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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

YAD VASHEM: A MEMORIAL--A PLACE TO REMEMBER

Israel’s Yad Vashem, is a Memorial, not a museum. Its name is derived from Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)…that shall not be cut off.”

Yad Vashem

It is a living memorial to the Holocaust, safeguarding the history and providing education for the future. It is a place where people walk quietly whether they arrive alone or in a group, whether they are young or old. There is an almost palpable presence here and a quiet, peaceful, and reverent atmosphere. I look at the different groups of young people, and am startled by the numbers of young Israeli soldiers. It is good to understand why you are giving your youth to your country.

Yad Vashem is dedicated to what Israel calls the Four Pillars of Remembrance: Commemoration, Documentation, Research and Education. There can be no Holocaust deniers in the face of the truths housed here.

We begin our visit under our Margaret Morse tour guide David’s tutelage. He takes us to the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations. This is a broad walkway, an avenue, lined with trees. Each tree represents a person who saved one or more Jews during the Holocaust. Each tree reminds us of a person who did the right thing while others were doing the wrong thing. There are plaques on the trees commemorating these people.

Yad Vashem-Avenue of the Righteous

I know that every so often, a new person’s story is revealed, and every once in a while I read in the news about a reunion between a saved person and the one who saved him/her. The Avenue of the Righteous is a powerful beginning. Yad Vashem’s website asks for names still to be recognized.

David first leads us to Janusz Korczak Square. The sculpture by Boris Saktsier says it all. Korczak ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. He had the opportunity to flee when the children were arrested, but he refused to leave the approximately 200 children. He went with them and met death with them in the Treblinka death camp.

Boris Saktsier's "Janus Korczak & the Ghetto Children"

On to the Children’s Memorial, an intense and impressive reminder of the approximately 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust. There are eternal flames in their memory.

eternal lights at children's memorial

Most of the Memorial is underground. One walks past the pillars and enters single file in semi-darkness past children’s photos as names, ages, and countries of origin are heard. I walked with a lump in my throat as I looked at those precious photographs.

Children's Memorial entrance
the pillars and the entrance to the Children's Memorial

David then leaves us to walk at our own pace through the unique Holocaust History Museum. Its impressive architectural style forces the visitor to follow a path that chronologically tells the story of the Shoah—from the point of view of the Jews. That is a different approach from our Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. In this museum we look at the worlds the Jews occupied under the Nazis and their collaborators. There are artifacts, testimonies, and other examples of reality. It is a difficult, heart-wrenching walk. But it is an important walk to take.

Our time here has not been sufficient to see everything, but this is not a place to hurry through. It takes time to digest it, and, frankly, to let emotions calm down. We leave filled with sadness.

It is evening, and we head back to our hotel for dinner and a lovely evening with friends.

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