Holocaust Museums & Memorials: Monuments in Israel Commemorating the Holocaust
by Batya Brutin
Every sculpture, pillar, mound of stones, or site commemorating an event at which memorial services are held, is considered to be a monument. A monument is a work of art intended to perpetuate a memory, and every time a memorial service is held beside the monument, the event is recalled and remembered.
The monument is a form of visual art, but it is different from works of art in general, mainly because it is linked to - and was erected to mark - a particular historical event, and because its shape and style impart information.
This publication includes a selection of monuments built in Israel to memorialize the Holocaust. They have two goals: to remember and commemorate the past, and to convey a message for the future.
- Yad Vashem
- Pillar of Heroism
- Warsaw Ghetto Monument
- The Children's Monument
- Memorial to the Jewish Soldiers
- Valley of the Communities
- In Memory of the Children
- Monuments in Cemeteries
- The Holocaust & Revival
- The Holocaust & Heroism
In 1942, at the height of the war in Europe, Mordechai Shenhavi, a member of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek, proposed to the board of the Jewish National Fund that a monument be erected to Holocaust victims. His proposal referred to "commemorating the Holocaust that occurred in the Diaspora and the participation of the Jewish People in the Allied armies." Shenhavi also proposed the name Yad Vashem, which is taken from the Bible "And I will give them, in My House, and within My walls, a monument and a name (yad vashem). Better than sons or daughters, I will give them an everlasting name which shall not perish." (Isaiah 56:5)
His suggestion was carried out only after the Knesset passed the Law of Remembrance of Shoah and Heroism - Yad Vashem in 1953, which inter alia decreed that a government authority be established to commemorate the Holocaust and its heroes. Israel is the only country to have a law requiring official commemoration of the Holocaust, evidence of the centrality of the Holocaust in the State's collective cultural experience. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, is situated on Har Hazikaron (the Mount of Remembrance) in Jerusalem.
The first monument to be built at Yad Vashem was in memory of the six million Holocaust victims. Arieh Elhanani was assigned the project in 1957, and the Hall of Remembrance was dedicated in 1961. It is built of large basalt rocks laid one on top of the other, with a stone slab above them, like an enlarged tombstone. The visitor enters the hall through heavy black doors designed by David Palombo, on which welded iron bars form a composition of broken, torn, ripped, and pointed shapes. the composition is reminiscent of a deserted battlefield.
The roof of the Hall of Remembrance (in Hebrew Ohel Yizkor, "Tent of Remembrance") is in the shape of a pyramid and is made of bare concrete, supported by bars that create a narrow space between the walls and the roof, allowing light to enter. The floor is graduated; its lowest level bears the 22 Hebrew and English names of major concentration and extermination camps as well as other sites of mass murder. An eternal light burns in one corner, in a broken, gaping cup made of bronze, created by Koso Elul. The "mouth" of the cup is turned towards the opening in the roof, like a suppressed cry of supplication to the heavens above. In front of the eternal light is a niche containing the ashes of unnamed victims, which were brought from the concentration camps after the war. It was thus possible - if only symbolically - to give the Holocaust victims a State burial.
The Hall of Remembrance has become the State Cenotaph where visiting dignitaries and official guests come to pay their respects to victims of the Holocaust.
The Pillar of Heroism
Designed in 1970 by Buky Schwartz, the Pillar of Heroism is a 21-meter-high pillar standing on the edge of a plaza. From afar, the monument resembles a tall chimney - calling to mind the chimneys of the death camps' crematoria, in which the bodies of the murdered victims were burnt.
The Pillar of Heroism was erected at Yad Vashem after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel was still enjoying its victory. This war was perceived to be the antithesis of the Holocaust: Israel was in full control of its security, unlike the Jews of Nazi Europe.
The pillar is three-sided, made of concave panels of shining stainless steel; the front panels bears the inscription:
To the martyrs
To the ghetto fighters
To the partisans
To those who rebelled in the camps
To the fighters of the underground
To the soldiers in the armies
To those who saved their brethren
To the courageous people who took part in the clandestine immigration
The heroes of valor and revolt
For everlasting life
This inscription stresses the concept of heroism, highly valued at the time, both the physical heroism of the fighters and the spiritual heroism of the martyrs.
The Warsaw Ghetto Monument
In 1973, Yad Vashem decided to create a venue befitting the official Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day ceremony, which had until then been held in front of the Hall of Remembrance.
