This is the Holocaust
memorial site in Israel
, namely in Jerusalem
, to the west of Mt Herzl: a hilltop 'national cemetery', 'Mount of Remembrance', augmented by several monuments and, in particular, a hyper-modern memorial museum.
The name Yad Vashem (or in a more accurate transliteration Yad vaShem) is taken from an Old Testament verse and literally means 'memorial and a name'. The site was established in 1953. Expanded and updated over the years, the single most significant addition was that of the Holocaust History Museum in 2005. The latter is now the core of the entire site.
Like the US Holocaust Museum
, Yad Vashem may be "dislocated" from what it commemorates (i.e. it's not at an authentic site where "it happened" – cf. the concept of dark tourism
), but being the main memorial set up and maintained by the Jewish state Israel, in a way the state of Holocaust survivors, it nevertheless has to rank as one of the world's foremost such institutions.
It's a massive place, which is equally strong on information and emotional impact. An absolute must for the dark tourist in Israel
What there is to see: The new centrepiece of the complex, the Holocaust History Museum, is a very modern museum of striking architectural design – a long concrete structure that seems to pierce the mountain. Visitors enter from the open square between the visitor centre and the museum and descend down into the dimly lit underground exhibition rooms, which branch off the central triangular walkway.
The exhibition rooms are filled with all manner of state-of-the-art multimedia displays, including videotaped testimonies by Holocaust
survivors, donated personal effects and photos. The organization is more or less chronological, from early anti-Semitism to the full-scale "industrial" extermination programme of Operation Reinhard
, the situation of the survivors after the war, and the waves of emigration to Israel
A semi-separate part of the museum is the Hall of Names, an eerie memorial which tries to convey the enormity of the Holocaust's scale by combining hundreds of victims' photos with fragments of testimonies (millions are stored in the adjacent repository) inside a gigantic cone which is reflected in a water-filled corresponding cone set into the floor.
At the end of the museum's triangular walkway, the visitor steps out onto a balcony overlooking Jerusalem
. It's quite a striking effect, stepping out from the darkness into the bright open light, seemingly hovering high above the ground.
Apart from the museum, the complex also comprises the Hall of Remembrance
– a low building that contains the central old memorial. It is here that many state visitors come to pay their respects – moments that are always carefully observed, especially when the visitor is a German and/or the Pope (as was the case only a few years ago). It's thus an instantly recognizable place, from all the media coverage. The Memorial contains an eternal flame. The names of 22 places of extermination, death camps
and concentration camps
, are set into the floor.
Outside the museum is also the Avenue and the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations
, i.e. non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jews during the years of the Holocaust. Particularly well-known names include Oskar Schindler
or Raoul Wallenberg
. These are commemorated by plaques and by individually planted trees.
There are numerous additional monuments, of which the most impressive must be the Children's Memorial
, an underground memorial to the ca. 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered in the Holocaust
. Walking through the memorial you hear names of such child victims, together with their age and place of origin, being read out through loudspeakers.
A related monument pays tribute to Janusz Korczak
. And there's also a special monument dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto
Uprising and the deportations to the death camps (esp. Treblinka
The largest original artefact on display outside is a cattle car of the type used by the Nazis
to transport Jews to the concentration camps
and death camps
. It was given to Yad Vashem by Poland
. It sits on a section of rail tracks on a kind of half bridge, which "cuts off" in mid-span, leading into nothingness. UPDATE: I've meanwhile learned that this wagon is actually of at best rudimentary authenticity. Only the metal frame was brought in from Poland, all the woodwork was reconstructed in Israel, and, according to my source, not even in way true to the original.
[NOTE: a genuine cattle wagon from Germany that was actually used in the transports of Jews to the east, can be seen as part of a larger war memorial complex in the coastal town of Netanya 16 miles (25km) north of Tel Aviv (co-ordinates: N 32° 18' 05.5", E 34° 50' 41.6"). It's referred to as the "Shoah Wagon" (KaronshoaNetanya) and by appointment (0522-519484) vistors can be given guided tours which explain the background of this particular wagon and its historical context in more detail.]
Yad Vashem also serves as a research and education centre. Its International School for Holocaust Studies can provide all manner of seminars, courses and school group activities. There are archives, a library, a Learning Centre with computer stations for independent study, as well as a Visual Centre where documentaries, feature films and survivors testimonies can be watched on personal or large screens.
Next to the visitor centre at the entrance to the complex is a shop which sells a huge range of Holocaust
-related materials, books mainly, but also other media. Those really interested in the topic can spend some serious time and money here. There's also a (kosher) cafeteria on site where you can buy snacks – but respectful behaviour dictates that you shouldn't consume any while in the exhibition or out by the various memorials.
, about three miles (5 km) west of the Old Town.
Access and costs: a bit off the city centre, but still fairly easily reachable; other than the cost of getting there the visit is free.
Yad Vashem's location a bit out, away from the city centre of Jerusalem, means it's best to come by car/taxi (plenty of parking spaces are provided). From Tel Aviv it's a good 40 mile (65 km) drive. Alternatively sign up for one of those organized excursions that include Yad Vashem (see Jerusalem
). However, the time that such organized tours allocate to Yad Vashem is rather limited.
Opening times of the complex: daily except Saturdays (obviously enough) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, only to 2 p.m. on Fridays – last admission one hour before closing). Children under 10 are not allowed in. Only organized groups need to reserve in advance.
There is no admission fee to any part of the complex.
Yad Vashem is also a model in catering for visitors with disabilities, not only is almost everywhere wheelchair-accessible (some exceptions apply at the Garden of the Righteous and at the odd memorial), they even hire out (for free) their own wheelchairs, audio guides for the hearing impaired and lend assistance to the visually impaired in the library.
a visit to Yad Vashem really deserves a lot of time. Unfortunately, organized excursions, e.g. as part of a Jerusalem
day package from Tel Aviv, typically don't allow sufficient time ... two hours is not really enough! So if you're on such a tour, then you have to go through the museum quite quickly, superficially and/or in a highly selective manner. This is possible if you're already quite familiar with the topic. But if you really want to learn, and honour, the museum to the fullest depth, then you have to come here independently – and best allocate up to a full day.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
generally see Israel
– from Jerusalem you can also go on day excursions to the Dead Sea and Masada
. And of course Jerusalem
itself also has historical and current dark sites of its own …
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
– when coming to Yad Vashem, it's almost obligatory that you also pay a visit to the historic Old Town of Jerusalem
, not only for its religious and architectural treasures, but also because the weight of several millennia of significant chunks of world history is so palpable here – more than anywhere else on earth.
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