. Click here for more information or visit

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