I have no idea how I could have forgotten this final portion of the trip except that as I've been writing this series I have been using my photographs to remind me of what we did on which day, etc. When you see so many things in such a short time and have four or five of them crammed into each and every day things run together in your head after a while. As I was finishing up yesterday I remembered our visit to Yad Vashem. It's a story that needs to be told.
"And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a "yad vashem")... that shall not be cut off." - (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)
So begins the introduction on the Yad Vashem web page. What is it, you ask? Yad Vashem is a living memorial to the holocaust; a living memorial to the Jewish people who died in those camps and to those who survived. It is a living reminder of what can happen when evil rules the hearts and minds of men.
Also from their web page:
As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.
The museum is filled with pictures and artifacts from the holocaust.
Note in the bottom picture on the right - the piles of clothing that were stripped from the Jews before they were killed. There is a collection of hundreds of pairs of shoes in a case in the floor of one area of the museum.
There is another area of the museum where the floor is made up of actual cobblestones and railroad tracks from one of the towns in Germany. For the life of me I can't remember where - perhaps Dresden. But the stones and tracks are from an actual location where Jews were placed on trains to be shipped to the concentration and extermination camps.
Another room houses part of the frame of one of the box cars that carried Jews to Auschwitz. Some of the wooden shell is intact but not much.
There is a replica of the sign that was over the gate at Auschwitz that reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" - "Work Will Set You Free." Except that wasn't true. Jews were exterminated systematically by the millions in six death camps, all in Poland. They were Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Of the 9 million Jews who lived in Europe at the time, nearly 6 million were killed by the Nazis.
In one section is a model of a typical living quarters in Auschwitz and in another an actual set of bunks.
There is a section dedicated to the people who were used for medical experiments at the hands of Josef Mengele and others.
There is a "Hall of Names" in which every known Jew who died at the hands of the Nazis is annotated - many with pictures.
One section of the museum is a large building with the names of 21 (or possibly 22) Nazi camps on the floor. There were between 15,000 and 20,000 detention camps throughout Nazi occupied Europe but the worst were the 21 on this floor.
When I was stationed in Germany in the early 80s I got the opportunity to visit Dachau, the small camp just outside Munich. (I say small only because it was small compared to Auschwitz. Most were small compared to Auschwitz.) Dachau had one building that was set up as a large shower. Jews were stripped naked and forced into the "shower" in large numbers. But there were no water lines connected to the showers. They were connected to poison gas lines. There were fingernail marks still in the walls where people fought to survive.
Once they were all dead the room was flushed with fresh air and the bodies were removed, either for burial in a mass grave or incineration in one of the two crematory ovens.
There was a feeling of gloom and evil that hung over Dachau when I was there. I can't imagine it being any different today.
Finally, there was a positive exhibition. In one room, near the end of the main museum, was a tribute to those who helped save Jewish lives throughout the war. Oskar Schindler and Irena Sendler are two such people. (We passed the cemetery in Jerusalem where Schindler is buried but didn't have time to stop.)
As you make your way back around to the entrance building you see the Children's Memorial on your left.
The Children's Memorial is underground. As you enter you hear the names of the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children being read out loud. As you go through the doorway you are in darkness. Once you round the corner suddenly there are what appear to be thousands of candles flickering. I'm sure it is done mostly with mirrors but it is quite impressive.
Yad Vashem is quite a moving experience. For most people the reminder of the evil that men do is sobering and powerful. For those who deny the holocaust ever happened I would tell you to go to one of the extermination camps and see it for yourself, then decide.
As we walked out through the entrance building Arden noticed something she wanted. It was a pin in the shape of an olive branch dedicated to "remembering the past and shaping the future." She bought two of them. I asked her who the other one was for and she said "It's for Yair." (Yair was our guide.) She wanted to give him something to thank him for being such a great guide and an all around good guy. I thought it was a great idea.
We got back on the bus and as we were driving back to the hotel Yair told us that sharing the museum with us was very significant to him. People's understanding of what happened to so many Jews during the reign of Hitler needs to be refreshed now and then. I must agree.
Arden gave him his olive branch pin and he was very grateful and said he didn't have one.
I hope I have told the story of Yad Vashem correctly. As I said, I wasn't allowed to take photographs that would help me remember things more accurately. I have used photos from their web page to recall as many things as I can - hopefully correctly.
Now my story is complete. Thank you to all who have waded through these 12 somewhat lengthy posts. I hope it was at least entertaining and that you were able to get something out of them - even if it's just a little Israeli history. If you ever have the chance to visit Israel yourselves I would highly recommend it. Ours truly was the trip of a lifetime.