It’s been almost year that I’ve been at the University of Haifa in Israel, working on a Master of Arts in Holocaust Education. If you follow my blog on WordPress, I’ve been writing now for over 2 years in regard to my Holocaust Nightmares. They began at age 13. I grew up to become a Professor of Graphic Design, with all of my faculty art exhibitions surrounding my nightmares of the Shoah. After a decade of teaching, I decided to take my sabbatical and head to the Holy Land for a Master’s Degree in Holocaust Ed.
I am very attracted to the Israeli Nationalization of the dead, and how those who perished in the Shoah are remembered. If museums are vessel sites where voices once silenced are now vocalized, then in retrospect, my fascination is drawn to this location. Have my Holocaust Nightmares transformed me into a “Memory Designer?” My gap between the present and the past is a ruptured memory; where my investigations as a Graphic Designer always lead me back to the mysteries of the museum space.
I’ve been to Jerusalem several times. But during my last trip in June, I had a specific location I wanted to visit. It is the only graveyard in Israel dedicated to the Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Their ashes were brought from the concentration camps and laid to rest just a few steps from King David’s tomb in the Old City.
The Chamber of the Holocaust was founded on Mount Zion in 1949 by the Director General -Ministry of Religion; Rabbi Dr. Samuel Zanvil Kahana of blessed memory and has been cared for and maintained by the Diaspora Yeshiva until this very day.
“At the Holocaust Memorial site on Mount Zion” said Rabbi Pinchas from Karlitz, “we mourn and grieve, bow and sit in ashes, and at the same time we are resurrected, and lift our heads.”
I decided to enter the anthropologic field and go to the museum and interview the tour guide. I was very interested in how this museum functions. Who is the servant to the public in regard to Holocaust memory? What kind of story are they telling? How is it being constructed, and how could it be different?
Entering the Chamber of the Holocaust on Mount Zion, one immediately senses an identity with the recent past of the Jewish people, a history at once awesome and tragic. Memorial Tablets of over 2,000 communities, now bereft of Jews, look down beseechingly upon their visitors. They cry out to be remembered, asking each visitor’s involvement, calling for them to connect to a Jewish past. They urge their audience to open their hearts to memory, to explore the Jewish roots of ancestral community. Zygmunt Bauman, author of “Hereditary Victimhood: The Holocaust’s Life as a Ghost” elaborates further:
“We are all to some degree by that memory, though the Jews among us, the primary targets of the Holocaust, are perhaps more than most. For Jews especially, living in a world contaminated with the possibility of a holocaust rebounds time and again in a world filled with horror.”
I was greeted by a man by the name of Aharon Seiden who reminded me of a Salvation Army bell ringer who greets you as you enter highly-trafficked areas during the holidays seeking donations. He spoke like an auctioneer. His speech was so fast, it was hard to keep pace and dissolve all that he was communicating. He was a second-generation survivor, with his father being an inmate at Treblinka. Mr. Seiden was thrilled to accompany me for the next 2 hours throughout the museum. As we began the tour, I was captivated to see what kind of story was being told.
The Chamber is a call back from death, dust, ashes—and a pledge to the future. The museum’s exhibits demonstrate the self-sacrifice and dedication of the Jews to keep their religious traditions under the most dire of circumstances during the Holocaust era. The first artifact Mr. Seiden introduced me to was the Torah Scroll which belonged to the Tunisian Jews. As I peered down at it through the glass vault, it was supposed to represent a coffin. This scroll from Gerbia, North Africa is stained with blood of its martyrs. There was a marble plaque which had been drilled off to the side, on the top—which noted this information in the Hebrew language.
Walking through the exhibition, we entered the outdoor veranda which housed more memorial tablets, along with the Children’s Memorial—in memory of the 1,200,000 children murdered by the Nazis. A long alleyway led to an ancient, locked door. As we entered, I noticed original artwork and prints stacked up on the floor and scattered across tables. Mr. Seiden told me that all of the paintings had been taken down in the exhibition during the current renovation–except one. I asked him if I could take pictures. He allowed me to do so, and I began to photograph some of the most prominent, and captivating pieces:
As each visitor walks among the memorial tablets, and read’s each story, they say a prayer of Kaddish and above all, find their connection to the living body of the Jewish people today. Major items of interest in the Chamber of the Holocaust cannot be found at Yad Vashem or the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum:
Jacket sewn from Torah parchment, which a Nazi officer had made in order to infuriate the Jews and mock their religion.
Containers that the Ashes of those who perished in the camps were stored in, and delivered to the Chamber of the Holocaust prior to burial.
Courtyard of Annihilation–Each plaque which lines this courtyard wall commemorates the destruction of a Jewish community.
We currently live in a society where those of us who are sixty years or younger will out-live the last Holocaust survivor. As time continues to evolve, who will best interpret their story and the everlasting truth of the Holocaust? Will it be the distorted lens of the Children’s Museum at the Ghetto Fighter’s House? Perhaps the stationary views of Yad Vashem where their focus seems to be primarily on the Jewish men who perished– giving little memory to the women, or others such as Jehovah Witnesses, Gays, Lesbians, and the Roma? Who is the best venue for Holocaust Education and to insure that our world never repeats this horror again?
The Martef HaShoah (Chamber of the Holocaust Museum) is situated in one of the most historically vibrant areas of Israel; Mount Zion, where King David is buried and believed to have built his palace there. It was the vision of the museums founders that the ashes and memories of the survivors lay at the foot of the tomb of King David, symbolizing the darkness of the Holocaust as paving the way and leading towards the glorious bright light of the final redemption of Moshiach who is said to come from King David.
For me personally, Holocaust Education begins with a visit to the Chamber of the Holocaust Museum.
“This is none other than the House of the L-rd–How full of awe is this place.”
–Genesis Chapter 28, Verse 17
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pam L. Fiedler is an Adjunct Professor of Design + Universal Communication at Southeast Community College in Nebraska. She is on sabbatical for the 2016-17 year. During this time she is studying at the University of Haifa in Israel for a Master’s in Holocaust Education. [ At SCC she teaches at both the Lincoln & Beatrice campus ]. She graduated in 2006 with her Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the University of Iowa. “Holocaust Nightmares: Ash From the Rose” is her first novel, and is available for purchase through Amazon Kindle. Purchase ASH FROM THE ROSE