The Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, also called Yad Vashem, is a museum that really hits home. From the outside this minimalistic, concrete building seems quite ordinary (and purposefully so). That’s because the inside contains an extremely moving exhibition describing the horrific impact of the holocaust. As we will come to see, this juxtaposition is of crucial importance.
Before entering the museum, it’s good to take a stroll in the garden complex. Here you’ll find plaques, many of which commemorate people who risked their lives to help the Jewish people.
Then as you enter the main door of the Holocaust History Museum, you’ll notice that from certain angles the museum looks like a high security prison jutting out from the edge of the mountain. This is probably due to the fact that there are no windows on the side and there is only light coming in through the top and on each end of the building.
You’ll also notice the overall triangular shape of the building. It appears almost as a tunnel, with light at the very end (perhaps metaphorically so).
The displays inside this unique structure demonstrate real life stories of the Jewish people and other minority groups during the Nazi regime. Real photographs, personal objects and even furniture re-create the story of these people.
Furthermore, as you walk through the museum you’ll notice that displays are particularly simplistic and grey in colour. This has been done in order to demonstrate the harshness, the rawness of the war. No bright, vibrant colours are needed to tell the story – it speaks for itself of course. In this minimalistic way, vistors to the museum whose families were not implicated in the war are able to better place themselves into the utter despair of the time.
While browsing, I came across this touching poem called The Little Smuggler. The poem is filled with the sadness of the situation and the complete uncertainty within people. It’s one of my favourite pieces of writing at the museum.
Additionally, what I appreciate about the museum is its factual nature. It shows the raw, hard truth in a powerful manner that never aestheticizes. It demonstrates the memories of the people as they were.
“Today I am still alive! I don’t know about tomorrow…” – says a quote on the wall below.
Real signs that were once on display at Auschwitz and other concentration camps are also to be found.
Most touching are the little dolls, musical instruments and other objects once cherished by children.
But be warned – there is a lot of information to take in and the Holocaust History Museum can be quite overwhelming and of course quite emotional too, so best to set aside a good couple of hours to absorb it all without rushing.
From the crowds (as shown below) I took in the many voices around me speaking in quite a number of different languages. But their accents weren’t as important as what they were saying. Many of them were talking about how the war had impacted their own family; how families were once tragically torn apart.
The museum ends with a strange, blank space which I couldn’t bring myself to photograph. The tiny shoes of children fill a concrete hole in the floor enclosed in glass. People sit around in tears, completely moved by the shoes and the sense of nothingness and depair all around.
And then on your way out there is a final room filled with documentation of the families who passed during the war. It is called The Hall of Names – a circular room with black lever arch files with white labels on them. In many instances these records may be the only objects left of the people who have passed. This black and white space is pretty powerful and when you stand in the centre it’s as though you’re standing in the midst of all the lost souls. A very sad and moving experience.
The Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem is a powerful reminder of what happened. It teaches us many things, is informative, moving and inspirational all at once. It shows us that we should never give up in our fight for human rights. Ever.