In 1953, the Israeli Knesset enacted the Yad Vashem Law, which determined that among its other missions, the task of Yad Vashem is “to collect, examine and publish testimony of the disaster and the heroism it called forth…”. Indeed, efforts to document the Holocaust had begun long before the passage of the law. From the Nazi rise to power in Germany, and throughout World War II, there were those who documented the events as they were taking place, often under the harshest conditions. Immediately after the war, centers for documentation and the collection of testimonies were established in many places around the world, including Munich, Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, Paris, Bratislava, Budapest and other locations.
The information about what was happening in Europe began to reach the Jewish community of Eretz Israel during the war. Even before the enormity of the disaster became clear, Mordechai Shenhavi initiated a Commemorative Project for the Jews of Europe that would include an archive. The Yad Vashem Archives began its official activities in 1946, under the direction of Dr. Sarah Friedlander, who had been born in Budapest and saved on the Kasztner train.
The first documents arrived at Yad Vashem from the “Historical Commissions” and various documentation centers, as well as public institutions, researchers and private individuals. Material collected in Israel was added to the documentation collected by Jews during the war in the ghettos, camps and hiding places.
Since its establishment, the Archive has initiated activities with a view to collecting and copying Holocaust related documents that have been housed in various archives in Europe and throughout the world. With the fall of the “Iron Curtain” and the opening of archives in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, the reproduction project has been greatly expanded.
In order to preserve the documents for future generations, and to enable easy access to the Archives, an experienced professional staff that includes archivists, historians and conservation experts is employed. The materials undergo an intake and organization process; they are catalogued in stages in a professional manner and stored under optimal conservation conditions. Documents requiring individual preservation are treated in the restoration laboratory.
As part of the renewal process of the Yad Vashem campus, the Archives moved to a new state-of-the-art building that was dedicated in 2000.