The history of the Jews in the world is obviously marked by the Holocaust. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum was established in Jerusalem. In Hebrew “Yad” means monument and “Vashem” to the name. This comes from a verse written by the prophet Isaiah, about 700 years before Christ. The verse says “I will give them place in My house and within My walls […]. I will give you a permanent name [a “yad vashem”], which will never be forgotten. ”
The prophet Isaiah said that each person has the right to his own name and when he dies we have the obligation to recover the person’s name and history. This is the mission of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, to trace the history of those who died in World War II. Of those Jews who died in the gas chamber, in the crematoriums and in the concentration camps.
Yad Vashem must teach the events of the Holocaust so that future generations understand what happened. In this way the tragedies will not be forgotten or repeated.
History of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem
A tree in the Garden for the Righteous among the Nations
When the survivors were asked how they could survive the Holocaust, many said it was for the help of people who were not Jewish. When a person denounced a Jew he received a reward. Even many kept the homes and belongings of the Jews. But there were others who refused to denounce and risked and even lost their lives to save the Jews.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum museum begins with a forest and on each tree there is a plaque with the name and country of the a person who saved a Jew. It is called the forest of the Righteous among the Nations. When we arrived there was a group of young Israelis in front of the forest entrance. These young men and women were dressed as military, since they have to comply with mandatory service.
In total 24,300 people have been recognized as Righteous among the Nations. People’s names are engraved in the garden in alphabetical order on walls according to their country. The garden started in 1992 as an initiative of Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg. The project will continue as long as valid applications remain.
Well-known people who helped the Jews in World War II
To receive a tree you have to meet 3 conditions: not being Jewish, having risked your life and not having received anything in return. Now a days it is mostly the children who come to Israel to be given a diploma.
Irena Sendler was a very young social worker who received permission from the Nazi to enter the Warsaw ghetto in Poland. She sees children who are starving, sickness and cold. So, she creates a plan to get the children out and convinces the parents to give the children. She took them out in drawers or bags and handed them over to Catholic families.
She wrote down the children’s first and last name and stored the information in jars of jam in the Warsaw ghetto. At the end of the war, she looked for the jars and the children were able to recover their identities. Irena Sendler was discovered and tortured and could never walk again. She died in 2008 and until the last of her days she lived with guilt for not having convinced more parents to give her their children to save them.
Pass inside the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem
To enter the museum you must go through a floor that sounds as if you were entering one of the trains that took the Jews to the concentration camps. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum is built in the air on Mount Herzl in the Jerusalem Forest. It is not built on the mountain, but inside. A groove was made and a part is held in the air. Just as the museum cuts the mountain, the Holocaust cut the lives of millions of people.
Today there are 13 million Jews, while in 1939 there were 18 million. The Jewish people need 100 years to return to that figure and it is estimated that in 2039 there will be 18 million again.
The museum contains original pieces from the period
The Nazis burned much of the evidence of the Holocaust before the Russians arrived, but they did not have time to destroy all the evidence. The museum has things that were found in the ghettos and concentration camps. People took jewelry, photos, letters, marriage certificates with them; the few valuable things that could be taken.
A hall contains books, not only Jewish books, but all kinds of books. Then there is a movie that shows how the Nazi did great concentrations to burn books in campfires.
In the museum there is a real home a Jewish doctor who was head of the department of gynecology of the hospital in Berlin. He was allowed to leave Germany and went to live in Israel. The room tries to show the socioeconomic level of the Jews of the time.
The only thing that is not original in the whole museum is the entrance sign to Auschwitz that says “Arbeit macht frei”. This German phrase translated into English means ‘work will set you free’. The bunkbeds were brought from Auschwitz. You can also see the striped uniforms that the Jews had to wear in the concentration camps. There are a lot of photos.
In the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem is a recipe book written by two 15-year-old girls. They met at lunchtime and each wrote when the world was normal, recipes for their families. There were two parallel books. A lady who went to the museum said that not everything in the museum was original, that she had seen the recipe book in a museum in Australia. The author of the other cookbook lives in Australia, and this one in Israel. Both met 60 years later convinced that the other had died in the gas chamber.
Less than 1% of Germany’s population was Jewish and they received 33% of the Nobel prizes. A wall with famous Jews like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud can be seen in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
The history of Nazism at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
Adolf Hitler tells people that he will return what they lost, their jobs and their pride. The German National Socialist Workers Party (Nazi) comes to power in a democratic way. A very large photo of Germans is seen taking an oath to the fuhrer with their hands raised. If you did not take the oath you went to Dachau, the first concentration camp created in 1933 by the Nazi. There were no Jews, only Germans who did not swear their allegiance to Hitler.
The persecution against the Jews intensifies as the war progresses
At first the Jews could not hold public office, then they destroyed the shops and synagogues. They began to understand that they had to leave Germany, but did not know where to go. The only country that received them was the Dominican Republic.
