JERUSALEM, ISRAEL.- Crowning a multi-year redevelopment plan, Yad Vashem will inaugurated its new Holocaust History Museum on March 15. The new Museum, some 10 years in the making, will replace the current historical museum at Yad Vashem.
Heads of State and government from at least 15 countries, as well as United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and dozens of other nations leaders and dignitaries, joined Israeli President Moshe Katzav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Limor Livnat in inaugurating the new Museum on March 15 and then participated in a special assembly at Yad Vashem the following morning. The new Museum is set to open to the public at the end of March.
The New Holocaust History Museum was inaugurated first with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday afternoon, followed by official tours of the Museum and a ceremony that evening, featuring Katsav, Sharon, Livnat, Annan, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Prof. Shevach Weiss and Nobel Laureate Prof. Elie Wiesel.
Following a brief early morning memorial service Wednesday in the Museums new Hall of Names, the special assembly, Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future, featured remarks from the heads of more than 35 delegations, their Israeli hosts and a number of leading Israeli intellectuals. They raised their voices to the world in a call for safeguarding the memory and meaning of the Shoah for future generations, and for a rise to action against renewed anti-Semitism and intolerance.
Four times the size of the current Historical Museum, the New Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem will have two dimensions, informational and experiential. The New Museum will use many artifacts in telling the story, alongside the documentary element familiar in the current museum. It will try to tell both the macro story and the micro stories of individuals and small groups, stressing the personal story in the historical and thematic narrative. The New Holocaust History Museum covers some 4,200 square meters.
The New Museum is Yad Vashems main platform for imparting the legacy of the Shoah to visitors. It tells the story of the Shoah from the point of view of the Jews; the victims are the focus, instead of being portrayed as anonymous objects being acted upon by their persecutors. Visitors will leave with a wider perspective on the protection of humanitys basic values and Jewish continuity.
The new Holocaust History Museum is a revolution in Holocaust memory. Making the individual victim the center of its story, the Museum weaves more than 90 personal stories into a thematic and historical narrative. Using authentic artifacts, testimonies, documentary evidence, archival sources, films, art and even music, the museum tells the story of the Holocaust through the voice of the individual.
It is impossible to understand the Holocaust and absorb its meaning without learning about those who were most directly affected the Jews, explains Avner Shalev, who is also Chief Curator of the New Museum. As such, we have made every effort to present a full picture of the Shoah every artifact, document, story and picture that would give the visitor a sense of what the Shoah was and who the people were who experienced it was carefully considered. With more than 2,500 items in the museum, we tried to include both the unique and the representative.
These means of expression help the visitor grasp and contend with the almost inconceivable nature of the Shoah. Individual stories illustrate entire historical themes and events, bringing out the human dimension more than ever before. The Museum is designed to give the visitor an overall impression of the time, places and atmosphere in which the Shoah occurred. Unique settings, spaces with varying heights and differing degrees of lighting accentuate focal points of the unfolding narrative. Exhibits focus on the daily life of the Jews the persecution, impossible choices, attempts to retain a semblance of humanity and impending death.
From the opening chapter dedicated to the pre-war European Jewish world through the epilogue portraying original manuscripts written by Jews during the Holocaust period the artifacts, writings and artwork of the victims tell the story of the Holocaust from a unique Jewish perspective. Bringing out the human dimension of the tragedy more than ever before, the Jews are portrayed as the living subjects of unprecedented persecution, not merely objects upon whom the Nazis conducted their genocidal policy.
The Museum also uses genuine artifacts to give visitors an impression of the world that existed at the time. Near the beginning of the narrative, for example, visitors can walk around a typical living room of a Jewish family in Germany during the 1930s, recreated from belongings donated by a number of such families.
Aside from artifacts, the exhibits also include some 100 video screens showing original film clips from before and during the Shoah, new survivor testimonies, and short documentaries produced specifically for the new Museum.
In keeping with Yad Vashems new conception of stressing the individual at the center of the story, the Hall of Names has been reconstituted and moved into the new Museum. At the end of the Museums historical narrative is the Hall a repository for the Pages of Testimony of millions of Holocaust victims, a memorial to those who perished. In a separate room, visitors can conduct searches of the digitized Central Database of Shoah Victims Names (also online at www.yadvashem.org). Visitors enter the Hall in the circular space between two reciprocal cones onto an elevated ring-shaped platform between them. Surrounding the platform is the circular repository, housing the Pages of Testimony collected so far, with empty spaces for testimonies not yet submitted room for six million Pages in total.
World-renowned architect Moshe Safdie designed a unique building for the new Museum. The story of the Holocaust has no equal, Safdie says. I felt that it cannot be accommodated in a conventional building. I wanted it to be like an archeological remnant. Responding to Yad Vashem's request to preserve the pastoral character of the Mount of Remembrance, and that the Hall of Remembrance the focus of commemoration of past years maintain its centrality, I conceived of a prism-like structure that cuts through the mountain from the south, extending 200 meters to the north.
The galleries, says Safdie, accommodating the exhibits designed by Dorit Harel, straddle the prism, as skylights penetrate upwards through the landscape, bringing daylight to the depth of the Museum. The path culminates in the Hall of Names. It is surrounded by files containing Pages of Testimony with the names of victims. A suspended cone rises above with photos of the victims with a reciprocal cone excavated into the bedrock down to ground water, in memory of those whose names will never be known. The prism bursts out of the mountain, cantilevering to the north, to light, to the view of the Jerusalem hills, an affirmation of life.
A basic guideline for the museums design was to create a visitors route dictated by the evolving narrativewith a beginning, middle and end. As such, Safdie devised a central walkway (prism) with underground exhibition galleries on either side. The visitor is guided into the adjacent galleries by a series of impassable gaps, created by museum designer Dorit Harel, extending along the breadth of the prism floor. Displaying items from different events, the gaps symbolize turning points in the Holocaust, and serve as chapter headi