Hilsenrath chairs the International Registry of the Names of the Holocaust Victims, an organization that recently launched a campaign to gather information that could produce the missing names.
"We look on this campaign as literally the last chance history will have to completely identify each of the victims of the Holocaust," Hilsenrath said.
This ambitious project is endorsed by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where information on the identities of Holocaust victims is collected.
Yad Vashem has relied on other organizations to gather pertinent data by distributing its "Page of Testimony" to relatives of victims and others who might have some knowledge about the identity of those who perished.
"The only remaining traces of the identity of many victims who died in the Holocaust are in the memories of living relatives and friends," Hilsenrath said. "Unless we get this information on record, soon even those memories will die, too."
Hilsenrath's organization has sent the Yad Vashem Page of Testimony and other materials to about 2,000 rabbis and presidents of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations in the United States and Canada, and urged them to ask their congregants to participate in the project.
"Every day that goes by reduces the number of victims we will be able to identify," Hilsenrath said.
The goal of finding the missing names also is a way of answering those who deny that the Holocaust took place, he added.
"Each name we find will bear personal testimony to the reality of the Holocaust's atrocity," he said.
The International Registry is a project of the American Jerusalem Academy of Contemporary Judaic Studies in Highland Park and is independently endowed by Judith and William Gorelick of New Brunswick, N.J.