As I walk through the halls of the Holocaust Museum, I feel as if I
am on a movie set a horribly realistic set, filled with signs
proclaiming “Juden Verboten,” yellow stars embroidered with “Jude”
and even sounds of survivors recounting their days fleeing the
Nazis, or worse, living in a concentration camp. A couple shuffles
past me, both well into the golden years, tears streaming down
their faces. All around me people mutter to themselves different
permutations of the same thoughts, “Why? How did this happen? How
did people let this happen?”
Spanning an impressive 12,000-plus square feet, the new museum
takes its place within the 45 acres of Yad Vashem. Also within Yad
Vashem is the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, the
Holocaust Art Museum, an Exhibitions Pavilion, the Children’s
Memorial and the International School for Holocaust Studies.
The new museum is a must-see in Jerusalem. Not only is it
compelling, heartbreakingly moving and technologically amazing, the
combination of the architecture and the content, makes it perhaps
the most unique museum experience in the world.
I would imagine that any museum dedicated to the documentation
of the Holocaust would be incredible if only due to the gravitas of
what is displayed, but this museum takes the idea of remembrance
and breathes life into it via modern technology. A decade in the
making, the new museum opened in March 2005.
From video testimonials to diary entries, the years of the
Holocaust come to life upon the walls, floors and ceilings of the
museum. One entire room is devoted to a model living room of a
typical German Jew in the late 1930s, while another is built with
train tracks down the middle, showing the conditions upon which the
Jewish ghettos were built. Gigantic maps proclaiming facts and
figures about Jewish populations throughout Europe in the 1930s and
’40s stand next to quotes from Jewish prisoners.
Inside the Hall of Names
The very end of the museum past the horrible photos and
testimonials of the death marches, past the stories of survival and
destruction is the Hall of Names. This dome-shaped section of the
museum houses over 3 million names of people erased in the
Holocaust, and about 600 of these names have faces with them
effectively showcasing the museum’s goal of telling the story of
the Holocaust through a human perspective. The quote on the wall
outside the Hall of Names reads: “Remember only that I was innocent
and, just like you, mortal on that day, I, too, had a face marked
by rage, by pity and joy, quite simply, a human face! Benjamin
Fondane, Exodus, Murdered in Auschwitz 1944.”
The outside of the museum is no less impressive in its
intentionality. Designed by the renowned architect, Moshe Safdie,
the harsh gray concrete of the narrow structure juts out of the sea
of buildings clad in white Jerusalem stone. The concrete reminds
visitors that the Holocaust was an aberration a dark point in the
history of Judaism. Like the color, the physical design of the
building is metaphoric the walls creep inward at the middle,
symbolizing the bleakest point of World War II.
Both the physical structure of the museum and the method of
display within the walls bring to life the feelings of oppression
and darkness; yet infused through it all is a ribbon of hope. Hope
shines through in small doses through the artwork done by Jews
while in the ghettos that has been saved and restored, and also
through the testimonials of the Righteous Among the Nations, those
that risked their lives to save or conceal a Jew. Finally, hope for
the future is the feeling you get when you step out the exit doors
of the museum and find yourself looking over a dramatic panorama of
* Be prepared to spend at least two hours inside the new
Holocaust Museum which is four times the size of the original
historical museum it replaced and tack on three to four more hours
depending on what else you want to see inside Yad Vashem.
* Headsets with audio commentary are available.
* You are not allowed to photograph inside the museum.
* Admission is free although donations are accepted at the
* Museum hours are Sat.-Wed., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
* Podcast discussions about the Holocaust are available for
download at the Yad Vashem Web site.
* To arrange a private tour, call or e-mail the museum.