Israel is a gorgeous country, with lots to offer to visitors. From amazing mountains and perfect beaches, to desert scenery and holy sites galore for all religious needs. But as well as all the traditional religious and tourist sites, there’s one place which can be meaningful on every tourist’s agenda: Yad Vashem.
Yad Vashem is Israel’s national Holocaust memorial museum, established in 1953, 8 years after the end of the Second World War, and five years after the creation of the State of Israel. It is located next to Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, and is on the agenda of every visiting dignitary. The name Yad Vashem means a hand and a name, and is derived from the Book of Isaiah, where it says, “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name (Yad Vashem) better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” The idea of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum is to memorialize the 6 million Jews lost in Europe during the Holocaust, by remembering their names, and their legacy.
Why is Yad Vashem the second most visited site in Israel after the Western Wall, and why do we consider it to be an important stop on any visit to Israel? Understanding the history of the Holocaust is essential to understanding the State of Israel. The Holocaust shaped Israeli mentality, both in their desire to create their own State out of the ashes, where atrocities on a mass scale could “never again” be perpetrated, and in the strong will to create something good after so much destruction.
Yad Vashem is not just a House of Horrors chronicling destruction and death. It is also a tribute to memory, and to hope for the future. As well as ghettos and concentration camps you will learn about acts of rebellion and uprising, including the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. You will learn about moments of humanity and heroism, both inside the walls of the ghettos and concentration camps, and from individuals outside. One particularly moving part of the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum is the Garden of the Righteous Amongst the Nations, commemorating Righteous Gentiles who worked to saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
Visiting Yad Vashem helps to construct an understanding of the events that shaped the early days of the State of Israel. You will gain a deeper level of understanding when you visit the Museum of Independence in Tel Aviv when you realize that the Second World War had ended only a few years earlier, and the full extent of the destruction of the Jews in Europe was understood. The importance of Israel establishing a country of its own, in the shadow of the biggest attempt to annihilate the Jewish people was seen as rebuilding from the ashes, and an attempt to protect a people who were still in trauma.
Located adjacent to Yad Vashem is Mount Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery for fallen soldiers and national leaders. These soldiers gave their lives to protect their new State, and their people, showing a rebuilding of national strength and pride after the horrors of the gas chambers.
Many of the young men and women who illegally immigrated to the Land of Israel in the days before the State were Holocaust survivors, and they swelled the ranks of many of the country’s kibbutzim, cities and towns alike. Holocaust survivors became instrumental in building the State of Israel to what it is today, and their experiences and trauma in many ways still help to define Israel’s national conscience.
A trip to Yad Vashem can be a moving and meaning addition to any visit to Israel. It will move you to tears, but it will also give you hope for the future and will be something you will Never Forget.
Author: David Ben-Sira, a passionate traveller, tour guide at Kenes Tours and history teacher.