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Monday, October 27, 2014

10/24 The Horrors of War & a Photo Essay

On Friday morning, the 24th, we took the bus over to Yad Veshem wanting to get there at a reasonable hour before it closed at 2 for the Jewish Sabbath. The experience of the Holocaust is so deeply seared into the national Jewish psyche that understanding it goes a long way toward understanding Israelis themselves. The institution of Yad Vashem, created in 1953 by an act of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament), was responsible for preserving a record of those times. The name Yad Veshem translates to ‘a memorial and a name or memory’ and comes from the biblical book of Isaiah.
This sweet man at the Visitors Center Information Desk is a Holocaust survivor from Yugoslavia who came to Israel in 1949. Talking with him gave me chills up and down my spine. What a way to start visiting Yad Veshem.
We walked fairly quickly through the Holcaust History Museum, a well lit, 200 yard long triangular concrete prism which is the centerpiece of the site because, as readers of the blog know, we’ve stopped at Holocaust Museums in every city along this trip. After a while, it gets very difficult to absorb more of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators against the Jews, Roma and other persecuted people during WWII.

Two ‘things’ really made an impact on me in the History Museum (below) that were different from what we’d seen before. As no pictures were allowed in the Museum, I wrote them down. One was a poem you may be familiar with written by Martin Nemoller, a German pastor:

"They came for the Communists and I did not object, for I was not a Communist.
They came for the Socialists and I did not object, for I was not a Socialist.
They came for the Jews and I did not object, for I was not a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to object.”

An Anti-Semitic game called ‘Out with the Jews’ also struck a raw nerve for me. In the game, the players follow paths that cross Jewish businesses. A player who lands on them wins a figurine wearing a 'Jewish hat.' The winner is the first player to bring 6 such figurines to the 'assembly point' depicted by a man, woman and child with the caption 'Out to Palestine.'

A panorama of Jerusalem. Just like Haifa to the north, everything in the city is constructed of limestone; there is no wood, no color other than the lovely creamy limestone anywhere.

After visiting the 9 underground galleries in the History Museum, we walked to the Yad Veshem’s many memorials on its 45 acre site. Even though we’d earlier seen masses of tour buses, it felt like we almost had the place to ourselves which was utterly peaceful and appropriate at such a site.
Approximately 1.5 million Jews fought against the Nazis, as Allied soldiers in the resistance movement and in the ghettoes during WWII. The Monument to the Jewish Soldiers and Partisans is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in the struggle. The following are photos of sculptures bythe partisan memorial.

Titled 'In Memory of the Death March from Dachau.'

There’s such an absence of color everywhere that seeing these flowers was refreshing.
The Hall of Remembrance is an imposing, tent-like basalt structure that allows people to pay their respects to the memories of those who were murdered. On the floor are the names of 22 Nazi murder sites from among the hundreds of extermination, concentration and transit camps. A memorial flame burns constantly next to a crypt containing ashes of victims brought to Israel from the extermination camps.

 The Pillar of Heroism commemorates Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

The Children’s Memorial, hollowed out from an underground cavern, is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were killed during the Holocaust. As we walked through the memorial, a single pitch black room lit by 5 candles infinitely reflected in 500 mirrors, we heard a  recording of names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin. I found it very unnerving to walk in the room because it was so dark and thought the memorial very stark and frankly disappointing compared to the profoundly touching and emotional Children’s Memorial in Warsaw.

Photo of a boy who perished at Auschwitz. His parents funded the memorial.

James Korczak Square is a tribute to a Polish-Jewish teacher who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations Trees have been planted around the Yad Veshem site in honor of the non Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Hey, Polish girl, this one’s for you!

Warsaw Ghetto Square consists of 2 sculptures (one the leader of the Uprising and the other depicting the mass deportation of the Jews to the death camps) set in a wall of red bricks which symbolize the ghetto walls.

The Cattle Car – Memorial to the Deportees was established as a monument to the millions of Jews herded onto cattle cars and transported from all over Europe to the extermination camps. This car was given to Yad Veshem by the Polish government.

Our final stop was Partisans’ Panorama which pays tribute to the Jewish fighters who joined the partisans during the Holocaust. The sculptor chose the tree as a symbol of the partisan fighter whose life depended on the forest and its trees as a place to hide.

Seeing the Panorama at a distance especially knowing the sculptor’s intention; however seeing it up close was unsettling to me.
 After leaving Yad Veshem, we returned to the Old City by way of the Damascus Gate. There was, as you can see, a HUGE police presence in that immediate vicinity. It was all a tad unnerving so we asked a police officer if he considered it safe for us to enter through the Damascus Gate. He gave us the all clear so we proceeded while being more cautious and aware of our surroundings than ‘normal’ in Jerusalem.

We heard the next day that the police presence was probably so strong because Muslims were exiting from their holiest day of  the week at the same time Shabbat, or the Jewish Sabbath, the holiest day of the week for Jews, was beginning so the police were there in force in case of any altercations.
I had forgotten to mention in one of my earlier posts from Jerusalem that the 5000 year old city’s name actually translates to ‘City of Peace which is a little ironic considering that no other city in the world has been fought over as much, having been conquered 33 times.
Entering the Old City had a totally different feel than through the Jaffa Gate we’d been through so many times. I loved seeing and feeling the Old City from a new perspective.
 A photo essay follows of the Old City:
We were the only foreigners entering the Old City at this time.

Arabs sure love their sweets judging from the number of candy shops in the Old City.

As we walked past, these 2 girls said hello to us and asked us our names and said theirs were Angela and Jessica!

We finally knew once and for all we were in the Christian Quarter because so many of the homes had crosses on their doors and one said ‘God Blees our Home.’

We’ve seen men ever since our first days in Turkey carrying glass cups of tea or coffee to the merchants in the bazaars or markets but this was the first time I was able to get a picture of it.

Photo of Amer (pronounced Amir), a shopkeeper in the Christian Quarter I bought some items from at the end of the day on Friday. Steven had just bought a falafel which he was eating while I was looking in the shop. Amir kindly gave Steven, whom he kept calling Brother as do all the other shopkeepers, a can of pop, lots of napkins and a chair to sit on – very astute businessman!

 Walking back from Jaffa Gate along Jaffa St to our hostel, we read some of the historical markers on the buildings.

Walking along Jaffa St after sundown on Friday night, the holiest night for Jews, is like walking through a ghost town. Essentially the entire city shuts down about 5 on Fridays, i.e. all stores, restaurants, the city’s transportation system, etc only to reopen up again about 7ish on Saturday night.