Yad Vashem, the world’s center for Holocaust remembrance and education, is one of the most visited sites in Israel. Perched on Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance, the 45-acre complex includes museums, monuments, memorials, gardens, sculptures and world-renowned research centers.
Yad Vashem is the largest museum of its kind in the world, and boldly shares the story of the Holocaust from the Jewish perspective, including personal testimonies, riveting displays and rare artifacts.
In 1933, the Jewish population of Europe was approximately 9 million. By 1945, the Germans and their collaborators had killed nearly two out of every three European Jews. In stunning displays, the museum tells their story.
The museum is an architectural marvel. You can’t help but feel trapped at some points as you physically meander through history, descending a dark slope upon entry and venturing from room to room, almost as if you were traveling back in time. The architects designed the building in such a way that at the completion of your tour, you’ll find yourself venturing up a ramp into the bright light of day – an intentional symbol of hope after a dark time. The stunning view of the beautiful Judean countryside is a welcome site.
Visitors are easily engrossed and could easily spend an entire day viewing magnificent exhibits, Holocaust-related artwork, a breathtaking children’s memorial and the memorable Hall of Remembrance. The highly educated tour guides are visibly passionate as they share insights about the 6 million Jews who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime.
Last year, nearly 1 million people from around the globe visited Yad Vashem. Almost 1,000 world leaders and dignitaries, including President George W. Bush and President Obama, were given tours in recent years by the highly trained staff members.
For individuals who won’t make the trip to Israel in the near future, Yad Vashem’s website presents the Holocaust to online visitors – 8 million from 220 countries so far. The organization has developed multilingual YouTube channels in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The videos received more than 900,000 views in eight months.
Research and testimonies
Over the last 50 years, Yad Vashem has been actively collecting authentic photographs, film clips, art and music showing the real-life horrors of victims of the Holocaust. And to this day, researchers continue to collect testimonies from survivors. The testimonies are one of the best ways to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, enabling youth and educators an opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of the Holocaust so they can pass authentic stories on to future generations.
According to one of the museum’s guides, just recently two elderly sisters were reunited in Israel after many years because one sister had submitted her testimony and was thereby documented as a survivor at Yad Vashem. Over the years, she had hoped to obtain information about her sister.
Finally, in the second sister approached the museum with her own information for the archives. The records were matched, and the sisters were united after several decades. They quickly learned they had actually been living in close proximity to one another.
According to Malka Tor, director of the Oral History Section of the Archives Division at Yad Vashem, the importance of survivor testimony was clear even during the Holocaust years.”Underground archives were established to document what was happening in Warsaw and Bialystok so that the horrors would not be forgotten or denied,” Tor says.
By the time Yad Vashem was established in 1953, 15,000 testimonies had already been collected in centers across Europe. Currently, more than 10,000 videotaped testimonies have been collected by the staff, and there are tens of thousands of audio and written testimonies. In addition, Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation Institute recently transferred 50,000 video interviews to Yad Vashem, bringing the total number of testimonies in the archives to more than 100,000.
Holocaust survivor Aharon Kaplan was grateful to be interviewed, saying, “Beside the fact that the interview allowed me to unburden myself of the heavy load I carried for over 60 years, the interview helped to open up additional deep layers of complex, charged emotions.” “The questions were steered sensitively and delicately so that I never felt threatened or criticized,” says Kaplan.
Call for further testimonies
According to Yad Vashem, many Holocaust survivors have not yet documented what happened to them during the war. Time is running short to speak to survivors; Yad Vashem encourages survivors to submit their testimony to ensure their personal stories will become part of the collective memory of the Jewish people around the world. The museum also continues to collect testimonies about The Righteous Among the Nations – those individuals, many of them Christians, who put their lives on the line to rescue persecuted Jews.
Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel has said, “There are many museums in the world, but the source is here at Yad Vashem. This is the heart and soul of Jewish memory.”
For more information, visit www.yadvashem.org.
South Florida’s Dr. Pierre Chanover
Boynton Beach resident and Florida Atlantic University professor Dr. Pierre Chanover is one of an estimated 20,000 Holocaust survivors who have settled in South Florida’s three counties. He was just 8 years old when the war began in his hometown of Paris, France. At age 10 he was sent to a camp in southern France for Jewish prisoners. His story is on file at Yad Vashem.
“In comparison to other hidden children in death camps, my experience was not exactly the same,” explains the humble professor. “Mistreatment yes, but not gas chambers or crematoriums like others faced.” He adds, “I was beaten, but not as badly as those in the death camps.”
Chanover eventually escaped to freedom and was hidden with various families. “Some good, some bad,” he says. “I was able to keep in touch with the good families.”
Sadly, Chanover’s father was shipped directly to Auschwitz on the “convoy #4 train.” The professor, now 77, doesn’t know if his father was put to death immediately or put to work. “1,000 people were packed in cattle cars, and there were only 22 survivors from that train,” he says.
Chanover did not have siblings and says that all of his relatives in Poland, whom he had never met, perished. “I lost 17 members of (my) family,” he states.
For many years, nightmares plagued Chanover. He was separated from his mother for four years and witnessed atrocities firsthand. Among the things he remembers was wearing the Jewish Star given to him by the City Hall of Paris. “My mother and I were finally reunited in Paris after the war it was a glorious thing,” he states. “The French had ransacked our apartment, we had nothing. I was sent to an orphanage to survive, an orphanage for survivors of camps,” he continues.
Chanover says he went through a complete transformation. “I had no schooling for four years. I needed to learn. I didn’t have a foundation of Judaism,” he says.
At age 15, Chanover came to the United States via a sponsorship program. “My mother was not able to come along since the Polish quota was closed in the U.S.” Chanover’s story is not only on file at Yad Vashem, but it is also a part of the records at the Shoah Foundation, started by Steven Spielberg after making his movie Schindler’s List. It is also in the Holocaust archives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
While at the USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, the articulate Chanover was asked to interview 40 survivors himself. “No stories are alike,” he says. “Each individual has a special chapter summary that is unforgettable.”
Chanover served in the U.S. army in the Korean War. He’s been a professor for decades and currently lectures on the history of Jews in France and Italy at the Jewish Community Center and at Palm Beach Community College, in addition to teaching French at Florida Atlantic University.
He and his second wife have been married for more than two decades. They have five children between them – each in successful careers, including a doctor, an executive chef and an executive with LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.
Chanover is a founder and president of the Palm Beach chapter of the Hidden Children Survivors of the Holocaust. He has shared his story in books and speaks extensively to the Jewish community and in a number of educational arenas. He hasn’t spoken yet to churches, although that’s something he’d like to do. “A priest lost his life, because he hid me.” Chanover states. “There were good people who protected me and sheltered me.”
People from all faiths can benefit from hearing Chanover’s firsthand account. He says there are many misnomers about the Holocaust, including the fact that there were 23 concentration camps in France. “Most people don’t realize that. They are more familiar with the bigger camps such as Auschwitz.” He continues, “Some survivors refuse to tell their story. They want to put that behind them, yet many, worldwide, have shared their stories in all languages.”
Writer Karen Granger recently toured Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, representing The Good News.
For more articles and information on Israel visit www.goodnewsfl.org/israel