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Millions of Holocaust Artifacts on Display at Yad Vashem’s New Center

Yad Vashem's new facility preserves a vast collection of Holocaust-related materials.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, has inaugurated a new home for the world’s largest collection of Shoah-related materials. The Moshal Shoah Legacy Campus, which includes the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections Center, was opened earlier this week in a ceremony attended by donors, dignitaries, Yad Vashem staff, and survivors.

This state-of-the-art facility consolidates tens of thousands of Holocaust-related items gathered over decades from survivors and their families. These artifacts, along with more than 230 million pages of testimony and documents, and half a million photographs, will now be preserved in optimal conditions in the new six-story building at the center of the Mount of Remembrance.

“These are our crown jewels,” Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan told the audience at a concert commemorating the opening. “They are a living testament to Jewish history. We have a moral imperative to safeguard our heritage.”

By the end of the 1960s, approximately half a million Holocaust survivors had immigrated to Israel. In the 1990s, they were joined by tens of thousands of Jews from the Former Soviet Union who had survived the Shoah. Among the treasured possessions many of these people brought to Israel were diaries, photos, art depicting their experiences, and various items of Judaica.

Over the years, Yad Vashem's Artifacts Collection staff traveled the world to gather items, particularly after the opening of Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. The Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem, opened in 2005, displayed more than 1,000 items publicly for the first time. In 2011, Yad Vashem launched the Gathering of the Fragments program, urging anyone with Holocaust-related items to bring them to Yad Vashem to be preserved, cataloged, and digitized before they decayed.

Tens of thousands of artifacts have been collected and exhibited over the past 13 years. Several precious musical artifacts were used at the commemorative concert to mark the opening, held at the Jerusalem Theater. The Jerusalem Symphony’s first violinist, Janna Gandelman, played a violin with its Yad Vashem preservation tag hanging from its neck, while four of the orchestra’s violinists used instruments that had belonged to Jews before and during the Shoah.

One violin, owned by Motale Shlain, a Jewish partisan killed by Nazis, made its way to Yad Vashem via a fellow partisan who survived. The instrument is part of the Artifacts Collection and was used at the concert by violinist Mordechay Shenvald to play the theme from Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, “Schindler’s List.” Shenvald, an IDF reservist and grandson of an Auschwitz survivor, was severely wounded in battle in Gaza in late October 2023 and attributes his recovery to the use of music during his rehabilitation.

During a visit to the textile conservation lab at the new Moshal Shoah Legacy Campus, a battered teddy bear donated by Stella Knobel lay in a box waiting to be reshelved. Knobel, born in 1931, received the bear as a gift for her seventh birthday in Krakow, Poland. She was one of the “Tehran Children” who arrived in Palestine in 1943, clutching her teddy bear.

When she donated the bear to Yad Vashem, she said, “He’s part of my family, the last remnant of my home in Poland. I know that in Yad Vashem he’ll be taken care of. The thought that he could be thrown in the garbage is terrible to me. It [the teddy] is symbolic of my life.”

Simmy Allen, head of Yad Vashem’s International Media Section, explained the effort required to acquire the bear, as it was emotionally difficult for Knobel to part with it. Allen noted that it took a global search to find qualified professionals in the conservation and restoration field to staff the Center. The staff includes Sarah Reichert, an art conservator from Paris; Reut Ilan-Shafik, a photo conservator trained in Berlin; and Nada Reizman, a textile conservator from St. Petersburg.

One exception is document conservation expert Yuval Siton, who was trained in Israel and has worked at Yad Vashem for 22 years. Items that have passed through his hands include postcards sent by Anne Frank, poems by paratrooper and Holocaust rescuer Hannah Senesh, and the blueprints of the Auschwitz death camp.

Due to the fragile nature of the artifacts, the conservation and preservation labs are not open to the public, but the building is designed around a sunken courtyard with windows that look into the labs. “The facility was designed to strike a delicate balance between conservation and accessibility, between past and future,” said Dayan.

Many of the artworks and artifacts are viewable on the Yad Vashem Online Exhibition section in eight languages. Discover more about these historical treasures and support their preservation by subscribing to our newsletter and sharing this article with friends and family.