YAD MORDECHAI, Israel (Reuters) - Survivors of one the darkest episodes of the Nazi-era have turned to light-and-sound shows and walk-through mockups in the hope their memories will not fade away into the history books.
At the “From Holocaust to Revival” museum in southern Israel, a scale model of the Warsaw ghetto shows where its Jews rose up against Hitler’s troops in mid-1943, engaging in frantic house-to-house fighting in a bid to halt deportations to death camps.
The revolt marked the only significant armed Jewish resistance to Nazi oppression during World War II, but it was crushed with the loss of several thousand Jewish lives. Many of the Ghetto’s remaining 50,000 plus inhabitants were sent to the gas chambers, becoming part of the 6 million killed by the Nazis.
Guided by veterans of the revolt, visitors can pace out a reconstructed bunker with a secret toilet access, pack into a railway car recalling those that hauled Jews to death camps, or have yellow Stars of David projected onto their chests.
Such passing impressions of the Holocaust have stirred concern in at least one Israeli commentator, who wondered in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper whether the “Disneyland approach” was too trivial.
Warsaw ghetto survivor Aliza Melamed said displays of the kind at the museum in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai were necessary to appeal to those for whom the horrors were not a living memory.
“We look more at the contents and we don’t need stimulating experiences like projections of yellow stars and all kinds of major sound effects. But I understand we do this for teenagers,” she said.
“I accepted it because I guess this is the way in today’s world, to reach people.”
Museum designer David Gafni describes the exhibits as an extension of commemorative efforts such as the annual tours of Polish wartime sites for young Jews from Israel and elsewhere.
“This is the thing we work for, to shock, to cause agitation and help explain to the young generation,” he said.
Yad Mordechai, named after Ghetto resistance leader Mordecai Anielewicz, is among the more embattled of Israeli communities, having weathered an Egyptian army assault in the 1948 war and, more recently, the rocket and mortar attacks of Palestinian militants in the neighbouring Gaza Strip. Israelis readily link their ethos of resilience to the Holocaust, something that, paradoxically, can create emotional distance from the vulnerable European Jewry of World War Two.
Pnina, a high school student visiting the Warsaw ghetto museum, sounded discomfited by the Star of David that appeared on her clothes — an ephemeral, weightless version of the cloth patch that marked out Jews during the Holocaust.
“This feeling is kind of difficult for me,” she said.
“I understand it’s a part of thinking what happened there and feeling as if you are different among others. It can cause a feeling of being conspicuous among others.”
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Matthew Jones