At one end of the large plaza stands a copy of Nathan Rapoport's Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto (the original had been erected in Warsaw in 1948). The monument (1975-6) is composed of two bronze reliefs mounted on a red brick wall, symbolizing the ghetto walls. Between the reliefs is the inscription bedamaich chayi (In your blood you shall live, Ezekiel 16:6). The right-hand relief, The Last March, depicts the mass deportation of Jews to the extermination camps - old people, children, women and men - emphasizing the indiscriminate nature of the deportation and extermination of European Jewry.
The left-hand relief portrays the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It shows men and women of all ages in dramatic poses, holding a range of weapons - a rifle, a stone, a dagger and a grenade - in their hands.
The two extremes presented in this monument - The Uprising is vertical, expressive and dynamic, while The Last March is horizontal and balanced with a monotonous tempo - clearly expresses the contrast between the force and power of the heroes, and the passivity and weakness of the victims, who "went like sheep to the slaughter."
The Children's Monument
In 1976, Yad Vashem commissioned Moshe Safdie to design a memorial to the one-and-a-half million children who perished in the Holocaust. The monument was dedicated in 1987, after Abraham and Edith Spiegel of Beverly Hills, California, who had lost their two-year-old son Uziel in the Auschwitz concentration camp, funded the project.
On a hill stands a row of white tree-like posts of varying heights, symbolizing the children whose lives were cut down at different ages. From here, a long, narrow passage leads to an iron door, next to which is Uziel Spiegel's face in relief. The door opens to a darkened subterranean room: at its entrance are photographs of nine children - five boys, including Uziel Spiegel, and four girls. In the center of the room, a glass case contains five lit candles. The flames are reflected by mirrors in the ceiling and the floor, producing innumerable dots of brilliant light in the glass walls, reminiscent of a starlit sky. In the background, somber music plays, and voices read out in Hebrew, English and Yiddish the names, ages and places of origin of the children who perished in the Holocaust.
The Memorial to the Jewish Soldiers
Designed by Bernie Fink, the Memorial to the Jewish Soldiers was completed in 1985. The monument is dedicated to the million-and-a-half Jewish soldiers, ghetto fighters, partisans and soldiers of the Allied forces who fought against Nazi Germany.
The structure comprises six oblong, hexagonal blocks of granite arranged in two groups of three. A Star of David is created between the hexagons, sliced down the middle by a stainless steel sword. The six blocks of granite represent the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, the Star of David symbolizes the Jewish People, and the sword, the fight against the Nazis. The symbol of a Star of David and a sword is usually associated with the IDF; by using this combination, the artist makes a connection between the Jewish soldiers in the Allied forces, and modern-day Israeli soldiers.
A ceremony at this monument is held every year on May 9th, marking the victory of the Allied forces over Nazi Germany.
The Valley of the Communities
The idea of commemorating the destroyed communities of Nazi Europe appears in the Yad Vashem Law (1953): "A memorial authority, Yad Vashem, is hereby created in Jerusalem... for the communities, synagogues, movements and organizations, public, cultural, educational, religious, and charitable institutions that were destroyed and ruined by the evil stratagem to wipe the name of Israel and its culture off the face of the earth."
Located at the western edge of the Yad Vashem complex, the Valley of the Communities (designed by Lipa Yahalom and Dan Zur and dedicated in 1992) is made up of over one hundred open-air sections separated from each other by walls of Jerusalem stone. Seen in its entirety from above, the site looks like a maze of ruins, depicting a world that has all but disappeared.
At the entrance to the valley is the inscription: This memorial commemorates the Jewish communities destroyed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, and the few which suffered but survived in the shadow of the Holocaust. For more than one thousand years, Jews lived in Europe, organizing communities to preserve their distinct identity. In periods of relative tranquility, Jewish culture flourished, but in periods of unrest, Jews were forced to flee. Wherever they settled, they endowed the people amongst whom they lived with their talents. Here, their stories will be told...
Each section in the valley represents a region in pre-War Europe with a large Jewish population. The name of the region's main community is engraved in Jerusalem stone; the names of other communities are inscribed on marble plaques. The script resembles that used on gravestones throughout Europe.
The Valley of the Communities is not an accurate map of pre-War Europe; rather it shows the location of centers of Jewish life according to their importance, irrespective of their actual territorial area. In the words of Elly Dlin, director of the Valley of the Communities, this is "Jewish geography."
