Visiting the world’s central Holocaust Memorial in Yad Vashem was one of driving goals for me to visit Israel. For some photographs and a bit of history enjoy this episode of “Israel Explored – Yad Vashem”
Coming from the city that from 1922 to 1938 hosted the annual Nazi party rallies and today, in our daily life, frequently passing the remains of the huge structures in which these propaganda shows were put on display, the remembrances about the horrors of the Holocaust are never far away. Nuremberg has its own documentation center about the rise and infamy of Hitler’s NSDAP party, and you might have read a post I did about it after a visit during the pandemic.
So visiting Yad Vashem was something always very high on my bucket list and obviously on the agenda of our recent trip to Israel. As photography inside the memorial is strictly prohibited (with the exception of the Hall of Remembrance, which is the titel image of this post), you will see here only some images I took on the outside. And I felt I had to do them in black & white. Everything was taken with my iPhone 12 Pro Max or the Leica M240 with the Summicron 35mm f/2.
Yad Vashem is the name of the “Memorial to the Martyrs and Heroes of the State of Israel in the Holocaust,” the most important memorial site commemorating and scientifically documenting the Nazi extermination of 6.3 million Jews.
On July 29, 1954, the cornerstone for Yad Vashem’s central museum building was laid on Mount of Remembrance (Mount Herzl | Har ha-Zikaron) in the hills west of Jerusalem. The museum and other parts of the memorial already completed by then were opened to the public in 1957.
The core structure of Yad Vashem is the Holocaust History Museum. The new building of the museum by architect Mosche Safdie was opened in 2005.
In nine underground galleries, the modern concrete building with its distinctive triangular shape documents the history of the persecution of the Jews. Countless original artefacts of the victims, video documentations, photographs, documents and works of art, many created by children of that time, provide an emotional and immersive experience about and memorial to the genocide of European Jews.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically and begins with Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust. It then moves on to the rise of Nazism in Germany, World War II and the destruction of Jewish life in Poland, the ghettos (with a replica of the “Ulica Leszno,” the main street of the Warsaw Ghetto) to internment in concentration camps and death camps such as Auschwitz. This is followed by the resistance and the death marches. The exhibition ends with the situation of the survivors, their search for relatives, and finally emigration to Israel or other countries.
Most touching I found the videos with statements of Holocaust survivors that are presented on more than 100 screens.
In the “Hall of Names”, the last room in the museum’s tour of the history of the Holocaust, the names and personal data of the Jewish victims of the Nazi mass murder are collected. The basis for this is the information on “memorial sheets” provided by relatives and acquaintances of those murdered, often the only reminders of the victims of the genocide.
As said before, photography in the museum is prohibited, but the Yad Vashem website has a vast collection of images and an extensive online exhibition, be sure to check it out!
At the end of the tour through the underground galleries of the museum, the triangular shape opens up onto a balcony bathed in sunlight and overlooking the hills of western Jerusalem.
We continued our tour on the outside. Another emotional place was the bronze sculpture of Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. Despite his inhuman efforts to save his young protégés, Korczak and approximately 200 children from his orphanage were sent to the Treblinka death camp on August 5, 1942.
For me personally, the most touching exhibit was the Memorial of Children, also built by Moshe Safdie. This unique memorial in an underground cavern is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust. Holding onto a handrail, we entered the memorial in total darkness, until the cavern opens up. 5 candles are reflected by thousands of mirrors, that I had the impression to be out in the night sky with millions of stars around me.
In the background, the names, ages and birthplaces of the children are played from a tape. This endless tape takes about three months to play back all the names of the young victims that died at the hands of the Nazis. Unimaginable. And a powerful call to all of us to ensure that the horror of this genocide is never repeated.
The Memorial to the Memory of the Deportees commemorates the transports to the concentration camps with an old Reichsbahn cattle wagon; the wagon stands above the slope on a bridge construction leading to nowhere and is an original transport wagon given to Yad Vashem by the Polish government.
Then we visited the Valley of the Communities, a massive 2.5 acre monument literally dug out of the natural bedrock and created by architects Dan Zur and Lipa Yahalom. The names of over 5,000 Jewish communities all over Europe that were destroyed or barely survived in the Holocaust are engraved on its 107 walls, sorted by geographic regions.
We finished up our tour of Yad Vashem with a visit to the Hall of Remembrance (title image of this post), created by architect Arieh Elhanani. This imposing, tent-like basalt structure houses the memorial flame for the victims of the Holocaust. This flame, in the form of a broken bronze chalice, stands in the center of the hall. In front of it is a stone slab under which ashes from the concentration camps are buried. The names of the 22 largest concentration camps are engraved in the floor of the hall, exemplifying all the places of extermination. The Hall of Remembrance is also well known and often visible on television, is it is the site were visiting head of states pay their respects to the memories of the victims of the Holocaust.
The visit to Yad Vashem was one of the emotional highlights of this trip, and more than once it had me choking. I just wish we would have had more time to explore, but that is the destiny of being part of a tour group.
As said before, Yad Vashem is a powerful call to all of us to ensure that the horror of this genocide is never repeated.
Have a great Friday