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Mandy Hellman
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Mandy Hellman
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The commander of the Sharon Training Campus in the Negev Col. Avi Motola firmly believes that internalizing and commemorating the Holocaust is important for all Jews, helping them understand who they are today as a Jewish nation. This is especially so for young Israeli recruits, fresh out of high school, entrusted with the defense of their country. When we teach soldiers about the Holocaust, we dont just get better soldiers, we get better citizens, he insists.

Soldiers walking on the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

New Holocaust Education Center on IDF training base

It is the perception of the Holocaust as an important component of education for values the IDF gives its soldiers and officers that has made Holocaust Studies integral to IDF educational programming for over two decades, according to the IDF Spokesmans Unit. 

Earlier this year, this view was affirmed in bricks and mortar. The Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Educational Center, a branch of Yad Vashems International School for Holocaust Studies, was inaugurated in April at the IDFs newest military base, the 600-acre Sharon Training Campus near Yeruham, in southern Israel.

The Israeli Army has, since its inception, positioned itself as an educational force, and teaching the Holocaust is an important dimension of its mission, says Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, with its vast knowledge and experience in Holocaust education, is a natural partner in this endeavor. For decades, Israels military service has shaped – and continues to shape – the future generations of its society and its leadership. Holocaust remembrance is an important component of both national and universal human identity, helping soldiers grapple with existential questions vis--vis our collective character and goals.

The Center includes a permanent exhibit and a commemorative hall, as well as an interactive display, entitled The Human Image in the Shadow of Death.  By using archival photographs and films, as well as original artifacts, documents and testimonies, this exhibit is designed to meet the needs of the young soldiers and provoke meaningful discourse.

Soldiers participating in a seminar at Yad Vashem’s educational center in the Negev

The survivors of the Holocaust have entrusted us with their cherished legacy – their recollections and memories of the world that was destroyed, remarked Shalev. The exhibits Yad Vashem has created reflect our perpetual commitment to upholding their integrity and that of the victims of the Holocaust.

Connecting to their history

Day-long seminars will be one regular feature for the tens of thousands of soldiers in combat support training at the Sharon Training Campus, the largest of its kind in Israel. Tailored to the many different groups, all the seminars include a general introduction and guided tour of the exhibits on display in the Center – which resembles, on a small scale, Yad Vashems iconic Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem – as well as workshops on topics such as Jewish leadership during the Holocaust, daily life, existential dilemmas faced by individuals, the stories of survivors, and Israeli society and the Holocaust.

Our workshops are constructed to stimulate dialogue, as well as to help young soldiers and security personnel internalize values such as tolerance and moral courage, says Dr. Eyal Kaminka, Lily Safra Chair for Holocaust Education and Director of Yad Vashems International School for Holocaust Studies. The IDF is essentially a microcosm of Israeli society. Together with the IDF, Yad Vashem is forging tomorrows leaders and instilling the legacy of Holocaust education and remembrance.

Soldiers are directed through Yad Vashems exhibit by fellow soldiers who are specially trained guides. It creates a different impression when a soldier talks to a soldier, explains one guide, Sgt. Roni Tzach. Theres a unique understanding between soldiers, which helps convey more deeply the meaning of the visit. The visits, she feels, connect soldiers to the history of their nation. Some have had little connection to the Holocaust, but the moment theyre shown their history, their sense of duty is energized.

Witnesses in uniform

This educational outreach to new recruits is, of course, conducted hand-in-hand with the IDF General Staff. But Yad Vashem has also developed programs designed for officers, from the Chief-of-Staff and the High Command to the IDFs generals and Infantry, Air Force, Navy and non-combat commanders.  One is Witnesses in Uniform, which has sent higher ranks to Poland annually since 2001 for week-long educational tours.

This past April, on Holocaust Remembrance Day Eve, the IDFs Chief-of-General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was one such witness in uniform at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. Together with Holocaust survivor and member of the Committee for the Designation of Righteous Among the Nations Michael Goldman-Gilad, the commanders of the IDFs Logistics, Manpower and Education Divisions and several hundred officers, he walked down the train tracks leading into the death camp.

[It was] my first visit to Poland as IDF Chief-of-Staff, seeing the evil up close and the great difficulty in understanding it, the death machine and the serial murder of our nation, he later wrote in the sites guestbook. [It made me look again at] how Holocaust survivors rose after losing their entire families, moved to Israel, created a home and rebuilt a Jewish state after 2000 years. May the memories of our brothers and sisters be blessed.

Investing in the future

What message do you have for IDF soldiers? Sharon Training Campus commander Col. Motola asked survivor Halina Birenbaum at the new Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Educational Center opening ceremony. Remember! she answered. Remember that these people once lived. You, who are young and strong and beautiful, build the State of Israel.  Preserve it for life and for those who were sacrificed. 

Indeed, thanks to the generous support of donors from around the world, Yad Vashem reaches over 100,000 soldiers, officers and security personnel every year through its various activities and workshops. Soldiers and officers of every rank now have the opportunity to fulfill Birenbaums wish by remembering the past and, using this knowledge, reinforce their commitment to building a better future for Israel and the entire world.

The core challenge that Yad Vashem faces is how to be the repository of knowledge, history, information and lessons of the Shoah to future generations after the witnesses and  survivors are no longer with us, said Mark Moskowitz, Yad Vashem Benefactor and son of Holocaust survivors. Yad Vashems educational activities are making that mission a reality.

To support Yad Vashems activities with the Israel Defense Forces and Security Forces, please contact international.relations@yadvashem.org.il or call +972-2-644-3420