In Memory of the Children
Ze'ev Ben-Zvi's monument To the Children of the Exile was erected in 1947 in Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek, in memory of the one-and-a-half million children who perished in the Holocaust. It is the only Holocaust monument erected in the country prior to the establishment of the State.
The monument consists of a stone wall surrounding a small round plaza. Carved into the wall are four alcoves, each containing groups of sculpted figures. In a small alcove furthest to the left, a small crouching figure depicts the cramped places - often used by children - to hide from the Nazis. In the next alcove, five faceless figures are bent over each other protectively. The third alcove contains seven identical, faceless figures standing one behind the other. The alcove furthest to the right, the largest of the four, shows a mother and a child. The child's arms reach out to her, his mouth open in a cry for help. His mother's long arms stretch over her child, but her head is turned to the side, her eyes closed.
A very different kind of children's memorial was built by Ran Carmi and dedicated in 1995 at Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta'ot (named in honor of the Ghetto fighters). The enclosed monument comprises a central cylinder containing three round halls. The first is the hall of commemoration, with a large stained glass window in its ceiling and fifteen stained glass windows around the walls (created by Roman and Ardyn Halter), all based on pictures drawn by children in the Theresienstadt ghetto. The second hall is dedicated to Janusz Korczak, the Polish author, educator and social worker who worked tirelessly to protect Jewish orphans, and was eventually murdered, together with his charges, in Treblinka. The third hall has a floor with six concentric sunken levels, and an eternal light burning at the center.
The outer wall of the cylinder is inscribed with the names of children who perished in the Holocaust, and surrounding it is a three-dimensional exhibition depicting the events of the Holocaust: the outbreak of war, the railways to the death camps, the camps themselves, the ghettos, and the hiding places. Stories told by child survivors, and their experiences during the Holocaust, are projected onto large screens throughout the exhibition.
Monuments in Cemeteries
"I shall lift you out of your graves, O My people, and bring you to the Land of Israel." (Ezekiel, 37:12)
Martef Hashoah (The Chamber of the Holocaust), established in 1948 on Mount Zion, is highly significant as the place where, for the first time, the commandment to give every Jew a Jewish burial in Israel was enacted for victims of the Holocaust. It was also the first site in the new State of Israel to honor the memory of Holocaust victims. The Chamber contains the ashes of some of the Holocaust victims, which were brought to Israel by survivors and entrusted to Rabbi Dr. S.Z. Kahana, who was in charge of Mount Zion at that time. The ashes were buried in a niche together with bars of soap brought from the camps. There is no tombstone.
Following the bitter testmonies given by survivors during the Eichmann trial (1961-1962), monuments to many of the communities destroyed during the war were erected in cemeteries all over the country, most of which contain the ashes of Holocaust victims brought from the extermination camps to Israel.
The monuments are in several forms:
The Treblinka monument (erected by S. Bernstein and N. Shtark, 1965-66) is a pile of stones with an opening, above which appears the name Treblinka - the notorious Nazi death camp. Scattered stones lead away from the mound (calling to mind the Jewish custom of leaving a small stone on top of a grave to mark one's visit) with a strand of barbed wire between them. Human remains brought from Treblinka in 1963 by Rabbi Yedidiya Frenkel (then chief rabbi of Tel Aviv), are buried beneath a large stone, covered with an iron door - reminiscent of the doors of the crematoria in the camps - which bears the inscription: Remains of the bones of 800,000 Jews, may God avenge their blood.
Some monuments resemble the crematoria in the camps, a reminder of the way in which the bodies of the victims were disposed. The memorials to the Polish Plock community (E. Eisen, 1981 - see previous page) and the Kalisz community (Y. Green, 1982), both in the Holon cemetery, are built in the shape of crematoria, with protruding chimneys. On both monuments are reliefs depicting processions of Jews, old and young, with armed Nazi soldiers standing over them.
The Tablets of the Law
Both tombstones and synagogue plaques in the shape of the Tablets of the Law are well known in European Ashkenazi tradition. The Ten Commandments written on them, epitomizing Judaism, were the reason for the murder of whole Jewish communities during the Holocaust. Many Holocaust monuments include this idea in their design: the monument in memory of the Ataki community (1984), consists of two white marble tablets with black name plaques arranged in the traditional order of the Ten Commandments.
