“And I will give them in my house and within my walls a memorial (in Hebrew 'Yad Vashem' = a place of remembrance and a name)... that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:5). This is the Bible verse from which the name of the famous Holocaust museum is taken. The verse is taken out of context, but that's another story. Never the less most of us are aware that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the time of the second world war. Yad Vashem is the museum that serves as a combination memorial, research institute, and museum for the masses who come to remember and learn about this terrible tragedy of human history. You are not allowed to take pictures inside of the museum, so I only took a few pictures. I was glad to find the memorial to Oskar and Emilie Schindler, who were among those who risked their lives to help Jewish people escape. This is, of course, the star of the move, "Schindler's List", which I may have to watch again when I get back to the states.
I found Yad Vashem simultaneously revolting and fascinating. It is revolting because it is hard to believe what people can do to one another, man's inhumanity to man. But, it is fascinating that the story is able to be told from fragments of survivor's testimonies, rare pictures, and artifacts found on the killing fields.
The museum has an unusual architecture that is hard to describe. You travel down a horizontal tube that is shaped in a triangular shape, and as you traverse the tube you travel through time from the mid 1930s to mid 1940s, in an audiovisual experience that immerses you into the lives of Nazis and Jews in Germany and the surrounding nations. This is a very emotional experience, and not for the faint of heart. When you see the suffering of these people and the actual shoes that were left behind it's very shocking.
Lessons I am reflecting on...
- Be aware of what is happening in the world. Even today there are places of severe repression and extermination of peoples such as what has happened in Darfur, Sudan during the last decade. Most of us have little day to day concern for people on the other side of the planet who are suffering severely under evil regimes.
- Remember that ideas have consequences. A part of the theology of the Christian church in 1930 Germany was that the Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus. Along this was an inherent racial prejudice against the Jewish people. Hitler played on these anti-Semitic feelings to develop into hatred against the Jews.
- You never know were hate will lead you. Hitler didn't announce the extermination of the Jews on his first day in office. It was a gradual introduction of more and more extreme measures. That so many ordinary German citizens would be complicit in such crimes is what boggles my mind. With my German heritage I naturally ask the question, “What would I have done if I were living there?”
- Protect the liberties of all people through a commitment to the American constitution. We are only one dictator away from a Hitler. All it takes is for people to allow themselves to become dependent on a politician or a political party over and above our commitment to the constitutional process and we are right where Germany ended up. If you suspend or abrogate laws without due process under the constitution, then you ultimately allow "might is right" to rule the day and anything is possible.
- Deal with your feelings of hatred, superiority, prejudice toward others. We are sinful (“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”). Jesus said that hatred is what leads to murder (Matthew 5:21-26), so settle your angry feelings quickly and completely.
For more in depth information on Yad Vashem go to www.yadvashem.org or for a short summary article go to wikipedia and type in Yad Vashem in the search engine.