January 13th 2015
Established in 1953, less than a decade after the Holocaust ended, Yad Vashem is considered the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust. For visitors to Israel, Yad Vashem’s engrossing Holocaust History Museum is the most significant of the institution’s vast Holocaust-related resources and is arguably Israel’s most important museum.
This solemn, inspiring museum serves as a memorial to the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. The museum tells the story of the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective, with an emphasis on individual victims and survivors. It makes Holocaust history come alive through personal stories, original artifacts, survivor testimonies and personal possessions.
Connecting to the main hallway are ten galleries in which the story of the murder of six million Jewish people is told. The first gallery illustrates what Jewish life was like in Europe before WWII. Successive galleries reveal how Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish policies began and grew in strength, eventually choking the Jewish population and forcing them into ghettos. Other galleries detail the lives of Jews forced into the crowded, disease-ridden ghettos, the beginning of the mass murders and concentration camps and the aftermath of “The Final Solution.” As part of the main exhibit, visitors can step into one of the notorious cattle cars that was used to transport Jewish victims to concentration camps. Each gallery uses photographs, films and other media to tell the story, always from the point-of-view of individual Jewish victims.
Also on the grounds of Yad Vashem is the Children’s Memorial, a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Holocaust victims who were Jewish children. The endless reflections of memorial candles in a darkened room are coupled with the continuous recitation of names of murdered children, their ages and their countries of origin.
The museum, located on the 45-acre campus of Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance (Har HaZikaron), occupies over 4,200 square meters, mostly underground. It was designed so that visitors emerge from the museum and the darkness of its subject matter into the stunning view of the valley below. The museum’s design is a testament to the tenacity of the Jewish people.