Remembering the Lost

A new museum makes Yad Vashem even more powerful

By: Bryce Longton

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.

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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 Jerusalem.


Yad Vashem

* 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 door.

* 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.