Located on the western slope of the Mount of Remembrance, Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Established in 1953, the memorial was built to remember all who were tragically murdered, as well as to recognize the non-Jewish individuals who chose to save their Jewish brethren from the ensuing genocide at the risk of their own lives. As the second-most-visited tourist site in Israel, Yad Vashem provides important insights into the Holocaust. Without a doubt, visiting Yad Vashem is a touching, emotional, awesome, and awakening experience, an experience, nonetheless, that most who visit Israel want to live and remember.
The idea of establishing a memorial for the Jewish victims in their homeland was conceived during World War II after reports of the mass murder of Jewish individuals living in Nazi-occupied countries began flooding into the Holy Land. Having been conceptualized in September of 1942 and put on hold for a few years due to the coming War of Independence, the Knesset unanimously passed the proposal in 1953.
Needing a space to call home, the Mount of Remembrance was strategically chosen for the museum, its objective to convey a symbolic message of rebirth after the imminent destruction the Jewish people faced throughout history. The decision to locate Yad Vashem on the Mount was a safe and prudent one: the Mount had been an area devoid of historical associations, and therefore minimized the possibility of Yad Vashem’s location causing any political upheavals. Opening in 1957, the original museum focused on Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, the uprisings in Sobibor, and the Treblinka death camps.
Hall of Names
Conceptually derived from the Book of Isaiah, the Hall of Names serves as a memorial to the six million Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust, victims of the Holocaust to be commemorated for generations onward. The architecture in the main hall is strikingly captivating, grasping deep symbolism with its two cones, with one cone measuring ten meters high and the other cone excavated into the underground rock and filled with water. The upper cone contains 600 photographs of Holocaust victims and fragments of Pages of Testimony that reflect in the bottom cone to commemorate those victims whose names remain unknown.
Surrounding the platform is a circular repository that houses approximately 2.2 million Pages of Testimony collected to date. As the survivors get older, the staff works steadfastly to ensure that all survivors be accorded the opportunity to present their testimonials. Adjoining the hall is an area with a database to complete online searches for the names of Holocaust victims.
The current Yad Vashem, built in 2005, is the culmination of a decade-long $100 million expansion project designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. The complex includes nine galleries of interactive multimedia displays depicting the horrific stages that led to the Holocaust, along with the horrors that paved the road to Hitler’s Final Solution. Lined with over 2,000 plaques memorializing Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust, the museum portrays the “death and destruction” that has plagued the Jewish people.
For everyone who visits Israel, visiting Yad Vashem is an important and poignant experience, regardless of culture, faith, color, background. Intrinsic to the experience is the understanding that freedom is a gift that must be treasured. Your visit to Yad Vashem will heighten your awareness of life’s precious meaning while strengthening your conviction to uphold standards that protect your freedom, and that of others.