The Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem is unique in so many ways. It focuses on the most horrific event in human history that cannot be memorialized any better than the Jews can. The world knows about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and how they attempted to obliterate the Jews from the face of the earth. But no one truly knows and understands the pain of the Holocaust but the Jews.
What kind of museum could effectively reflect such atrocity committed not just on a single race but of mankind in general? What kind of museum could best celebrate hope and life rising from the rubbles of devastation, persecution and death? It has to be a museum that’s unlike anything in the world, and that’s exactly what the Holocaust History Museum is.
The architecture is quite stunning. There are so many open spaces, natural light and geographical shapes that will keep guests wondering, looking and reflecting. The whole structure is an elongated prism that literally goes through the Mount of Remembrance in Mount Herzl, as though to symbolize the darkness the Jewish nation has gone through under Nazi rule. The entrance and exit dramatically opens at opposite sides of the mountain. The long and linear museum narrows at the center and widens to the exit towards a stunning panoramic view of the city below.
On top is a 200-meter long glass skylight that allows streaks of light into the museum, leaving several areas dark and dramatic. Different galleries and exhibits are illuminated using natural light from shafts or smaller skylights above them.
As one passes through the prism, galleries on both sides of the hallway reveal original artifacts, testimonies, documents, diaries, letters, and artworks of and about the Jews who were living in Europe during the Nazi rule. Unlike many other museums, the galleries here do not focus on the artifacts but more on the unique human stories of Jews who survived or have first-hand experience of the Holocaust (also referred to as the Shoah).
There are 10 galleries and perhaps the most poignant is the 8th gallery, the one called The Last Jews. Photos, artworks, documents and real-life testimonies explain the true horror in the concentrations camps; of how the Jewish prisoners were humiliated, starved, hurt, persecuted, dehumanized, and murdered. The gallery highlights how the last Jewish prisoners were made to suffer: they were forced to march 800 kilometers in freezing cold without food.
Passing by the galleries and just before the exit, the prism leads to the Hall of Names, which is the centerpiece of the museum. Its main attraction is the cylindrical ceiling that reaches to the sky and the Pages of Testimony. On the walls of the circular ceiling are 600 portraits and on the Pages of Testimony are more than 2 million pages of names and biographical information of those who perished in the Holocaust.
The circular repository of names can hold 4 million pages more in the hope of memorializing all 6 million Jews who suffered and died. It is difficult to hold one’s tear, be emotional or reflect on life when inside the Holocaust History Museum.