Monday, March 14, 2005

Political / cultural debate over the new Yad Vashem museum.

Haaretz gives interesting background to the opening this week of the new museum at Yad Vashem.
The article seems to me to be correct in many of its observations. In the 1980's I had some contact with the Yad Vashem Board of Governors. It was a depressing experience. The original founding legislation of Yad Vashem had provided for the Board of Governors to be composed mainly of representatives of various Partisan and Survivor organisations - exceptional men and women. No-one thought ahead and planned for what would happen when, with the passing of time, they became of more advanced age. By the end of the 1980's, the Board was extremely elderly and unable to deal with the changing demands on the institution. For some reason it was starved of funds - the archive was crumbling away in a totally un-airconditioned/uncontrolled environment; the photo archive was deteriorating; and there was one person working on conservation. Only the opening of the US Holocaust Museum caused someone to wake up, and the new Director, Avner Shalev, has revolutionized the institution. Kol hakavod. (Interestingly, I can't find any reference to the Governing Body on its website...)
The other interesting fact about Yad Vashem I learned from an offprint of an article written by an engaging character called Mooli Brog, who was a shaliach in Montreal. Mooli wrote about the founding of Yad Vashem, and the argument over where it should be located. One 'almost' was on Mt. Carmel, near Haifa. The eventual location in Jerusalem was chosen because of the ambivalence (then) in Israel of giving the Holocaust a national profile, and the feeling that Jerusalem was suitable since in the eyes of the Israeli establishment of the early 1950's it was something of a religious backwater, and identified as a sort of relic of the Diaspora which happened to be within the State ......
Finally, I am waiting to hear what Kofi Annan says at the opening ceremony. Interesting that he's going at all.


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