Most of the Jews in Holland died, while those in France were saved because they went to Spain and then crossed to Morocco (read about the Jews in Morocco) or Latin America. The culture and geography of the local country greatly influenced whether the Jews were saved or not.
World War II begins with Poland
A map of Poland is seen in the museum. The Germans and the Russians decide to divide Poland into 3 pieces, one part for the Soviet Union, one for the Germans and another one would be independent Poland. This part was going to be a German puppet. They decided to move the capital from Warsaw to Krakow. The idea was to move all Jews to this country and turn it into a great concentration camp. Thus began World War II in 1939.
Some people think that the killing of the Jews was devised before the war and other people think that it was designed as the war progressed.
In the museum you can see the stars of David that were obligatory to differentiate those that were Jews in Poland. Other countries did not allow it because it did not look aesthetically good.
In the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum there is a replica of the Polish ghetto. They took people out of their house to place them in 25 blocks. Families now lived in a room instead of a house. The museum has the floors that were brought from a Lodz workshop, which was the first and last ghetto in Poland. They let people work in this ghetto, except children and adults over 60 who were sent to the gas chambers.
In Warsaw, 1,000 Catholics died. Under Jewish law, you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish, but for Hitler it was if you had a mother or father, grandfather or grandmother who was Jewish. Edith Stein was a famous case of a Catholic nun from the Carmelite congregation who died in Auschwitz. Her paternal grandfather was Jewish, so for Hilter she was Jewish. It was then canonized on October 11, 1998 by Pope John Paul II.
If you want to live in Israel, they use the same definition Hitler did: if your father, mother, grandfather or grandmother is Jewish you can apply to be a citizen.
The mission of the Nazi was to end the Jews and other sub-humans
The Nazi invented how to kill Jews more humanely for soldiers. They made a plan not to kill more with shots or asphyxiation inside cars. They started building gas chambers and crematoriums. In the cameras they put Zyklon B pills, a cyanide-based pesticide manufactured by Bayer, which at a temperature of 26 degrees was toxic and people died within 20 minutes. The cameras were shaped like synagogues.
They made a record of how many Jews there were in each country in Europe and the task of the Nazi was to kill 11 million Jews.
The trial of Adolf Eichmann achieves recognition of the Holocaust worldwide
At the end of the war, Adolf Eichmann escapes to Argentina and goes to work at the Mercedes Benz. A delegation from Mossad went in 1960 to celebrate 150 years of Buenos Aires on the first and only flight from El Al (the Israeli airline) to Argentina. They managed to capture the Nazi and passed him as a pilot who had become ill. He was taken out of the country and trialed in Israel. He was sentenced with death penalty.
As a curious fact, in September 2017 the airline El Al started the route from Tel Aviv to Buenos Aires in codeshare with Aerolineas Argentinas.
The survivors start talking
Until 1960 nobody talked about the Holocaust. Survivors did not speak out of trauma and shame. that changed with the trial of Adolf Eichmann that was televised worldwide.
The surviving Jews who went to Israel after the war were not welcomed with open arms. The Israelites considered them cowards because they did not understand how they could not take the concentration camps being much more in numbers than the Nazi. With the trial, it finally came out that the Jews did uprisings, but did not prosper. Beginning in 1961, books, films and testimonies of the survivors begin.
Jews who went to Israel after World War II entered illegally. At that time the country was Palestine and was of the British. They arrived by boat on the shores of Israel. In the museum you can see the declaration of independence of Israel in 1948 that lasted only 26 minutes because it was a Friday, just before Shabbat began.
The hall of names
This corridor rescues the names with images of the men and women who lived the Holocaust. The photo is of the person who has a first and last name. There are 600 photographs in a 10 meter high cone with a circle that looks at the sky.
The archives contain the story of 2 million and some people. There are still many more to be filled to complete the 6 million victims. There is a central computer where you can enter people’s names and read their stories. The center also offers blank pages and survivor registration forms for those who are not yet entered.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem is very large and possibly you might not have time to see all the outer areas. If you can choose only one to visit, go to the Children’s Memorial. In an underground cavern, architect Moshe Safdie paid tribute to the children. Approximately 1.5 million Jewish children died in the Holocaust.
When you enter it is dark and there are thousands of candles reflected in broken mirrors that represent the stars in the sky. As you walk through this area you will hear names, countries and ages of the children who died.
Visit the Holocaust museum on your visit to Jerusalem
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem is the second most visited tourist site in Israel, after the Wailing Wall. it receives one million tourists per year and do not charge admission.
It is sad to visit the museum, but it was not as impacting as when I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
If you go to Jerusalem, plan to stay several days since the city is full of history. We stay at the beautiful Hotel Villa Brown. But there are many options of hotels in Jerusalem.