2 November 2017




Today marks the beginning of Holocaust Education Week presented by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre here in Toronto. This week consists of hundreds of programs across Toronto and the GTA that follow this year’s theme of ‘Pivotal Moments’. ‘Pivotal Moments’ examines those specific events post-Holocaust that have helped shape our understanding of the Holocaust. So, for this week, I would like to throw it back to the formation and proliferation of Holocaust museums, monuments and memorials.

1. Yad Vashem (Jerusalem, Israel, 1953)

Yad Vashem was established in 1953 and is one of the first institutions dedicated to the research and commemoration of the Holocaust. It was established by the Knesset, the Federal Government of Israel, and is made of up several buildings situated on its Mount Herzl compound, known as “The Mount of Remembrance”. Yad Vashem has multiple resources, such as databases, resources for educators, students, a history museum, art galleries, courses, exhibitions and libraries. Its main mission is to continue the relevance of the Holocaust to the future generations of the world, and to educate visitors about the Holocaust as a uniquely Jewish experience while encouraging empathy.

Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum (Top). Source. Aerial view of the Mount Herzl compound (Bottom). Source.

2. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (Oświęcim, Poland, 1947)

Probably the most notorious of the Nazi camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau was established by the Nazis in 1940. It was made up of three main camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II, and Auschwitz III. All three used its prisoners for forced labour, however its killing centre was housed in Auschwitz II, Auschwitz Birkenau. Between 1940 and 1945, approximately 1.1 million people were murdered there, including Jews, Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and other nationalities. On July 2, 1947, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was created by order of the Polish parliament, which covered 191 hectares of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. The museum grounds include many of the camp’s buildings, ruins of the gas chambers, crematoria, and camp roads, with the museum itself holdings thousands of artifacts. In 1979, the site was entered on UNESCO’s international list of world heritage sites.

Entrance gate to Auschwitz, which reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Will Set You Free). Photo by Leore Zecharia.

3. Banks of the Danube River (Budapest, Hungary, 2005)

In front of the Hungarian Parliament Building, lining the banks of the Danube River, stands sixty pairs of iron shoes facing the river. This memorial commemorates the hundreds of Jews who were murdered by the Arrow Cross Party who took control of Hungary, in cooperation with the Nazis, in the final years of WWII. Jews were rounded up and taken to the banks of the Danube, where they were forced to take off their shoes and valuables before being shot into the river. This memorial was created by film director, Can Togay, and sculptor, Gyula Pauer in 2005.

Iron shoes lining the Danube River. Source.

4. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Berlin, Germany, 2005)

In 1999, the German government decided to officially create a central memorial site, designed by New York architect, Peter Eisenman. The memorial covers 19,000 square meters and consists of 2711 concrete slabs at different heights. The area is meant to be engaged with and is accessible from all four sides. The unevenness of the ground, the openness of the structure, and the abstractness of the project is meant to allow the visitor to confront the topic in their own way. Due to the abstractness, the memorial is supplemented with an underground information centre with information on victims and locations.

Top view of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany (Top). Source. Inside view of the memorial (Bottom). Source.

5. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington, D.C., 1993)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) was established on the national mall in Washington, D.C. in 1993 by the United States Federal Government. It was established as part of a federal mandate to educate Americans about the Holocaust, but has evolved to include other genocides, promoting the lessons and consequences of the Holocaust as a model for today. The USHMM is more than just a museum, but a leading world institution in the dissemination of knowledge, research and commemoration of the Holocaust.

Outside shot of USHMM. Source.

6. Anne Frank's House (Amsterdam, Holland, 1960)

Anne Frank was a Jewish girl from Amsterdam who had to go into hiding during the Holocaust in order to escape the Nazis. She and seven others hid in a secret annex in one of her father’s buildings. During her time in hiding, she kept a diary where she documented her time and feelings; she wrote short stories and collected quotes by other writers. After two years in hiding, the eight of them were discovered and deported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister died in Bergen-Belson camp from disease and deprivation. Her father and the only one to survive, Otto Frank, published Anne’s diary in 1947, allowing her to complete her dreams of being an author. Anne Frank’s diary has been translated into many different languages and adapted into a play, and is studied by millions of people around the world. In 1960, the Anne Frank House was established as a museum, and it is situated inside the secret annex of the Frank family.

People lining up to visit Anne Frank's House. Source.
Part of how we have come to understand the Holocaust is through the proliferation of Holocaust museums, memorials, and monuments. In Europe, people can learn about these events through significant sites of the Holocaust, but elsewhere in the world, that is done through museums. With the Holocaust becoming more distant in the past, and the number of survivors declining more and more every year, I urge you to listen to someone's story, because soon, museums, memorials and monuments are going to be the only way to engage in this history.

For more information:

See 'New Dimensions in Testimony'
Shoah Foundation - Visual History Archive

Exhibition - Built to Remember: The Holocaust Museums of Today and Tomorrow
November 2-29, 2018 at the J Gallery at the Miles Nadal JCC (Bloor and Spadina)

Holocaust Education Week Programs
Holocaust Education Week Program Guide

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