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"They Say There Is a Land" - Longing for Eretz Israel during the Holocaust

Holocaust survivors whose stories are presented in the exhibition will attend the opening on 29 May

27 May 2018

Marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, is launching a new unique exhibition entitled, "They Say There is a Land: Longings for Eretz Israel during the Holocaust." The exhibition, housed in the Auditorium Exhibitions Hall, will open to the public on Tuesday, 29 May 2018. Members of the media are invited to an advance tour on 29 May 2018 at 09:00. Holocaust survivors whose stories are presented in the exhibition will be available for interviews at the preliminary tour for journalists/photographers on the opening day of the exhibition.

Through artworks, artifacts, diaries, letters and testimonies collected by Yad Vashem over the years, the exhibition tells how Jews yearned for Eretz Israel during and immediately following the Shoah in the years 1933-1948 – from the rise of the Nazi party to power in Germany, through the outbreak of World War II and the destruction of European and North African Jewry, and until the end of the war and the establishment of the State of Israel.

The exhibition, "They Say There is a Land" is divided into three chapters. The first chapter presents how Jews viewed their connection to and longing for the Land of Israel during the time of the rise of the Nazi party to power in Germany until the outbreak of World War II. It was during this period that Jews searched for asylum in various countries, including Eretz Israel. The second chapter focuses on the years 1940-1944 from the period of the ghettos to extermination. During this stage, the Jewish communities in Europe dwindled, and under their daily struggle for survival, many Jews found themselves distanced from Eretz Israel to the point of disengagement, however, their hearts' yearning for the Land was never stronger. The third chapter focuses on the period of the aftermath of the Holocaust, the Displaced Persons camps in Europe and the detention camps in Cyprus, until the establishment of the State of Israel. At this time, many survivors felt that in the Land of Israel they would be able to regain their stature and build a full Jewish communal and personal life.

Indeed, 2,000 years of longings for Eretz Israel during the Diaspora moved between vision and dream to fulfilment: during the Holocaust from crisis to continuity; and on liberation between destruction and rejuvenation, until the establishment of the State of Israel.  Over the years, even from the depths of despair and destruction, Jews prayed for their return to Zion – Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel. For most, however, Eretz Israel was only an idea, a dream. Jewish affinity to Eretz Israel was expressed in prayer, philosophy, poem and song, in life-cycle events and on Jewish holidays.

Baruch Milch, who thought he would never see the Land of Israel, wrote while in hiding in Poland to his cousin in Eretz Israel: “I am writing this letter to you as one who has been condemned to death before my execution, since this is my situation right now... The Jews need freedom… Only in [Mandatory] Palestine will they be granted independence... Do not be silent; work day and night until you achieve this goal."

"The Shoah completely changed reality," explained Exhibition Curator and Director of Yad Vashem's Museums Division Vivian Uria. "During this period, Jews experienced the breakdown and destruction of the entire fabric of life for both the individual and the community. Yet documents, diaries, letters, artifacts and artwork documenting the period testify that even during those terrible times, in the midst of the struggle for life that focused on the here and now, Eretz Israel held a firm place in the hearts and thoughts of Jews."

The title of the exhibition comes from the poem by celebrated Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. "They Say There Is a Land," which he wrote in 1923 in Berlin, brings up existential questions that characterized the Jewish people's struggle with its future, as well as the forces of dream versus reality, and hope versus despair.

Yad Vashem Chief Historian Prof. Dina Porat is the Historical Advisor for the exhibition.