On the western slope of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, you will find Yad Vashem. Established in 1953, it is Israel’s official memorial to the Jews who were killed during the Holocaust of World War II. As we were a group on a fieldtrip studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was important for us to visit Yad Vashem; anyone studying the history of Israel should visit Yad Vashem. As such, I can honestly say that I was not the same person when I had finished walking around there.
Yad Vashem is built to remember the Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, and it is also built to educate future generations of what happened. As such, while it does both of these things, it also shocks you. I found myself shocked as I studied the pictures and belongings of some of the innocent people who were murdered. My heart began to sink and continued to do so as I heard the shocking stories told by survivors. I heard stories of how those who were living in the Lodz Ghetto were made to work 12-hour days in the most horrid of conditions, and how food in both Ghettos was at times hard to come by.
Furthermore, you see pictures of innocent men and women being lined up and watched over by Nazi German officers. You see a collection of victims’ shoes towards the end of the walk, and some of those shoes belonged to children. When you finish at the main museum, you can continue down to the Children’s Memorial. Consisting of a room containing only a candle, reflected many times by a wall of mirrors, it is a beautiful memorial. Over a tannoy system, a voice reads the names and ages of children killed during the Holocaust. Ages so young, it is impossible to imagine.
I found it to be a truly harrowing experience. There were a couple of times walking around where I was almost reduced to tears. Call me sensitive if you like, but I could not help but feel sorrow at what the victims of the Holocaust went through. It was a stark reminder of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.
There are also those who question if there are politics behind the memorial. Indeed, there are references dotted around the museum of Jewish aspirations to move to Israel, before the State of Israel even existed. I even heard mentions of the propaganda behind the magnificent view that greets you at the end of the walk, a view symbolising a state that will continue to survive no matter what. Personally, I felt that politics were irrelevant in Yad Veshem. It is a place to remember those who died, not to try and examine any politics that may be subliminally present.
As harrowing as it may have been, I am thankful for the experience and education that Yad Veshem provided me. I hope that it will continue to educate future generations, so that such an atrocity may never happen again.