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Holocaust Museums & Memorials: Yad Vashem

"And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial... an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 56:5)

Yad Vashem, the national Authority for the Remembrance of the Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust, was established in 1953 by act of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to commemorate the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the years 1933-1945. The Authority also commemorates the heroism and fortitude of the Jewish partisans and the fighters in the ghetto revolts, as well as the actions of the "Righteous Among the Nations" (non-Jews who saved the lives of Jews).

Located on Har Hazikaron (Heb., Hill of Remembrance), a ridge on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, the Yad Vashem Memorial and Institute includes several commemorative monuments, an historical museum, a central archive and a research center for the documentation of the Holocaust.

The task of Yad Vashem is to perpetuate the memory and lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.

Central state ceremonies are held at Yad Vashem each year on Remembrance Day for the Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust, which is observed according to the Hebrew Calendar on the 27th day of Nisan, the anniversary of the start of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Revolt.

The principle memorial at Yad Vashem is the Hall of Remembrance (Ohel Yizkor). The severe concrete-walled structure with a low tent-like roof stands empty, save for an eternal flame. Engraved in the black basalt floor are the names of 21 Nazi extermination camps, concentration camps and killing sites in central and eastern Europe. A crypt in front of the memorial flame contains ashes of victims.

The approach to the Hall of Remembrance is lined with trees planted in honor of non-Jewish men and women - "Righteous Among the Nations" - who, at the risk of their own lives, attempted to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Several of the trees honor members of the Christian clergy, among them a Franciscan priest in Assisi, the bishop of the Greek island of Zakinthos, a Polish nun in Lithuania and a French Protestant pastor. More than 20,000 persons have been honored with the title "Righteous Among the Nations".

Approximately 1.5 million Jewish children perished in the Holocaust. They are specially remembered in the nearby Children’s Memorial, an underground cavern in which the flickering flames of memorial candles are reflected in an infinity of tiny lights within the prevailing darkness.

The Valley of the Communities is a 2.5 acre monument that was dug out from the natural bedrock. Engraved on the massive stone walls of the memorial are the names of over five thousand Jewish communities that were destroyed and of the few that suffered but survived in the shadow of the Holocaust.

The Memorial to the Deportees is an original cattle-car which was used to transport thousands of Jews to the death camps. Perched on the edge of an abyss facing the Jerusalem forest, the monument symbolizes both the impending horror, and the rebirth which followed the Holocaust.

More than 30 heads of state and ministers from around the world attended the historic inauguration of Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History Museum on March 15, 2005. A decade in the making, the new museum is the pinnacle of Yad Vashem’s multiyear development plan and presents the story of the Shoah in an informational and experiential format. Four times the size of the current Historical Museum which it replaces, the new museum occupies more than 4,200 square meters, mainly underground. Both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, it presents the story of the Shoah from a unique Jewish perspective, emphasizing the experiences of the individual victims through original artifacts, survivor testimonies and personal possessions. It will open to the public at the end of March.

Its 180 meters-long linear structure in the form of a spike cuts through the mountain with its uppermost edge - a skylight - protruding through the mountain ridge. Galleries portraying the complexity of the Jewish situation during those terrible years branch off this spike-like shaft, and the exit emerges dramatically out of the mountainside, affording a view of the valley below.

At the end of the museum’s historical narrative is the Hall of Names - a repository for the Pages of Testimony of millions of Holocaust victims, a memorial to those who perished.

The Yad Vashem Archive collection, the largest and most comprehensive on the Holocaust in the world, comprises more than 210 million documents, 500,000 photographs, 131,000 survivor testimonies, 32,400 artifacts, and 11,500 works of art. The library contains more than 80,000 titles, thousands of periodicals, and a large number of rare documents.

The International Institute for Holocaust Research coordinates and supports research on national and international levels, organizes conferences and colloquia, and publishes a variety of important works on the Holocaust, including memoirs and diaries. To date, the Institute has published 18 volumes of the projected 32-volume Encyclopedia of Communities (Pinkasei Hakehilot), an historical-geographical compendium of every Jewish community destroyed by the Nazis and their collaborators.

A principal mission of Yad Vashem is education. The International School for Holocaust Studies each year holds courses for over 100,000 students, 50,000 soldiers and thousands of educators. Courses for teachers are offered in seven languages in addition to Hebrew, and the school also sends its professional staff abroad to further education about the Holocaust.

On January 25, 2010, the newest exhibition opened at Yad Vashem, marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The exhibit, “Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz-Birkenau Blueprints,” displays original architectural blueprints of Auschwitz-Birkenau and original plans for the structures of the concentration camp that were mostly prepared in the fall of 1941. The plans were found in 2008 in an abandoned apartment in Berlin and purchased by the German media corporation Axel Springer, the publisher of the newspaper Bild. They were given to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on August 30, 2009, and will be preserved for perpetuity in Yad Vashem.

In 2019, soccer club Borussia Dortmund, Daimler, railway operator Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen agreed to donate more than one million dollars for the construction of the “Shoah Heritage Collections Campus” at Yad Vashem to preserve, catalog and store Holocaust-related artifacts.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry;
Yad Vashem;
“5 German firms each give $1.1 million to Holocaust memorial,” AP, (April 2, 2019).