The Star of David
This Jewish symbol appears in a number of Holocaust monuments. A black Star of David, in the center of six white marble pillars, conmemarates the Polawy community of Poland. The memorial to the Ukrainian Mzehirech-Volhynia community (1980) in the form of a figure on bent knees, hands raised in supplication. In her body is a hollow Star of David, containing vertical bars. In the place of facial features is the inscription: For these things do I weep. (Lamentations 1:16).
The synagogue serves not only as a place of religious ritual, but also as a community center, and is used in many Holocaust monuments as a symbol of the destroyed communities. The monument to the Polish community of Piotrkow-Trybunalski (1980) includes a detailed scale model of the community's synagogue, mounted on an altar-like base. The monument commemorating the regional community of Vileyka, in Belorussia, shows a photograph of the synagogue mounted on a black plaque, with the inscription: Tortured and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. May God avenge their blood.
The Holocaust and Revival
Following the Six-Day War, some Jewish organizations, mainly in the United States, initiated and funded the construction of Holocaust monuments in Israel. The use of a Torah scroll as the central image is common among these monuments - a unique and uniting symbol of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora and Israel.
One such monument is the Scroll of Fire, created near Moshav Kisalon in 1971 by Nathan Rapoport on the initiative of B'nei B'rith and the Jewish National Fund. The monument consists of two joined cylinders, resembling an open Torah scroll. The first cylinder bears reliefs depicting the Jewish People during the Holocaust - the ghettos, the extermination camps, an uprising - and survivors arriving on the shores of Israel. The second cylinder portrays the early years of the State, ending with IDF soldiers praying at the Western Wall after the reunification of Jerusalem.
In 1972, Danny Caravan created the monument To the Holocaust at the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, on the initiative of the Aufbau Fund of New York. Inside a sunken rectangular plaza is a large bronze sculpture of a broken Torah scroll that has been parctically rent in half. The scroll is balancing precariously on a white stone base, as if it is about to fall. A constant stream of water - symbolizing tears - drips inside a crack down the center of the base. On the scroll are engraved Stars of David, as well as numbers - reminiscent of those tattooed onto the arms of of concentration camp inmates. Hebrew names of some of the victims, and names of many of the ghettoes and extermination camps. An inscription of the first line of the Shema, a Hebrew prayer said thrice daily, and traditionally uttered by Jews facing death, appears in Hebrew: Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
The Holocaust and Heroism
The Hebrew date for the official Holocaust day of remembrance is the 27th of Nissan, one of the days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19-May 16, 1943). This was the largest uprising of Jews against the Nazi regime and has become a symbol of heroism. The first monument built to commemorate the event is located in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, named after Mordechai Anielewicz, one of the commanders of the Ghetto uprising.
Nathan Rapoport's sculpture of Anielewicz was placed in a grove of trees on a hill in the center of the kibbutz in 1951. It shows a strong young man, dressed like a kibbutz member, with a look of determination on his face and a grenade in his hand. On a stone plaque beneath the sculpture are Anielewicz's words: My last aspiration in life has been fulfilled, the self-defense turned into a fact... I am content and glad that I was among the first of the Jewish Fighters in the Ghetto. April 23, 1943
By depicting Anielewicz - who was actually a lean, bespectacled lad - as a strong, young kibbutznik, and by positioning the sculpture in front of the war-damaged water tower, Rapoport makes a connection between the heroism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the members of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, who fought the Egyptian army during the War of Independence. In his depiction of Anielewicz, Rapoport was undoubtedly influenced by Michelangelo's David - a symbol of the weak fighting the mighty.
By the late 1970s, Holocaust commemoration was already an integral part of Israeli culture. At the same time, the collective commemoration and remembrance of fallen soldiers had also been well established. In 1977, Daliah Meiri was the first to create a joint monument to Holocaust victims and fallen IDF soldiers near to the cemetery of Moshav Moledet. It consists of a circle, 25m. in diameter, made up of fifty local basalt rocks. The rocks in the right half of the circle are inscribed with the names of moshav members who fell in Israel's wars. The left half of the circle is dedicated to the Holocaust, with one rock bearing the inscription: In memory of our parents, brothers and sisters who perished in the Holocaust, 1940-1945, and were not brought to a Jewish burial, let their memory be blessed. The commemoration of victims of the Holocaust together with the fallen of Israel's wars implies that the State of Israel exists because of this sequence of heroism.
Batya Brutin is the Director of the Holocaust Education Center at Beit Berl College, and a researcher of Holocaust memorials and visual arts.
Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry; Photo credits: © Mitchell Bard and Marty Block