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Yom Hashoah

At Yad Vashem’s newest Holocaust education center, IDF recruits learn why they fight

Facility opens this week at massive training base designed with young troops in mind, focuses on personal stories to show pre-war life and Nazi horrors that followed

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Shani Lourie-Farhi speaks to soldiers at a Yad Vashem Holocaust educational center at the Ir Habahadim military training base in southern Israel, April, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/The Times of Israel)
Shani Lourie-Farhi speaks to soldiers at a Yad Vashem Holocaust educational center at the Ir Habahadim military training base in southern Israel, April, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/The Times of Israel)

Pvt. Noa was inspired. The new Israel Defense Forces recruit was walking through a new Holocaust memorial and education center at the army’s largest training base, geared toward newly conscripted soldiers.

“To know that people went through all that, and still chose to immigrate to the country and serve in the army, despite everything, it’s really empowering,” she said, looking at a wall of photos showing Jewish life before the terrors of the Second World War.

This week, as the country marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial and Museum Yad Vashem will formally open the facility at Ir Habahadim — the army’s “city” of training bases, located just south of Beersheba.

Until recently, the army would send soldiers on organized trips to the main Yad Vashem memorial and museum in Jerusalem. By opening a center at Ir Habahadim, where most new recruits will spend time, military officials say they can save on the logistical hassle of transporting troops to Jerusalem and Yad Vashem can cut down on crowding.

At the same time, the memorial and museum has been tailored for new recruits, designed specifically to engage younger people who are learning to defend their country.

“The most amazing thing is we meet the soldier at the most significant point in their service… where they transition from being a civilian to a soldier,” said Yotam Regev, the commander of the base’s education department.

“As part of that transition, they go through a series of educational activities, which are meant to strengthen the understanding of ‘why am I a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, why I should not only be not embarrassed by this, but rather be proud of my service'” Regev said.

The entrance to a Yad Vashem Holocaust educational center at the Ir Habahadim military training base in southern Israel, April, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/The Times of Israel)

Shani Lourie-Farhi, the center’s director of content and the head of Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies pedagogical center, said that the “big question” when it came to designing the center was how to connect the younger generation to the Jewish world that existed before the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust is a big story,” she said. “We asked ourselves what part of Holocaust remembrance do we want to focus on that’s relevant to the younger generation.”

“If you want to understand choices made by Jews during the Holocaust, you have to understand where they came from… why Jews in Germany didn’t get up and leave when Hitler came into power,” she said.

Lourie-Farhi noted that the declining number of survivors still able to tell their stories has made it increasingly difficult for younger people to understand what Jews went through during the Holocaust on a more personal level.

Today’s survivors are all over 77, and around 19 percent of the 161,400 Holocaust survivors in Israel are 90 or older, according to data from the Social Equality Ministry published Wednesday.

“We understood that a personal meeting [with a survivor] has to be replaced with something else,” she said.

Unlike Yad Vashem’s Jerusalem museum, which teaches about the Holocaust by focusing on chronological events, the army education center instead zeroes in on personal stories of European Jewry before the war — with exhibitions that include details of some who survived, and some who did not.

“Among them were recipients of military citations,” read a screen showing photos of Holocaust survivors who moved to Israel, in an apparent effort to motivate the newly recruited soldiers.

Lt. Matan Perlmuter and his grandfather, Yitzhak Perlmuter at a Yad Vashem Holocaust educational center at the Ir Habahadim military training base in southern Israel, April, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/The Times of Israel)

The initial tour of the center is given by Yad Vashem staff, after which the visiting unit’s officer leads the soldiers in various activities.

“Their commander is the one who summarizes and helps process the day, to get the soldiers to think about what they learned, and how it connects to the IDF’s values and spirit,” Regev said.

An officer who was touring the center with his Holocaust-survivor grandfather, before the formal opening, said he believed it would help new recruits understand their purpose. “It gives soldiers the reason of why we are here, and the importance of what we do,” Lt. Matan Perlumter said.

His grandfather, Yitzhak, agreed with the sentiment: “We need to be always ready.”

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