It was with some trepidation that I braced myself for this visit. I had heard the building and museum were impressive but a museum addressing the Holocaust (Shoah) is never going to be easy, nor should it be.
The Holocaust History Museum is only one part of the enormous Yad Vashem complex which is a large tract of land which contains a number of large memorials to various aspects of the Holocaust as well as an education and research centres and an astoundingly poor cafe. I spent my time in the Museum and temporary exhibition spaces.
There was something about all the memorials at Yad Vashem that made me feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it was the overt notices about who had donated money to them or something which gave them political overtones and made them feel way too nationalistic. The fact that there were so many also somehow diminished them all. Something odd about that expectation that you would walk around and summon an appropriate feeling for each one. But on the other hand can one memorial satisfactorily do justice to the horror and mind-bending scope of the Holocaust?
The overall experience of the museum was overwhelming as you would expect. There really was way too much information to even hope to take in. Lots of text, lots of images but also lots of video including interviews with survivors. This created the situation where you skipped over bits which made you feel uncomfortable as visitor.
It was also very strange to be in the section about the death camps surrounded by Israeli teenagers, restless after being guided through the many earlier galleries. I wondered how many times these kids had already been taught about the holocaust.
In the end it was the ‘Hall of Names‘ which was the most powerful part of the museum. A large darkened room with an enormous inverted cone lined with names and faces of those killed. When you look down you see a reflective ‘pool’. Surrounding all this are archive boxes with further names of victims of the Holocaust. There certainly does seem to be an evolving ‘type’ for these kinds of museums. Parts were certainly reminiscent of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders in Nanjing, China.
- Staines, D. (2002), ‘Auschwitz and the camera‘, Mortality,7(1), 13-32.
- Staines, D. R. (2001), ‘Museum Auschwitz‘, Space and culture : archival spaces, 1(10), 63-90.
Visited: 5 February 2018