• Annemeet Hasidi-van Der Leij

Yad Vashem - יָד וַשֵׁם:

"For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs (those who cannot have children)who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant- to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial (יד=Yad) and a name (שם=Shem) better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” Isaiah 56: 4, 5. Naming the Holocaust memorial ‘Yad Vashem’ conveys the idea of establishing a national depository for the names of Jewish victims who have no one to carry their name after death.

~History and architecture of the museum: The idea of establishing a memorial in the historical Jewish homeland for Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust was conceived during World War II, as a response to reports of the mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied countries. Yad Vashem was first proposed in September 1942, at a board meeting of the Jewish National Fund, by Mordecai Shenhavi, a member of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek. In August 1945, the plan was discussed in greater detail at a Zionist meeting in London. In February 1946, Yad Vashem opened an office in Jerusalem and a branch office in Tel Aviv and in June that year, convened its first plenary session. In July 1947, the First Conference on Holocaust Research was held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However, the outbreak in May 1948 of the War of Independence, brought operations to a standstill for two years. In 1953, the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, unanimously passed the Yad Vashem Law,* establishing the Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. Yad Vashem opened to the public in 1957. The exhibits focused on Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, the uprisings in Sobibor and Treblinka death camps, and the struggle of survivors to reach Israel. The location of Yad Vashem on the western side of Mount Herzl, an area devoid of weighty historical associations, was chosen to convey a symbolic message of ‘rebirth’ after destruction. At the end of the long corridor of the new museum is a balcony with the view over ‘Mevaseret Zion.’ This symbolises the The ‘approach to Jerusalem.’ The new Yad Vashem museum was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, replacing the previous 30-year old exhibition. The new building, consists of a long corridor connected to 10 exhibition halls, each dedicated to a different chapter of the Holocaust. The museum is shaped like a triangular concrete ‘prism’ that cuts through the landscape, illuminated by a 200-meter long skylight. Visitors follow a preset route that takes them through underground galleries that branch off from the main hall. Visitors are guided into the galleries by a series of impassable gaps that of the Holocaust are highlighted. The museum combines the personal stories of 90 Holocaust victims and survivors and presents approximately 2500 personal items including artwork and letters donated by survivors and others. The old historical displays revolving around anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazism have been replaced by exhibits that focus on the personal stories of Jews killed in the Holocaust. According to Avner Shalev, the museum's curator and chairman, a visit to the new museum revolves around “looking into the eyes of the individuals. There weren't six million victims, there were six million individual murders." The new museum was dedicated on 15 March 2005 in the presence of leaders from 40 states and former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan.

~The Hall of Names:

The Hall of Names is a memorial to the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The main hall is composed of two cones: one ten meters high, with a reciprocal well-like cone excavated into the underground rock, its base filled with water. On the upper cone is a display featuring 600 photographs of Holocaust victims and fragments of Pages of Testimony. These are reflected in the water at the bottom of the lower cone, commemorating those victims whose names remain unknown. Surrounding the platform is the circular repository, housing the approximately 4.2 million names, so far collected, with empty spaces for those names yet to be submitted. Since the 1950s, Yad Vashem has collected approximately 110.000 audio, video and written testimonies by Holocaust survivors. As the survivors age, the program has expanded to visiting survivors in their homes to tape interviews. Adjoining the hall is a study area with a computerized data bank where visitors can do online searches for the names of Holocaust victims. ~Art Gallery: Yad Vashem houses the world's largest collection of artwork produced by Jews and other victims of Nazi occupation in 1933-1945. Yehudit Shendar, the senior art curator of Yad Vashem, supervises a 10.000-piece collection, adding 300 pieces a year, most of them donated by survivors' families or discovered in attics. Included in the collection are works by: Alice Lok Cahana, Samuel Bak, Felix Nussbaum. Above a painting named; ‘The Family,’ by Samuel Bak.

~Synagoge: The Synagogue at Yad Vashem Showcases Judaica from Destroyed Synagogues in Europe. Thirty-one distinct items are on display, including four Torah Arks, and various other Judaicia from throughout Europe. The four arks, all of which come from Romania, were brought to Yad Vashem with the support of the late Prof. Nicolae Cajal, then president of the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania and with the backing of the Romanian government. In 1998, Yehudit Inbar, Director of the Museums Division and Haviva Peled Carmeli, Senior Artifacts Curator, traveled throughout Romania to trace what was left of a once thriving Jewish community. Among the items discovered was an Ark that was found in a local Romanian’s home who was using it as a clothes closet, the Torah Ark of the Apple Merchants Association Synagogue in Iasi, and the unraveling Torah Ark Curtain from Cluj. The main, functioning Torah Ark’s façade is from Barlad, Romania. In addition, there are ritual articles from Poland, Greece, Transnistria, Germany and Slovakia. “The Yad Vashem synagogue will serve as a memorial to the destroyed places of worship of European Jewry. It will be a testimonial to the indestructible faith, the rich spiritual world of European Jewry and the extraordinary will of the Jewish people to survive, to remember and to rebuild,” said Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. ~The Hall of Remembrance - אוהל יזכור: 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(eternal) 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.

