Yad Vashem is located on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, 804 meters (2,638 ft) above sea level and adjacent to the Jerusalem Forest. Yad Vashem is a 180-dunam (180,000 m2; 1,900,000 sq ft) 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. Yad Vashem also honors non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, at personal risk, as the Righteous Among the Nations.
Yad Vashem is the second most-visited tourist site in Israel, after the Western Wall. It receives some one million visitors annually. Admission is free.
The name "Yad Vashem" is taken from a verse in the Book of Isaiah: Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name (yad vashem) better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off" (Isaiah 56:5). Naming the Holocaust memorial "yad vashem" conveys the idea of establishing a national depository for the names of Jewish victims who have no one to carry their name after death.
The idea of establishing a memorial in the historical Jewish homeland for Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust was conceived during World War II, as a response to 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 August 1945, the plan was discussed in greater detail at a Zionist meeting in London. A provisional board of Zionist leaders was established that included David Remez as chairman, Shlomo Zalman Shragai, Baruch Zuckerman, and Shenhavi. In February 1946, Yad Vashem opened an office in Jerusalem and a branch office in Tel Aviv. In June that year, convened its first plenary session. In July 1947, the First Conference on Holocaust Research was held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However, the outbreak in May 1948 of the War of Independence, brought operations 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.
The location of Yad Vashem on the western side of Mount Herzl, an area devoid of weighty historical associations, was chosen to convey a symbolic message of "rebirth" after destruction, unlike the Chamber of the Holocaust, founded in 1948 on Mount Zion. Thus, the latter museum, whose walls are lined with plaques memorializing over 2,000 Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust, portrays the Holocaust as a continuation of the "death and destruction" that plagued Jewish communities throughout Jewish history.
The new Yad Vashem museum was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, replacing the previous 30-year old exhibition. It is the culmination of a $100 million decade-long expansion project.
The goals of Yad Vashem are education, research and documentation and commemoration. Yad Vashem organizes professional development courses for educators both in Israel and throughout the world; develops age-appropriate study programs, curricula and educational materials for Israeli and foreign schools in order to teach students of all ages about the Holocaust; holds exhibitions about the Holocaust; collects the names of Holocaust victims; collects photos, documents and personal artifacts; and collects Pages of Testimony memorializing victims of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem seeks to preserve the memory and names of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the numerous Jewish communities destroyed during that time. It holds ceremonies of remembrance and commemoration; supports Holocaust research projects; develops and coordinates symposia, workshops and international conferences; and publishes research, memoirs, documents, albums and diaries related to the Holocaust. Yad Vashem also honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, founded in 1993, offers guides and seminars for students, teachers and educators, and develops pedagogic tools for use in the classroom.
Yad Vashem opened to the public in 1957. The exhibits focused on Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, the uprisings in Sobibor and Treblinka death camps, and the struggle of survivors to reach Palestine.
In 1993, planning began for a larger, more technologically advanced museum to replace the old one. The new building, designed by Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, consists of a long corridor connected to 10 exhibition halls, each dedicated to a different chapter of the Holocaust. The museum combines the personal stories of 90 Holocaust victims and survivors and presents approximately 2,500 personal items including artwork and letters donated by survivors and others. The old historical displays revolving around anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazism have been replaced by exhibits that focus on the personal stories of Jews killed in the Holocaust. According to Avner Shalev, the museum's curator and chairman, a visit to the new museum revolves around "looking into the eyes of the individuals. There weren't six million victims, there were six million individual murders."
The new museum was dedicated on 15 March 2005 in the presence of leaders from 40 states and former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan. President of Israel Moshe Katzav said that Yad Vashem serves as "an important signpost to all of humankind, a signpost that warns how short the distance is between hatred and murder, between racism and genocide."
The museum, designed by Moshe Safdie, is shaped like a triangular concrete "prism" that cuts through the landscape, illuminated by a 200-meter long skylight. Visitors follow a preset route that takes them through underground galleries that branch off from the main hall. Visitors are guided into the galleries by a series of impassable gaps that extend along the breadth of the prism floor. With the help of this interior design by Dorit Harel, key turning points in the history of the Holocaust are highlighted.
The Hall of Names is a memorial to the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The main hall is composed of two cones: one ten meters high, with a reciprocal well-like cone excavated into the underground rock, its base filled with water. On the upper cone is a display featuring 600 photographs of Holocaust victims and fragments of Pages of Testimony. These are reflected in the water at the bottom of the lower cone, commemorating those victims whose names remain unknown. Surrounding the platform is the circular repository, housing the approximately 2.2 million Pages of Testimony collected to date, with empty spaces for those yet to be submitted. Since the 1950s, Yad Vashem has collected approximately 110,000 audio, video and written testimonies by Holocaust survivors. As the survivors age, the program has expanded to visiting survivors in their homes to tape interviews. Adjoining the hall is a study area with a computerized data bank where visitors can do online searches for the names of Holocaust victims.
One of Yad Vashem's tasks is to honor non-Jews who risked their lives, liberty or positions to save Jews during the Holocaust. To this end a special independent Commission, headed by a retired Supreme Court Justice, was established. The commission members, including historians, public figures, lawyers and Holocaust survivors, examine and evaluate each case according to a well-defined set of criteria and regulations. The Righteous receive a certificate of honor and a medal and their names are commemorated in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, on the Mount of Remembrance, Yad Vashem. This is an ongoing project that will continue for as long as there are valid requests, substantiated by testimonies or documentation. 555 individuals were recognized during 2011, and as of 2011, more than 24,300 individuals have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
Yad Vashem houses the world's largest collection of artwork produced by Jews and other victims of Nazi occupation in 1933-1945. Yehudit Shendar, the senior art curator of Yad Vashem, supervises a 10,000-piece collection, adding 300 pieces a year, most of them donated by survivors' families or discovered in attics.
Yad Vashem awards the following prizes:
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