On this day: New Yad Vashem opens

March 15 2005: Holocaust Museum’s new face

By Jennifer Lipman, March 15, 2011

Dignitaries and statesmen from 40 countries visited Israel for the official opening ceremony of the refurbished Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. The UN general secretary Kofi Annan spoke, as did the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Holocaust survivor and human rights campaigner Elie Wiesel. Also in attendance was former Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Holocaust survivor who converted to Catholcism during the war after his mother was killed by the Nazis.

Israel’s then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also addressed the crowd in the hills above Jerusalem, using the opportunity to remind world leaders of Israel’s importance to the Jewish people.

He said: “Israel is the only place in the world where the Jews have the right and the power to protect themselves by themselves. This is the only guarantee that the Jewish people will never know another Holocaust."

The museum, which cost £30 million to redesign over a ten-year period, first opened in 1953 as Israel’s official memorial. Designed by award-winning Israeli-American architect Moshe Safdie, the new Yad Vahsem was built four times larger than its predecessor.

Safdie’s plan was for visitors to move the display and end their time at the Hall of Names, a glass and zinc cone covered in photographs of hundreds of victims and a bare wall for those whose named were not known.

The last point took visitors out of the museum into the hillside because, as Mr Safdie explained: “It’s too terrible a story to end it with architecture. I wanted to end it with nature and just light, the light of Jerusalem.”

What the JC said: It can now compete with Holocaust museums, archives and educational institutions in Washington, Los Angeles, London and Berlin...Rooms on either side of the raw concrete tunnel guide the visitor through the Shoah — from the legacy of European antisemitism and the role of Jews in German society through round-ups, ghettos, deportations, mass executions, slave labour and the ultimate horror of gas chambers and crematoria.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 8:46am, March 15 2011