~The Valley of the Communities - בקעת הקהילות: The Valley of the Communities in Yad Vashem is 10 dunam monument literally dug out of natural bedrock. Over 5000 names of communities are engraved on the stone walls in the Valley of the Communities. Each name recalls a Jewish community which existed for hundreds of years; for the inhabitants, each community constituted an entire world. Today, in most cases, nothing remains but the name. The Valley was excavated out of the earth- nothing was built above ground. It is as if what had been built up on the surface of the earth over the course of a millennium- a thousand years of Jewish communal life- was suddenly swallowed up. The names of the communities are engraved on the 107 walls which roughly corresponds to the geographic arrangement of the map of Europe and North Africa.

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.." ~The Memorial to the Deportees - הזיכרון למגורשים: The Memorial to the Deportees was established at Yad Vashem as a monument to the millions of Jews herded onto cattle-cars and transported from all over Europe to the extermination camps. An original cattle-car, appropriated by the German Railway authorities and given to Yad Vashem by the Polish authorities, stands at the center of the memorial site. Although symbolizing the journey towards annihilation and oblivion, facing as it does the hills of Jerusalem, the memorial also conveys the hope and the gift of life of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, eternal capital of the Jewish people. The trees around the memorial were planted after a holocaust survivor, living in the Jerusalem neighbourhood facing the memorial, complained she saw the cattle – car from her kitchen window every morning. She could not bear this, so trees were planted to obscure the sight.

~The Children’s Memorial - הזיכרון של הילדים: In my opinion this is the most heartbreaking memorial in Yad Vashem. Approximately 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered 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. Outside the entrance to the cavern a memorial of stones is placed. When you exit the Children’s memorial, another memorial is waiting. This is a statue of Janusz Korczak and the children of his orphanage. According to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum full statistics for the tragic fate of children who died during the Holocaust will never be known. Some estimates range as high as 1.5 million murdered children. This figure includes more than 1.2 million Jewish children, tens of thousands of Romani children and thousands of institutionalized handicapped children who were murdered under Nazi rule in Germany and occupied Europe.

~Nathan Rapoport - נתן רפופורט: Nathan Rapoport (1911-1987), was a Jewish sculptor who was born in Warsaw, Poland. In 1936, he won a scholarship to study in France and Italy. He fled to the Soviet Union when the Nazis invaded Poland. The Soviets initially provided him with a studio, but later compelled him to work as a manual laborer. After the end of the war, he returned to Poland to study at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. In 1950, Rapoport immigrated to the United States, where he lived in New York until his death in 1987.

His sculptures in public places include:

-Monument to Mordechai Anielewicz at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.

-The Last March, bronze sculpture in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.

-The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, bronze sculpture in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.

Righteous Among the Nations - חסידי אומות העולם: Righteous Among the Nations, in Hebrew, חסידי אומות העולם‎, is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. The term originates with the concept of ‘righteous gentiles,’ a term used in rabbinical Judaism to refer to non-Jews, who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah: 1. The prohibition of idolatry. 2.The prohibition of murder. 3.The prohibition of theft. 4.The prohibition of sexual immorality. 5.The prohibition of blasphemy. 6.The prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. 7.The requirement of maintaining courts to provide legal recourse.

To be recognized as ‘Righteous,’ a person has to fulfill several criteria:

1.Only a Jewish party can put a nomination forward; 2.Helping a family member or Jew convert to Christianity is not a criterion for recognition; 3.Assistance has to be repeated and/or substantial; and 4.Assistance has to be given without any financial gain expected in return (although covering normal expenses such as rent or food is acceptable). 5.The person cannot have the blood of innocents on his hands. A person who is recognized as ‘Righteous among the Nations’ for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust is awarded a medal in his/her name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of having the name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (the last is instead of a tree planting, which was discontinued for lack of space). The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next-of-kin during ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through the offices of Israel's diplomatic representatives. These ceremonies are attended by local government representatives and are given wide media coverage. At least 130 ‘Righteous Gentiles’ have settled in Israel. They were welcomed by Israeli authorities, and were granted citizenship. In the mid-1980s, they became entitled to special pensions. Some of them settled in British Mandatory Palestine before Israel's establishment shortly after World War II, or in the early years of the new state of Israel, while others came later. Those who came earlier often spoke fluent Hebrew and have now integrated into Israeli society. Below a graph with the names and numbers of Righteous Among the Nations - per Country & Ethnic Origin, as of January 1, 2014:

Albania - 69

Italy - 610

Armenia - 24

Japan - 1

Austria - 95

Latvia - 134

Belarus - 601

Lithuania - 871

Belgium - 1.665

Luxembourg - 1

Bosnia - 42

Macedonia - 10

Brazil - 2

Moldova - 79

Bulgaria - 20