The members of our fourth cohort highly anticipated our trip to Jerusalem for the four-day seminar at Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is a world-renowned research institution and museum, and its partnership with the University of Haifa is of particular benefit to the students in the program. The four-day seminar was meaningful and educational. Read on for a break down of our second day!
Tour of the Museum & External Memorials
The second day at Yad Vashem was devoted to a museum tour, an interesting discussion with the head of the artifacts division, and a tour of the Yad Vashem external memorials. The guide for the museum was very knowledgeable, and she pointed out the architectural elements of the museum including how it utilizes the shape of the mountain and light to create a certain atmosphere for the visitor. The museum starts with a video installation of Jewish life in Europe before the war and after one has descended through the maze like passages, which begin to gradually ascend towards the end, the visitor is greeted by light and a beautiful view of Jerusalem. One truly sees the light at the end of the tunnel that symbolizes the return to life that is a key focus of Yad Vashem.
After the museum tour our students had a fascinating talk with the head of the artifacts division. He had laid out various artifacts including a dress and a cloth flag signed by prisoners at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. He shared the story of how the objects came into the collection and the extensive lengths the staff goes through to piece together the story of each object including the individuals who owned it. He emphasized the importance of teaching the history of the Holocaust through objects.
Next the students went on a tour of the grounds with another outstanding guide. The guide showed them the two memorials on the Wall of Remembrance created by Nathan Rapoport. One memorial commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters and the other called “the Last March” shows Jews walking towards a death camp. Although very different in their design both memorials commemorate resistance – physical and spiritual. The students then saw the Children’s Memorial, which is an abstract and poignant memorial designed by Moshe Safdie. Inside, the memorial uses mirrors to cast the reflection of four candles into thousands of points of light and a voice recording reads the names of hundreds of child victims of the Holocaust in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish. The final memorial our group saw before going to look at the artwork in the art museum was the sculpture of Janusz Korczak and the Children of the ghetto. The guide was very attuned to the portrayal of women during the Holocaust and pointed out the fact that Madame Steffa is not portrayed in the memorial, despite the fact that she was an integral figure in Korczak’s orphanage.
The last event of the day was an insightful conversation with Iael Nidam-Orvieto, the Director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research. Students had the opportunity to discuss the Museum and their experiences so far with Dr. Nidam-Orvieto, and to hear background from her about the new museum and its creation. She compared the old and new museums, the reactions of survivors and other visitors, as well as the increased numbers of visitors to Yad Vashem since the new museum opened in 2005.