My Experience at Yad Vashem (Jerusalem, Israel)
Whenever I make it back to Israel it’s going to be for the sole purpose of going and spending another day at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
After checking out of our hotel in Jerusalem and saying goodbye to our new Israeli friends, we got on the bus and drove to the outskirts of the city right on the edge of the Jerusalem Forest where Yad Vashem is located.
The campus of Yad Vashem is pretty huge but the main building is pyramid shaped and you enter it by walking a bridge that slopes down into it. You wouldn’t know it but as you make your way through the museum, you’re actually walking underground the entire time. The museum was designed in such a way that the natural light decreased as the history we were learning got progressively worse. They chose to build it in the shape of a pyramid because apparently, it’s the strongest shape. You’ll be walking downward until you get to the end when you exit to a balcony overlooking the Jerusalem Forest.
The top of the pyramid of the main building is many feet underground in certain parts.
We were given a three-hour tour of the main building by a British woman who’s lived in Jerusalem for years. The first thing she told us took us all by surprise: the idea for Yad Vashem came about in 1942, three years before the war ended. The Jews in the region at the time heard what was going on in Europe and knew they needed to start creating an archive of the Jewish culture in case Hitlers’ dream of an Aryan world ever came to fruition.
The first stop inside the doors of the museum was at a black and white video that showed the essence of what life was like for Jewish people before the war. Basically, it was vibrant AF. Lots of businesses, arts, fun, laughter, family, etc.
I won’t recount the entire timeline shown in the museum, because I’ve talked about a lot about this time in history in past blog posts, but it was a very sobering experience. In the room about the Warsaw Ghetto, they had an actual street that you could walk on that had been lifted FROM Warsaw and placed in the museum which was kind of surreal to see. As was Elie Weizel’s concentration camp uniform.
I did learn a few new things at Yad Vashem though:
- Janusz Goldszmit was an orphanage director and when the Nazis came to take all of the Jewish orphans to camps he accompanied them and perished as a result.
- Since the Torah is written on durable material, usually animal skin, the Nazis started cutting up Torah scrolls to line their shoes and we’re essentially walking on the Torah. I chatted with our tour guide for a second as we were walking between rooms and told her there are swastikas on the floor at the Holocaust museum in Krakow so everyone could walk on them.
- There was a tiny piece of paper with a smearing of red lipstick on it that belonged to a woman who survived a concentration camp by using the smear of lipstick to make her cheeks appear rosier than they were so she wouldn’t be shot, or worse, during the morning roundups.
We spent a good two and a half hours winding through the rooms from right to left before looking into the final room. This room had photos on the walls of the victims of the Holocaust and walls and walls filled with binders. Each binder contained the name of 300 victims and there had to be hundreds of binders. There were empty shelves too that represented all of the space for the victims who would likely never be named because they couldn’t be located.
The museum left us breathless so we were relieved to be deposited onto the balcony overlooking the Jerusalem Forest at the end of the museum.
Lastly, we were led to the memorial for the 2.5 million children who’d lost their lives during the Holocaust. It was created in honor of Abe and Edita Spiegel whose two and a half-year-old son, Uziel Spiegel, had been taken from them and killed when they were deported to the camps. The room is pitch black aside from hundreds of candles strewn about the room. Above you can hear the names of each of the children who perished along with their ages. Those of us who’d yet to cry at Yad Vashem lost it after that.
The doorway into the Children’s Memorial.
Like I said in the beginning, the campus at Yad Vashem is huge and, sadly, we only saw a tiny part of it. It is absolutely worth going to and you should go if you’re in Israel. Leave yourself an entire day to explore the various parts of the expansive campus – that’s what I would do.
If you think you know all there is to know about the Holocaust, great, but reminders like this are so important so we don’t forget these horrors that took place.