2011
05.20

SYNOPSIS:

A visit to the Holocaust Memorial and to Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem.

Yad VashemMemorial and Name – is a 45-acre site providing a memorial and name to the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.  It consists of numerous buildings, memorials, gardens, sculptures, research facilities, exhibits, and several museums.  It was Friday, a short day for all public institutions, stores, and transportation in Israel.  We knew that.  We had only four hours for Yad Vashem and decided to stroll the grounds first before entering the main History Museum.  But by the time we got there, the History Museum had closed on us!  Even though the closing of the compound was one hour away, the History Museum was no longer open to visitors – since “we would not have enough time to see it” if we entered later.  Isn’t that our decision how long we want to spend there?  I was furious!  As just about every argument is about ambiguities of definition, this one was, too.  We had taken the whole compound as the “museum” which would close its doors one hour before the end, but it happened to be only the very one we had saved for last… So, we visited Yad Vashem, but I can’t exactly say that we saw it, missing this most important part of it.

In its current form Yad Vashem opened to the public in 2005.  It is huge.  We spent a full four hours only seeing the “outskirts”.  It is impossible to sum this all up and again, I will just highlight three stations which had a particular impact on me out of 14 stations we saw:

1.       The Cattle Car:  Off a pedestrian walk way, there was a fragment of railroad sticking out into the air on which an old German cattle car was parked which had been used to transport Jews into the Concentration Camps.  More than 100 people were squeezed into cars like this.  You would think it could not possibly hold more than 30…   On the nearby wall the testimony of one of the survivors who had been transported in such a car was chiseled into the stone – more inhumanity than he describes is hard to imagine.

2.       Valley of the Communities:  Over 5000 Jewish villages and cities were decimated by the Nazis.  The name of each and every one is carved into the rock at the Valley of the Communities.  That does not sound too exiting, but it was one of the most impressive outdoor displays.   40-60 foot-high walls had been carved into the living rock to create a maze in which you would get lost even though it only covered 2.5 acres.  The maze created 107 walls and contains either one or many names, I guess depending on the importance of each town.  This simple maze has a monumental impact for someone walking into it, literally getting absorbed.  When we were there, a busload of Jews had arrived, who gathered in one of the courtyards formed by the walls.  They prayed and sang.  The sound of the music echoed in the maze; simply overwhelming.

3.       Children’s Memorial: Atrocities like the Holocaust committed against mankind are hard enough to comprehend, but when you consider that among the 6 million who perished were 1.5 million children, the barbarism of the event becomes even more evident.  An amazing memorial was erected to the children who died.  A simple rock passageway led into a completely dark circular interior.  You would have to feel your way along the railing until you reached the exit going in a full circle.  The dark interior was lit, but not really lit, just accented by thousands of little lights, and a voice read the names, the country of origin, and the ages of all the children known…  I could not even begin to imagine what these children had gone through!

Despite our missing the History Museum, the visit of the Yad Vashem was deeply moving.  We passed many other stations along the way among them a tree dedicated to the Partisans, reliefs dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto and so on.  The grounds were as peaceful as a cemetery.  At many points you saw rocks piled up, following the Jewish custom of leaving a rock at the grave of a loved one.  We left a few, too.  Most people were at the museum, and in many ways, I am glad that we chose the grounds for our visit which allowed us to contemplate.

As central as the Holocaust is in Jewish, European, and 20th Century history, contrary to many voices you hear in the States, I have yet to find a Jewish person here who points to it as justification for current events or who would point the finger at me, for example, as a descendant of the perpetrators.  There are still many who are personally affected by the aftermath of the Holocaust.  But it seems as if the people who live in Israel are dealing with their past in a quiet and more personal way.  And if I hear one thing that is considered central to Jewish culture today it is the determination to be humane no matter how much they are pushed into the corner.

Shabbat Shalom.

Good night.