Archive for July, 2015

Visiting Yad Vashem in Israel

July 12, 2015 Comments Off on Visiting Yad Vashem in Israel General

My photo Janusz KorczakMy photo Yad Vashem Childrens Memorial


“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.”

(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)


On my recent trip to Israel I had the opportunity to tour Yad Vashem – “…the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.” (Quote from museum website).

During my tour, I was especially moved by the children’s memorial. “This unique memorial, hollowed out from an underground cavern, is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Memorial candles, a customary Jewish tradition to remember the dead, are reflected infinitely in a dark and somber space, creating the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament. The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background.” (Quote from museum website).

As I walked out of the children’s memorial onto the beautiful museum grounds, I passed a sculpture of the compassionate face of a man surrounded by many children. The children were suffering and very sad. Wondering who he was, I took a photo of the sculpture so I could ask our guide when we met up later in the tour. She told me he was Janusz Korczak, a doctor who had cared for 200 children in an orphanage in Poland at the time of the Holocaust. As the extermination of the children in his care by the Nazis came near, Kolchak’s influential friends urged him to save himself. His reply was always the same; “You wouldn’t abandon your own child … So how can I leave two hundred children now?” (p. 82). Ultimately he walked with his beloved children to awaiting freight cars and died with them in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

Although I had not heard his name before, I discovered later that both Bruno Bettelheim and Alice Miller had considered him one of the greatest educators of all times. “When the United Nations declared 1979 “The Year of the Child” it was also named “The Year of Janus Korczak” to mark the centenary of his birth.” (p. xi)

The unrelieved horror of the Holocaust, starkly present throughout Yad Vashem, is lightened only by the recognition of those who, like Janusz Korczak, held brilliant moral ground in the face of brutal and murderous hostility. “In a world of total moral collapse there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values. These were the Righteous Among the Nations. They stand in stark contrast to the mainstream of indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Holocaust. Contrary to the general trend, these rescuers regarded the Jews as fellow human beings who came within the bounds of their universe of obligation.” (Quote from Yad Vashem website).

If we come to believe during our lives that that we all have a universe of obligation, places such as Yad Vashem call us to reflect on the opportunities for righteousness that exist in our own daily lives. One opportunity that is certainly present in the lives of teachers as well as many other professionals and citizens is the recognition of suffering in children that stems from callous social disregard for poverty and discrimination. Our compassionate and caring response can create a universe of hope for children. Janusz Korczak says this best in his book Loving Every Child: Wisdom for Parents. He writes:

“If a child has a life where cruelty has become the norm, what a powerful effect would be the memory of that person – perhaps the only one – who showed kindness, understanding, and respect. The child’s future life and sense of his self could take a different course, knowing there was one person who would not fail him.” (p. 28).

As troubling as the world can seem in so many ways, it is encouraging and comforting to know that our simplest acts of “kindness, understanding, and respect” have tremendous power in the lives of children. If we do not fail them, then possibly we will not fail our responsibility to the future of our nation and our world.

Quotes about Yad Vashem are taken from the museum website

Quotes from the book are taken from Korczak, J. (2007). Loving Every Child: Wisdom for Parents. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

The author took the photographs of the sculpture of Janusz Korczak and the entrance to the Children’s Memorial.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator and advocate for social justice for all children