Yad Vashem seeks to preserve the memory and names of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the many European Jewish communities that were destroyed.
Yad Vashem, established in 1953, is Israel’s national Holocaust museum. It opened to the public in 1957. It is the place where the annual Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) ceremony commences. Indeed, the Yom Hashoah ceremonies at Yad Vashem are broadcast live around the world via the Internet.
Yad Vashem is located on Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. The location of Yad Vashem on the western side of Mount Herzl, adjacent to the Jerusalem forest, was chosen as the ideal site in order to convey a symbolic message of rebirth after destruction.
The name “Yad Vashem” was taken from a verse in the Book of Isaiah: “Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:5). After the Western Wall, Yad Vashem is the second-most-visited Israeli tourist site. There are approximately one million visitors a year. Admission is free.
Yad Vashem seeks to preserve the memory and names of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the many European Jewish communities that were destroyed. They do this through education, research, documentation and commemoration.
Yad Vashem organizes professional development courses for educators both in Israel and worldwide (Yad Vashem trains 10,000 domestic and foreign teachers every year) and develops age-appropriate study programs and educational materials for Israeli and foreign schools in order to teach students of all ages about the Holocaust.
They also hold exhibitions about the Holocaust and collect the names of Holocaust victims along with photos, documents and personal artifacts. There are all types of ceremonies of remembrance and commemoration held at Yad Vashem throughout the year. There is also a distinct emphasis on honoring non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
The Yad Vashem complex is a 180-dunam (44.5-acre) complex containing the Holocaust History Museum, memorial sites such as the Children’s Memorial, the Hall of Remembrance and the Museum of Holocaust Art; outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, and a research institute with archives, a library, a publishing house, and more.
Many are unaware that the idea of establishing a memorial in the historical Jewish homeland for Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust was not conceived after the Holocaust, but rather, during the Holocaust as a response to the reports of the mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied countries.
Yad Vashem was first proposed in September 1942 at a board meeting of the Jewish National Fund by Mordecai Shenhavi, a member of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek. In February 1946, Yad Vashem opened an office in Jerusalem and a branch office in Tel Aviv. In July 1947, the First Conference on Holocaust Research was held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The outbreak of the War of Independence in May 1948 brought Yad Vashem development to a standstill for two years. In 1953, the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, unanimously passed the Yad Vashem Law, establishing the Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
It is interesting to note that Yad Vashem was not the first Holocaust memorial museum, nor is it the only one. The Chamber of the Holocaust is a small Holocaust museum located on Mount Zion, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Founded in 1948 by the Ministry of Religion and its Director-General, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Zanvil Kahane, it was Israel’s first Holocaust museum.
The difference between Yad Vashem and the Chamber of the Holocaust is that the former emphasizes rebirth and the future (one of the reasons it is located at the edge of a forest, a place of growth and renewal), while the latter emphasizes the continued persecution of the Jewish people in the past. Of course, Yad Vashem is huge, while the Chamber of the Holocaust can be covered in a short visit. So, too, Yad Vashem is pluralistic in nature, while the Chamber of the Holocaust is decidedly Orthodox.