Remembering the past, shaping
the future: educating, connecting
The Yad Vashem Campus with its Holocaust History Museum sits on the western edge of Jerusalem. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
JERUSALEM – An oasis of peace surrounded by violence, the Yad Vashem Campus on the western edge of this city is an emotional experience without equal.
Visitors to the eight-year-old Holocaust History Museum and adjacent Hall of Remembrance leave with tears in their eyes and pain in their hearts after a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.
It seems appropriate that on this, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – a time for meditation and prayer – that we reflect on its mission.
“Remembering. Educating. Connecting,” reads a banner on the front entrance to the visitor center marking the facility’s 60th year. It was founded in 1953.
A trip to the Holy Land would be incomplete without spending a few hours contemplating the reason the Jewish people have fought so hard, so long and so bravely for their homeland.
Instead of taking a cab after my visit on Tuesday, I walked slowly up the Connecting Path, through the forest, to Mt. Herzl, allowing the emotions to flow through me as I reflected upon what I had just experienced.
THE FIRST PERSON I encountered upon my arrival was Berthe-Elzon Badehi, 81, herself a Holocaust survivor who fled to Israel from France in 1956.
Berthe-Elzon Badehi sits behind the counter at the Yad Vashem Visitor Information Center on Tuesday. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
She was seated behind the counter in the Visitor Information Center, where she has worked for almost 20 years.
“The Historical Museum (dedicated in 2005) is underground because what happened to the Jewish people (during the Holocaust) was so dark,” Badehi explained. “It was the darkest period in the history of the Jewish people.”
A wise woman, she added: “Most of the people were in hiding, so [the museum] is almost like what they went through.”
The triangular shaped, concrete structure is imposing as one enters.
A group of visitors is guided through the triangular-shaped Holocaust History Museum on Tuesday. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
The story of the rise and fall of the Third Reich unfolds in a rich tapestry for the viewer. It is filled with testimony from survivors … the very core of the museum and, indeed, similar facilities around the globe.
It is the personal witness stories that are so moving.
Ordinary men and women – some of whom were just children when everyone around them was killed in the most horrible of ways – tell their stories of terror and escape.
Some were the sole survivors of extended families. They have a special memorial alongside the Connecting Path, the Memorial for the Last Kin, described on a placard as those “ who are the last remnants of their families.”
Then there were the non-Jews, who hid and helped the thousands of Jewish men, women and children persecuted throughout Europe and north Africa during the 1930s and 40s.
The view one encounters after exiting the museum, of the forest surrounding the campus, is a breath of fresh air. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Garden of the Righteous has 25,000 names of such folk.
Visitor Center greeter Badehi said she has been back to France several times “because my ‘righteous’ is there,” referring to the person who helped her hide during the Vichy period when the Nazis overran France.
“At the time, there was less anti-Semitism in France than there is today,” she said, surprising me. “It was not so strong, or so apparent as it is today.”
AS THE WORLD ABSORBS the words of President Obama in his address to the nation of Tuesday evening, it is an opportune moment to reflect on the history of the people at the heart of the conflict in the Middle East.
The Hall of Remembrance is a silent, solemn place where an eternal flame burns. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
Israel is a modern, prosperous nation today, surrounded by imploding societies stretching from Libya through Egypt to Syria in an arc of violence encompassing the eastern edge of the Mediterranean.
Disasters of unimaginable proportions are still unfolding in Lebanon (trying to accommodate two million Syrian refugees) and Iraq (on the edge of civil war itself, riven by religious rivalry.)
Within and at the heart of the Jewish state, the Yad Vashem experience gives one a perspective on the modern history of the region that clarifies much about the present situation.
The Pillar of Heroism commemorates Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
The perplexing complexity of all the issues can be reduced to two simple questions: when will humankind advance beyond its inhumane treatment of “the other”? When will the killing stop?
These are questions I have heard over and over again since my arrival here. I don’t have any satisfactory answers, but I certainly have a deeper understanding of how we got here. It has been an emotional awakening I did not expect.
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