Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Monday, February 20, 2012

Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial (W12)

Today we had a sobering field trip to Yad VaShem, the official Israeli Holocaust memorial (click here for the official web site).  My camera battery gave out part way through, so in this instance many blog visitors will certainly want to see the blog post from last semester, especially its pictures from the Hall of Names at the end.

A poignant sign near the entrance has a line from Ezekiel 37:14, "you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil."

Before we went into the main part of the museum for a two-hour self-guided tour, Ophir Yardin, our Modern Near East (Israel) and Judaism adjunct faculty, gave our students an hour-plus orientation.  This was done outside, primarily on the "Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations," where carob trees commemorate Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews, and in the plazas commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the dead of the concentrations camps. 

Ophir Yardin with our students

Walking down the Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations
 The main thrust of Ophir's orientation is not so much to provide a background to the Holocaust, which our students read about for their class, but to trace the development of changing Israeli attitudes towards the Holocaust and the issue of victim-hood.  For instance, when the memorial was established in 1953, the emphasis was on those who resisted the Nazis and died fighting as opposed to those who passively went to their deaths. 

Gathering in the Plaza Commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Two sculptures in the plaza depict two different responses to Nazi brutality and genocide . . .
Passive acceptance, going like sheep to the slaughter

and "heroic" resistance . . .

But both groups nonetheless perished.  The Hebrew inscription, bedemayik chai, means "in blood, life."

Critical events in Israel's history, such as the 1967 War and the Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes further changed these attitudes.  Today a much broader view of heroism sees nobility and strength in the form of teachers who died with their students, for instance, rather than just those who actively fought and resisted.

The Hall of Remembrance, a "mausoleum" for those who died in the death camps, looms over the plaza

The mausoleum for those who had no graves.  See my blog post from last semester for pictures inside.

The Hebrew inscription is from Isaiah 56:5: "unto them I will give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name (Hebrew, yad vashem) better than sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off."  Originally a promise to eunuchs who were deprived of any posterity, this verse has been applied to those who otherwise died childless, and it certainly applies to the victims of the Holocaust or Shoa (catastrophe).
Coming out of the museum, which chronicles Jewish life in Eastern Europe that was virtually destroyed, the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Europe, and the human tragedy of the "Final Solution" one is almost overwhelmed.  However, the sight of the lovely slopes of Mount Herzl and views of West Jerusalem, lift one's spirits.  And one also exits by walking through the Avenue of the Righteous, a potent reminder that there was still good in the world at a time of such evil.

The beautiful slopes of Mount Herzl, particularly verdant and lovely in this "winter" season, provide a needed sense of tranquility after the heaviness of the museum exhibits.

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