Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Israel Chronicles: In memoriam - Yad Va Shem

People react to disasters in different ways. In India, the Independence struggles, the oppressive regimes have all but been forgotten. Because our primary religions (I mean Hinduism, its offshoots and Islam)teach us to be 'fatalist'.
We forget (in time forgive) and move on. Not the Jews. NOT EVER. The holocaust remains a blight on human history and the Jews are never going to forget it, never going to let anyone forget it, and in some respects rightly so. In the 19th century, the Jews had assimilated well into the cultures of various countries and yet managed to retain their individuality especially in terms of religious rituals. Enter Hitler, and the final blow on their individuality and safety was struck. Did they lose their minds? No. The Jews are a strong race. They took their lives into their own hands, created Israel (it is another matter that the Palestinian Arabs got a raw deal out of it, more on this later) and created a magnificent memorial to their loved ones who were unjustly dealt with during the holocaust.

The Yad Va Shem, meaning a memorial to the tribes of Shem (son of Noah from whom the Jews descended) is a tribute to all the Jews who lost their lives in the Shoah(Hebrew for Holocaust).
Its not a museum, more an interactive 'memorial' (for lack of a better word) that lets you FEEL the horror of it all. For example, you walk over a glass display floor and when you look down you can see thousands of pairs shoes underneath. These are shoes found at Dachau (some of them contributed by survivors or their families). You 'feel' the sadness and the enormity hits you like a physical blow almost. Yad Va Shem is systematically constructed in chronological order, with the horror mounting further and further, till at some point you do end up breaking down and wondering what the point of all the senseless targeted execution was. The grey walls and black benches add to the bleak atmosphere. The audio guide that we took with us(depositing our passports at the entrance) helped us get a context. The audio guide is EXCELLENT and I highly recommend it. At Yad Va Shem, there are several TV screens with live depositions and accounts from survivors. Heart-rending. I actually was shocked beyond tears.

We meandered through the events into an Aushwitz death-wagon and then I felt stifled. I walked through the rest of the sections trying to squelch the growing nausea(of the horrors) into a lovely section about the 'Avenue of the Righteous'. This section was built to honor non-Jews who believed in humanity in those tough times and saved many many Jews, the most popular of them being Oskar Shindler. (Nanny Sandra Samuel to Baby Moshe, of 26/11 fame is recognized as a 'Righteous Gentile'). In the gardens outside, several of them are honored with a tree planted for their service.

Finally one walks into a room with a deep well. The well reflects walls and walls of box folders. One folder for each person who perished during the Shoah. More than 2 million folders are yet to be identified and the space for them is blank. The Jews believe in knowing their ancestry and it pains them immensely that several of their ancestors had perished without survivors or records. It is an unbelievably touching memorial reflecting the resilience and defiance of the Jewish race, not to mention their love for their brethren and meticulousness in preserving their memory.

My usually talkative TP had now forgotten all of the 6 languages she speaks. In silence we walked through (the ubiquitous souvenir shop) into the gardens and into a memorial for children. Thats when the tears started rolling (and didn't stop for a long time).
It is a lovely breath-stopping memorial to the little ones who were killed before they could see the world for what it was. Perhaps the world then was bleak, perhaps it was not the best of times for the Jews, but they had their parents' love and the support of their community, and never lived to see it. The memorial is a walk-through memorial - a dark room with thousands of mirrors reflecting one single glowing light. It refers to the lovely children who 'became stars' and are watching over the world. There is a solemn voice recording that intones the names of the children, their age and place of murder giving the place a chilly overtone (we got goosebumps for sure). Strong Jew pride and spirit of 'we shall not forget', isn't it?

If we - Indians, Hindus, young-enough to have never witnessed any holocaust or oppression, living a yuppie-privileged life, moderate in thought - were moved beyond words, imagine how an 18 year old Jewish military recruit feel? After the shock and sadness passes away, am sure it would be replaced by patriotic fervor. The Jews as a race believe in remembering, and passing on the remembrances. Yad Va Shem is the pinnacle of this belief to preserve their memories for posterity.

"And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a "yad vashem")... that shall not be cut off."

(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)

Dazed, TP and I walked straight into a mall to shop away our sorrow.
And shop we did! We went to a local supermarket(Ramy Levi), bought several edible delights for our kids and went back to the hotel. We returned to a mall for dinner and had a lovely chocolate drink from (I highly recommend) a shop called Max Brenner. Went to bed, thinking about our past, the sacrifices our brave soldiers are making to protect our borders and how little we do to honor them, and feeling excited about our day trip the next day to Palestine (West Bank, Israel).

Moral: It is important to wear sturdy shoes always. It is more important to remember what is important to us.


  1. Thank you for sharing ma. Wish you had left the shopping account for the next installment and stopped with your thoughts at the end of the day..thus preserving the tone of this have created it so beautifully and touchingly.

  2. I suppose to remember is to honour those no longer around, to remember their circumstances is to acknowledge their sacrifices.

    In India, equal horros were visited upon the native populations by invading marauders, too many to count. Possibly the diversity, as in communities, languages, regions do not combine together into a single act or narrative of rememberance. Just a thought.