While survivors of the Holocaust continue to dwindle in number, those committed to preserving the memories of the Shoah for future generations have adopted an amplified educational approach. Yad Vashem recently installed a new international wing, where material is documented in over twenty languages and offered to groups of visiting foreigners every year, with in excess of seventy seminars being organized annually. The effort has been a resounding success, as peoples of varying nationalities and ethnicities have gained further insight into the Holocaust and broadened its lessons to learn more about human values and the struggles of people facing existential challenges.
“Before I came, I felt worse about the Holocaust,” said Jen Hsiu-mei of Taiwan. “This week, I learned that inside the death camps, people helped each other. It gives new meaning to human values. This is not something I expected to learn here—hope.” Jen took part in a ten day seminar at the museum along with more than thirty other educators from her Asian country.
“This created a very direct and emotional connection to Jewish history here, and my wife and I decided to got to Yad Vashem and study the Holocaust,” said Nicolas Paz Alcade, a Spanish teacher who was inspired to visit the Israeli museum after learning his school had formerly served as a synagogue prior to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. “People have grown anesthetized to history, and we felt a moral obligation to bring the Holocaust alive for them.”
While the universal appeal of the Holocaust to foreigners has been questioned by some, others have maintained that the tragedy can offer profound insight into the general phenomenon of genocide and its personal and intimate qualities.
“The Holocaust does, in some way, hold our identity together,” explained Avner Shalev, the chairman of the Yad Vashem. “At the same time, the buildup of interest in the Holocaust around the world has created a growing awareness of genocide generally, and we have an important role to play in that.”
The testimony of one visitor exemplified how the Holocaust can shed light on global matters. “I don’t see any dichotomy between the particular and the universal,” explained Paz Alcade. “The history of the Holocaust is a history of real individuals and families, people with birthdays and dreams. Once you get to know them, their story becomes your story.”