Memory’s Cellar

You enter the cave of horrors in the basement of an Ottoman-era house that is now a small yeshiva just outside the medieval walls of the Old City. On the one hand, there could be no better encapsulation of Jerusalem than this: disjointed histories piled one atop the other like dishes in the sink, all beneath the shade of Aleppo pines. On the other, there is something immediately decrepit about the place. It is wrenchingly nondescript; it looks like extra storage for folding chairs or even for cleaning supplies. Were it not for a Hebrew plaque on the limestone gate outside that reads Martef HaShoah, or The Holocaust Cellar, next to an arrow pointing in its direction, you would have no idea where you had arrived. Even now, no notice identifies this rough place as the first Holocaust memorial ever built.    The cellar was inaugurated in 1949 on Mount Zion. It is a monument to the destruction of the Jewish people, yes, but also a monument to the way the destruction was understood in its immediate aftermath by those who had survived, and in the newly established Jewish state. But despite its location, a stone’s throw from King David’s alleged tomb, the cellar is not, nor was it ever, an august institution that sought to stipulate a collective memory of catastrophe or to impose a narrative interpretation of any kind. No museology or mixed media went into the creation of this dark shrine. It is a site of raw memory, and also a kind of Wunderkammer of catastrophe. There are many Holocaust memorials and museums in the world now, but there is no other place quite like this one. To enter it is to confront, without any philosophical or historiographical or aesthetic mediation, in the most startlingly direct way,

Already have an account? Log in

Want to keep reading? Join our community:


Support great writing by becoming a full subscriber to Liberties Journal.

Subscribe Today

Free Preview

Sign up with your email address, and access two free articles per month.

We hope you've enjoyed your free articles!

Become a full subscriber for only $50/year, (33% off cover price).

Thank you for supporting great writing.

Subscribe Today
Log In Subscribe

Sign Up For Free

Read 2 free articles a month after you register below.

Register now