Israel Establishes Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem (Hebrew: יד ושם‎ also spelled Yad VaShem; "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority") is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust established in 1953 through the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The origin of the name is from a Biblical verse: "And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem) that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5). (A note on orthography: the two nouns in Hebrew, yad [memorial/hand] and "shem" [name] are often capitalized in English transliterations; similarly, the Hebrew sign for "and" ["v"] is sometimes lowercased.)

Located at the foot of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem is a 45-acre (180,000 m2) complex containing the Holocaust History Museum, memorial sites, such as the Children's Memorial and the Hall of Remembrance, The Museum of Holocaust Art, sculptures, outdoor commemorative sites such as the Valley of the Communities, a synagogue, archives, a research institute, library, publishing house and an educational center, The International School for Holocaust Studies. Non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, at personal risk, are honored by Yad Vashem as "Righteous Among the Nations."

The new Holocaust History Museum, opened in March 2005, is a prism-like triangular structure. It is 180 meters long, in the form of a spike, which cuts directly through the mountainside. Its stark walls are made of reinforced concrete, and it covers an area of over 4,200 square meters, most of which is underground. At the uppermost edge of the shaft is a skylight, protruding through the mountain edge.

There are 10 exhibition halls, each devoted to a different chapter in the history of the Holocaust. Unlike the exhibition in the old museum, which was primarily composed of photographs, the new exhibition is a multi-media presentation that incorporates survivor testimonies as well as personal artifacts donated to Yad Vashem by Holocaust survivors, the families of those who perished, Holocaust museums and memorial sites around the world. The exhibits are set up chronologically, with the testimonies and artifacts accentuating the individual stories used to highlight the historical narrative throughout the museum.

The museum is designed so the visitor begins above underground, proceeds to the lowest underground point in the center of the museum, and then slowly walks upwards towards the exit. The exit from the main part of the museum is onto a balcony overlooking a stunning view of Jerusalem, the visitor stepping from a dark corridor into direct sunlight (weather and time of day permitting).

As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.