Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yad Vashem

Today was a great day! We went as a group to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. This was probably the site I was most excited to see since we got our itineraries a few months ago. 

Yad Vashem means ‘place and a name.’ It comes from a verse in Isaiah that says “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name...I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” 

So naming the museum Yad Vashem means that it will be a place for every name, every person that died to be remembered. No one’s name will be forgotten, even if they died anonymously and didn’t get to be remembered at funerals.

Here’s me under the words ‘Yad Vashem’ in Hebrew.

 And the outside of the museum.

Before going into the museum, we listened outside to our Judaism professor talk about Israeli perceptions of the Holocaust. First of all, we learned that for about a decade after WWII Holocaust survivors didn’t talk about it at all. They felt guilty for being among the few that survived, and didn’t want to remember. It wasn’t until the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961 that people started being more open about what they went through.

We also talked about how Israelis want to emphasize the Jews that fought back against the Nazis and resisted rather than the Jews who “went like sheep to the slaughter.” There are sculptures that depict different Jewish reactions to the Holocaust.

Here’s the first one, which shows Jews quietly walking to their deaths.

And the second one, which commemorates the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

In Warsaw, Poland (the city that had the largest Jewish population in the world), Jews had been forced to move into a small ghetto. The Nazis gradually deported the Warsaw Jews from the ghetto to death camps. By 1943, the last group of Jews remaining in Warsaw knew without a doubt that mass murder was taking place. Instead of going along with the deportations, they decided to resist. The Warsaw Jews obtained weapons, sometimes with the help of the Polish resistance, and fought the Nazis when they tried to transport them to concentration camps. Eventually the only way the Nazis could get them all out was by burning down the ghetto. About 13,000 Jews died in the battle.

To Jews, the importance of having a Jewish state is that Jews finally no longer have to just put up with persecution. Now Jews have the power to fight back (for the first time since the first century). So that’s why commemorating the Warsaw ghetto uprising is so important. In Israel, the official Holocaust remembrance day is called “Day of Remembrance for the Holocaust and Heroism.” It isn't just about remembering people that died in the Holocaust, but also the people that heroically fought back.

The first place we went in the museum was the children's memorial. It was pitch black inside, and it looks like there are a million stars on the walls and ceiling. It's actually light from a few candles in the middle of the room, reflected everywhere with mirrors. There's a voice reading names and ages of children that died. About 1.5 million children were killed in the Holocaust. Our professor told us this room alludes to Abraham having descendants "as numerous as the stars in the sky." This was definitely one of the most moving parts of the museum. 

Inside the main part of the museum, you walk through a timeline of the Holocaust. The rise of anti-Semitism, Nazis coming to power, ghettos, deportation, death camps, and life after the Holocaust. 

Obviously, there are lots of horrifying stories. I won't subject you to the gross ones. One of the saddest things I saw was a little letter written in French that girl wrote to her mom on the way to Auschwitz promising she would see her again soon. 

There are also lots of inspiring stories. I felt like in general the museum was trying to be uplifting. For example, I liked a small exhibit at the end that showed all of the wedding pictures of a group of women who survived a death march together.

There were also lots of stories about people who risked their lives to save Jews. Here's Schindler's List!

Those are the names of the 1,200 people he was able to save.

Something else inspiring were entire countries that worked together to save their Jews. Denmark saved every one of the country's 8,000 Jews by simply refusing to go along with Nazi policies, and by helping them to escape to Sweden. Italy, although a fascist country allied with Germany, also for the most part refused to take part in the Holocaust. 80% of the country's Jews were saved, mostly by people risking their lives hiding Jews in their homes. It was nice to see how many good people there were in the world too.

Other countries mostly in Eastern Europe...and France :( ,went along with Hitler's policies. The day after Germany came to power in Lithuania, Lithuanians massacred thousands of Jews without ANY German orders or coercing. It was kind of like "We're finally allowed to do this." That showed how widespread anti-Semitism was in Europe at the time. It wasn't just something Germany randomly came up with.

At the end of the museum is the Hall of Names.

It's a beautiful room with so many pictures of people who died. This is also the room where they store information about every Holocaust victim they have information about. 

As you exit the museum, you see this pretty view of Israel.

I took the view to symbolize what Israelis see as the happy ending to the Holocaust: the founding of the State of Israel.

This is an amazing museum! I highly recommend it; this was by far my favorite field trip.


  1. very inspiring post, Marissa! I would love to experience this museum someday; SO GLAD you got to go there!

  2. What an incredible experience! When I was serving in Latvia, I remember talking to a Jewish woman who related to us that the almost non-existant Jewish population post-WWII was growing again. I also read a heartbreaking book about one woman's experience in a Lithuanian ghetto. If I can find the title, I'll let you know.

  3. I had no idea that Italians helped save Jews from deportaion; that makes me happy!