“Yad Vashem's story as an institution is rare: an initially small, ground roots initiative in a new nation that developed remarkably into a world-renowned institution which meaningfully influences multitudes of people, in the Israeli, Jewish and international spheres. This influence provides a guiding path in the fields of Holocaust research, documentation, education and commemoration.” So stated Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate at the international symposium marking 60 years since the establishment of Yad Vashem. The day-long event on December 19, 2013, organized by the International Institute for Holocaust Research, featured speakers from Israel, Poland, France and Germany, and took place in the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.
The symposium, generously supported by the Gutwirth Family Fund, focused on Yad Vashem at 60 Years with a wide range of speakers who discussed its formation, consolidation and challenges. Speakers included Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Dorit Novak, Israel, Amb. Reuven Merhav, Israel, Prof. Dan Michman, Israel, Dr. Bella Gutterman, Israel, Prof. Dina Porat, Israel, Dr. Boaz Cohen, Israel, Prof. Annette Wieviorka, France, Prof. Pawel Spiewak, Poland, and Dr. Susanne Heim, Germany.
Following opening remarks by Dorit Novak, Director General of Yad Vashem, who shared an article about its founding, Avner Shalev elaborated on the function Yad Vashem serves in both Israel and around the whole world. “Yad Vashem was founded from the ground up and was nurtured into fulfilling a deep widespread need, by revealing dimensions of meaning for Holocaust remembrance and providing a distinct supportive context to articulate those meanings.” When asked about some of the major obstacles he faced during the past 20 years as Chairman of Yad Vashem, Shalev answered, “A major challenge has been to prepare Yad Vashem for the next generation by refocusing the emphasis on education through the establishment of our International School for Holocaust Studies. Another challenge remains: to ensure Yad Vashem's steady evolution to meet the dynamic needs of our contemporary generation by successfully conveying the relevance of the Jewish experience in the Shoah. That is best and uniquely grasped here on the Mount of Remembrance.”
Recounting this uniqueness of Yad Vashem in the world, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council highlighted the importance of the institution's success in maintaining a unified space for Holocaust remembrance.
“Yad Vashem serves as a keepsake for the entire Jewish people and not just specific sectors of it, thus providing a more comprehensive and complete account of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.”
Yad Vashem was established by a law of the Knesset in 1953 to commemorate the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Through its museums, archives, International School for Holocaust Studies, International Institute for Holocaust Research, and recognition of the Righteous among the Nations, Yad Vashem has become the world center of Holocaust documentation, research, education and commemoration, with some 1 million people visiting the campus annually, and some 12 million visits to its website recorded last year. Over the years, Yad Vashem has received the Israel Prize for special contribution to the society and State of Israel in 2003, the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord in 2007, and numerous other awards and recognitions for its work on behalf of Holocaust commemoration, research and education.