None of my relatives that I am aware of were held in concentration camps or perished in extermination camps during the Holocaust - but being Jewish, I'm sure someone in my lineage was affected. That being said, visiting Yad Vashem, one of the most comprehensive Holocaust museums in the world, is still a very unsettling experience.
No picture taking is allowed inside - the few that I will be posting from the exhibits are courtesy of the Yad Vashem website and archives.
When you first enter the museum there is a video art exhibit showing what life was like in Europe pre-WWII. Imagine an entire wall filled with video squares, showing everyday activities during the 1930's. Then you walk through a triangular corridor that narrows toward the end as if to say "The walls are closing in," symbolizing each day of the war was worse than the last.
Our guide takes us through the timeline, starting in 1933 when Hitler came into power, and the Burning of the Books in Berlin. Our guide also tells us how one hundred years earlier, German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, had declared: "Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too." Chilling.
In 1935 the Nazi government passed the Nuremberg Laws, which took German citizenship away from German Jews. When the war broke out in 1939 the Jews of Eastern Europe were made to wear identifying stars, robbed of their belongings and sent to ghettos.
Our guide continues the time line, from the Nazi invasion in Russia in 1941 and systematic killing of Jews, to the extermination camps established later that year. It is hard to hear, but our group listens intently, as our guide details the atrocities up to the end of the war in 1945. We see a haunting picture of Jews being liberated at Buchenwald concentration camp by Allied Forces on April 11, 1945. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (at 15 years old) is in that picture.
The last room we visit is The Hall of Names, a memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust. Six hundred photos and short biographies fill the circular structure, representing just a fraction of the 6-millions Jews who were Holocaust victims.
We complete our tour of Yad Vashem outside, through the Children's Memorial. The entrance bordered with unfinished columns and pieces of rebar sticking out above the facade - a symbol of lives cut short.
The Children's Memorial takes us through a dark walkway, barely illuminated with with blurred twinkling lights, as a somber voice reads the names of the children who perished in the Holocaust. We exit onto a balcony overlooking Jerusalem - we are still here - we continue to survive.
Before leaving, we say a prayer and are given a piece of chocolate - bittersweet, to commemorate this bittersweet moment. Powerful.
Desperately needing to lighten things up, we made our way to Machane Yehuda - the most incredible marketplace you'll ever see!
To end this day on a high note, literally, we enjoyed the beautiful singing at a non-traditional Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Tachana Rishona, Jerusalem's Old Train Station platform.
שבת שלום Shabbat Shalom.