Sunday, July 8, 2012

Israel - Yad Vashem and Jerusalem

Okay, let me begin with a picture of my hotel bathroom.

Mamilla Hotel bathroom

This is the bath/shower area. Notice you can see directly into the main room. There is a switch that will turn the glass opaque making it nearly impossible to see through. I can't even describe the feeling of taking a shower in here after a long day of hoofing it around Jerusalem.

Today began with a trip to Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the Holocaust, or Shoah. For those of you who know me well, you know that I am almost an emotionless person. I don't really get choked-up and it's often difficult for me to empathize. This description might be different once I get to Europe and tour some of the concentration camps, but right now, it remains. I feel like I take more of a historical approach when touring museums. When going through the USHMM in D.C., we were instructed to focus on artifacts that we could use with students in order for them to understand whatever it is we want them to understand. This helped me not get so emotional. I think emotion has much to do with this topic, but that's not my goal; I am not out to make students feel bad and cry. I would rather they attempt to understand this evolution and its importance to the world today. 

I don't remember if I mentioned this in a previous post, but every day I think about if what I am learning should be taught in the eighth-grade classroom and, if so, why. What is the rationale. I hear teachers talk about using this artifact or that artifact, and while it might be a cool idea, they are not starting with a rationale. At Lo'Hamei - the Ghetto Fighters' Museum - there is a wall on which symbols in both English and Hebrew scroll and create words. One teacher said she is brainstorming having her students do something similar to this in the classroom. She didn't explain any further, but I don't understand what students would get out of that activity. Are they going to do research and construct knowledge, or are they going to cut out slips of paper and then sit back and watch others present? Something to think about.

That being said, Yad Vashem was powerful, especially the Hall of Names. This chamber is located at the very end of the permanent exhibit and includes every known Holocaust victim's name. While six million Jews died during the Holocaust, Yad Vashem has only three million names. That means there are roughly three million people who died whose names remain unknown. Our tour guide today told us that there is a Jewish response to a Jewish question:  How long does a man live? He lives as long as his name is remembered. That is such a powerful statement, and it seems to describe the human race so well. We do things so that we can be remembered. At the end, what do we really have? Sure, we have family, friends, objects. But when we die, those things are gone. Three million people died, and so far, there is absolutely no trace of them. Nothing. I think that's the statement that has had the most effect on me today. 

Partisan Memorial at Yad Vashem. Notice how the rocks create a Star of David with a sword in the middle. Represents both spiritual and armed resistance.

After Yad Vashem, we were dropped off in the Old City and were guided back to Jaffa Gate. I was able to go to the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which I had been to a few days ago), the building in which Christians claim houses King David's tomb and was the place of the Last Supper, and I was able to follow a few of the Stations of the Cross. While I am amazed to be in such a historical place, I feel like being here brings more questions than answers. The history of the city of Jerusalem alone is fascinating. For example, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre allegedly houses the slab of rock on which Jesus' body was prepared after his death and part of the stone which was rolled across his tomb. It also houses Golgatha, the hill on which Jesus was crucified. I say allegedly because no one knows for certain (though I suppose it would depend on whom you ask). What is interesting from a historical standpoint is that the church is Greek Orthodox, but the person who holds the key to the church is a Muslim. Inside, different rooms belong to different denominations. In all, there are six denominations arguing over the building. In the Old City, there are four quarters:  the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Different historical sites are located in different quarters, and different groups control different areas. The same sites are sacred to at least three different religions - Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. And within those religions are denominations that don't necessarily agree with each other.

Western Wall
You might be wondering what all of this history has to do with the Holocaust and Holocaust education. Well, if we don't know history, we will not be able to fully understand the present. Antisemitism was not a construct of the Nazi Party. Adolf Hitler did not introduce Antisemitism to the Nazi Party. It has been around for thousands of years, and there is no simple answer to any "why?" question regarding the Holocaust. One thing that I have truly discovered on this trip so far is the more I learn, the more I don't know. The Holocaust is not a black-and-white topic. There are layers, which makes it that much more complicated. 

I am off to Hanover, Germany, tomorrow afternoon. I'll keep you updated as much as possible.

1 comment:

  1. Antisemitism was very strong not only in the Nazi Party, but the whole of Europe and the United States. It's interesting to wonder about the involvement of the U.S. if the war had been about the Holocaust. . .would they have decided to go to war? The U.S. and Europe knew about ghettos--not death camps--but ghettos and still chose to not get involved. It wasn't until Germany made territorial advancements that Britain got involved and not until the U.S. declared war on Japan resulting in Germany declaring war on the U.S. that brought the U.S. into war with Germany. Even during the war antisemitism remained strong in the U.S., reminding us that WWII was not about the Holocaust; it was not why the U.S. entered the war (which it did against Japan anyway) and not why WWII was fought- it was an element. Also, don't forget that the U.S. had its own concentration camps (Japanese internment) and the Soviet Union had their own concentration camps (gulags).