On a wall at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem is a bas relief portrait of Uziel Spiegel (pictured above), who died at age 2 in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He is chubby, smiling, adorable.
Uziel’s parents, survivors Abraham and Edita Spiegel of Los Angeles, donated the money for the touching children’s memorial, in honor of the one and a half million children who were killed. Cut out of an underground cavern, the site consists of infinitely mirrored candles that sparkle like stars as the names and ages of the dead are read. Some, like Uziel, were very young. Some were babies. It takes a month for all the names to be read.
This was one of the most devastating exhibits at Yad Vashem, an enormous museum and research center for Holocaust studies. The other major exhibit is a history of anti-Semitism, and the illustrated story of the slowly growing Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews. Visitors walk silently through the photos and films and the testimonies of survivors telling tales of man’s incredible inhumanity to man.
Yad Vashem also tells a thankful tale in a grove of trees dedicated to the Righteous Among the Nations, the 26,120 non-Jews from 44 countries who helped their hunted neighbors to hide or escape. They weren’t all Schindler—most of them were ordinary non-millionaires, and many of them were punished for their kindness.
The same day, we saw some of the Dead Sea Scrolls in an underground exhibit at the Israel Museum. Allegedly, they were written between 150 B.C. and 70 A.D., perhaps by locals around Qumran on the West Bank of the Dead Sea. Rolled and inserted into clay jars, they survived the Romans, though Qumran did not.
Most of the scrolls are original texts of the Old Testament, written in Hebrew and Aramaic, that are about 1000 years older than the previous oldest manuscript. They were discovered in a cave in 1947 by a goatherd in search of a missing animal. They’ve had a rocky journey since—having been sold separately and commercially, including via classified ads in the Wall Street Journal, before being regathered by the Israel Antiquities Authority. We saw only scraps under low lights, but also reproductions and translations.
One of the scrolls was engraved on copper, and that one gave the locations of silver and gold treasures that were hidden away from marauders and camel caravans that roamed the desert. Those locations have been plumbed, and no treasures have been found. The Romans and ensuing conquerors, of course, had plenty of time before 1947 to dig them up.
What we’ve seen so far has been profound and moving, but lighter moments are coming. We’re on the way to the desert and the Dead Sea, all ready to go with sunhats, bathing suits, water shoes, gallons of water, and sunblock.