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Jerusalem Holocaust museum unveils modernization plans

September 18, 1997

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Fifty years from now, there will be no living witnesses of the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews and the World War II slaughter will be a distant chapter in history.

New technology may prove to be the best means of keeping the memory alive. Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem museum intends to be ready to speak of the Holocaust for future generations.

Officials unveiled an ambitious $50 million project Wednesday that will create a multimedia center and roughly double the size of the museum. By 2001, new buildings blended unobtrusively into the wooded Jerusalem hillside will be filled with video screening rooms and computer workstations linked to databases holding records of the Holocaust.

The goal is ``to bring the message into a world where there will be no Holocaust survivors or witnesses ... to the younger generation for whom it starts to become part of history, not of personal experience,″ museum chairman Avner Shalev said.

Yad Vashem, built in 1961, attracts over 1 million visitors a year and is among the first sites visiting dignitaries are taken by the government.

``We want the most appropriate technology to explain it,″ said Eli Zborowski, a New York City businessman who heads the American fund-raising arm of Yad Vashem.

He said many Holocaust survivors who ``want to leave something behind″ are expected to donate money to the project. He introduced Joe Wilf of New York City, a survivor who donated the first $1 million to the project.

Yad Vashem serves as the main authority on documenting the Holocaust, with 50 million documents on file, Shalev said.

The museum received copies this week of records of properties and bank accounts that may have belonged to Holocaust victims. They were brought by Christoph Meili, a former bank guard who stumbled upon them in the shredding room at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich in January. Meili, who was fired and moved to the United States, received a hero’s welcome in Israel.

Moshe Safdie, the Israeli-born architect who will design the new parts of the museum, said he wanted to fuse memory, technology and architecture.

A model he displayed showed an elongated building cutting through the jagged hillside propping up deep cave-like exhibition rooms. The buildings’ sides protrude off the hill, appearing to dangle perilously and offering a majestic view of Jerusalem.

``We wanted the architecture and exhibit to work together,″ Safie said.

The floor of the main section ``descends, to give the feeling of going deeper and deeper into the earth, and by the end there is an ascent and a burst onto the landscape ... a feeling of optimism and ongoing sense of life,″ Safdie said.

Inside the exhibition rooms, visitors will use computers to see maps and photographs of camps, survivors, and documentation of Jewish life in Europe.

The video rooms will screen documentary and feature films on the Holocaust, as well as detailed testimony of survivors produced as part of a project by American filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

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