So We Don't Forget

Trip Start Mar 01, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Israel  , Jerusalem District,
Thursday, August 16, 2012

I get another late start, but I want to check out the live music at the Tower of David in Jerusalem, so off I go!
I spend a long, meaningful yet painful afternoon at Yad Vashem, the world's largest museum devoted to the Holocaust. I think the name roughly translates to Hall of Names. The final exhibit is a round room with high walls lined with books containing the names of people murdered in the Holocaust. It is a countrywide project to share any names of your family members. Since there were no proper burials, it's also a way to respectfully remember them.
Photos were prohibited, and truthfully, I'm not sure I'd want to remember some of the things I saw. Many of the exhibits left me in tears- they were very emotional. These are a few of the things that stand out in my memory (not for the faint of heart):
• "Where they burn books they will ultimately burn people." Heinrich Heine
• "It's not only what a country does, but what a country tolerates."
• There was an entire youth resistance, even inside the ghettos. Girls that looked Aryan served as couriers, carrying weapons and important documents.
• At the awards ceremony during the 1938 Olympics, which Germany hosted, Hitler left the stadium in disgust because Jesse Owens, an African American, had won the gold.
• As the end of the war approached, Hitler wanted no prisoners found alive. He ordered a group of women on a 120-day, 800 km "march of death". Unbelievably, some survived.
• During the Evian Talks in France, nearly all of the world's leaders closed their borders to Jewish immigration- including the US. A representative from Australia said, "We don't have have discrimination in Australia, and we don't need it". Hello- how about the way you treat the Aborigines?!
China and France were two of the countries that accepted the most immigrants. There was a boat headed for Cuba; Cuba refused them. The US turned them away. Finally, they sailed back to Europe and France granted asylum to all 980 passengers. (Maybe that explains the large number of French tourists!)
• So many of the German Jews perished because they didn't want to leave. Early on, Hitler gave them the option to relocate to Jerusalem, but Germany was their home and they didn't want to abandon it.
• My friend, Alex, pointed these out after her visit the week before:
• The museum doesn't mince words. Every exhibit talks about "murder". There's no sugar-coating. It's powerful.
• "When they came for the communists, I was silent, because I was not a communist;
When they came for the socialists, I was silent, because I was not a socialist;
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest, because I was not a trade unionist;
When they came for the Jews, I did not protest, because I was not a Jew;
When they came for me, there was no one left to protest on my behalf."
Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)
• There were many Jews that thought they would be spared if they cooperated. One man worked in the gas chambers collecting all of the corpses. Before disposing of the bodies, he'd take them by a group of laborers called "the dentists" who would extract all the precious metals from fillings or other dental work.
Some helped usher the prisoners into the gas chambers and used deceptive lies to keep them calm and cooperative. As they were undressing, they encouraged them to bring their valuables and pointed out mile markers listing the distance to places far from the camps.
• There was a nice exhibit honoring the "Heroes of Humanity". Schindler was one of them. Also featured were everyday people, including many Germans, who helped rescue Jews.

The museum is in an area just outside of the Old City. It overlooks a beautiful valley and was a perfect spot for contemplation. Yad Vashem has done an amazing job of memorializing the atrocities while still honoring those who lost their lives. I wonder why other contemporary examples of genocide don't receive the same level of visibility.

I was feeling overwhelmed from the heavy day at the museum, but decided that a pleasant evening listening to music in the Tower of David was just what I needed. Good call. The guitarist and flautist were great, but they couldn't have conjured a more beautiful venue. The tower walk offered amazing vistas of Jerusalem, and even a peek at the sunset.

I wandered through the alleys of the Old City, trying to find a hostel that wouldn't discriminate against me because I'm over 30. Got lost on my way back to the Jaffa Gate, so I asked an Hassidic man for directions. He must have been late for shul because I had to run to keep up!
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Gaby on

There is no other experience like Yad Vashem. Very hard to take but will inform you the rest of your life. Change who you are in the world and what you are willing to do to create a different world. Makes me feel sad and so proud to be Jewish. Sending love.

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