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Yad Vashem Review
The experience of the Holocaust—the annihilation of 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II—is so deeply seared into the Jewish national psyche that understanding it goes a long way toward understanding Israelis themselves. The institution of Yad Vashem, created in 1953 by an act of the Knesset, was charged with preserving a record of those times. The name Yad Vashem—"a memorial and a name (a memory)"—comes from the biblical book of Isaiah (56:5). The Israeli government has made a tradition of bringing almost all high-ranking official foreign guests to visit the place.
The riveting Holocaust History Museum —a well-lit, 200-yard-long triangular concrete "prism"—is the centerpiece of the site. Powerful visual and audiovisual techniques in a series of galleries document Jewish life in Europe before the catastrophe and follow the escalation of persecution and internment to the hideous climax of the Nazi's "Final Solution." Video interviews and personal artifacts individualize the experience.
The sequence of the galleries reflects the phases of the Sho'ah (as the Holocaust is also known); yet the theme of a particular gallery can be elusive at first, especially when crowds get in the way. Browse Yad Vashem's Web site before you come, to "walk" through its succinct description of each gallery.
Note that children under 10 are not admitted; large bags have to be checked.
Near the exit of the museum are a film center, a computer center, and an art museum. In the basement of an older wing nearby (look for the Auditorium) is a permanent, very poignant exhibition called "No Child's Play," about children's activities during the Holocaust.
The small Children's Memorial is dedicated to the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. Architect Moshe Safdie wanted to convey the enormity of the crime without numbing the visitor's emotions or losing sight of the victims' individuality. The result is a single dark room, lit by five candles infinitely reflected in some 500 mirrors. (The reason for the numbers is technical, not symbolic.) Recorded narrators intone the names, ages, and countries of origin of known victims. The effect is electrifying. There are no steps to watch for, and guide rails are provided throughout.
The Avenue of the Righteous encircles Yad Vashem with several thousand trees marked with the names of Gentiles in Europe who risked and sometimes lost their lives trying to save Jews from the Nazis. Raoul Wallenberg, King Christian X of Denmark, Corrie ten Boom, Oskar Schindler, and American journalist Varian Fry are among the more famous honorees. The Hall of Remembrance is a heavy basalt-and-concrete building that houses an eternal flame, with the names of the death camps and concentration camps in relief on the floor.
At the bottom of the hill, large rough-hewn limestone boulders divide the Valley of the Communities into a series of small, man-made canyons. Each clearing represents a region of Nazi Europe, laid out geographically. The names of some 5,000 destroyed Jewish communities are inscribed in the stone walls, with very large letters highlighting those that were particularly important in prewar Europe.
There is an information booth (be sure to buy the inexpensive map of the site), a bookstore, and a cafeteria at the entrance to Yad Vashem. Photography is not permitted within the exhibition areas. Allow about two hours to see the Holocaust History Museum, more if you rent an audio guide. If your time is short, be sure to see the Children's Memorial and the Avenue of the Righteous in addition to the museum. To avoid the biggest crowds, come first thing in the morning or during lunch (noon to 2). The site is an easy 10-minute walk or a quick free shuttle from the Mt. Herzl intersection, which in turn is served by many city bus lines. The Egged sightseeing bus 99 takes you right into Yad Vashem.
- Address: Hazikaron St., near Herzl Blvd., Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem | Map It
- Phone: 02/644-3565
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Sun.--Wed. 9--5, Thurs. 9--8 (late closing for History Museum only), Fri. and Jewish holiday eves 9--2. Last entrance 1 hr before closing.
- Website: www.yadvashem.org
- Location: West Jerusalem
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