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Exclusive: Archbishop Dolan Visits ‘Hall Of Names’ At Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum In Israel

Emotions Run High As Normally Affable Head Of N.Y. Catholics Somberly Reflects
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Hall of Names at Yad Vashem

The Hall of Names inside Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. (Photo: CBS 2)

JERUSALEM (CBS 2) — Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan made an emotional visit Tuesday to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and CBS 2 had the only camera there. It was all part of the New York archbishop’s week-long Holy Land visit.

He appeared in a way were not used to seeing: somber and introspective. But even the normally ebullient Archbishop Dolan was visibly moved by his visit, reports CBS 2’s Don Dahler.

With headphones on to supplement the personal tour, his Excellency entered one of the huge museum’s most powerful displays — the Hall of Names.

“And this would only be a small percentage of those who perished?” Dolan asked, to which Edna Wilchfort, Yad Vashem’s tour guide, responded “this is about 4 million out of the six.”

The magnitude of that statement was apparent on the archbishop’s face.

“The names and faces of 4 million people, murdered,” the archbishop said.

Men, women, children, the markers are more than archives, they are symbolic tombstones. For many of the victims, there are no gravesites.

“All of them were victims. They were all killed,” Wilchfort said.

The cardinal-designate asked about the origins of the museum’s name, “Yad Vashem?” Wilchfort responded, “Yad Vashem, ‘in a hand and a name.’ ‘Yad’ means a hand but also a monument, ‘shem’ is a name.”

It comes from a biblical verse: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name Yad Vashem that shall not be cut off.”

Archbishop Timothy Dolan

Archbishop Timothy Dolan gets instruction from his tour guide inside the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Jan. 31, 2012. (Photo: CBS 2)

“For some people we can claim that the land of Israel is the answer for all Jews,” Wilchfort said.

Yad Vashem isn’t just a museum with 1 million visitors yearly; it’s also a research and education center.

“If you don’t remember the past then the future has no meaning,” Wilchfort said.

But maybe most importantly, it’s a sacred place of remembrance and prayer.

Pope John Paul visited Yad Vashem in 2000.

“I remember how emotional he was,” Dolan said.

As the archbishop was leaving, he thanked his tour guide.

“Americans are well-versed in this horror, but it was very enlightening to hear you give the historical steps. I don’t think we know that, and the different steps to where the death camps came to the mass extermination … oh my,” Dolan said.

And then he paused for a moment to share his thoughts with us.

“I remember when Pope John Paul II visited Auschwitz and he said at the end when somebody asked the same thoughtful question you did, he simply said in the face of this horror, ‘I think the only appropriate comment is silence.’ And I would agree with his wisdom. I would not know what to say,” Dolan said.

But for a spiritual leader such as Archbishop Dolan, sometimes his mere presence speaks volumes about respect and empathy.

Monsignor Jeff Cowan of Staten Island was equally moved.

“It’s very sad, just seeing the whole experience, especially with the children, looking at the faces of the children,” Monsignor Cowan said.

The monsignor and Katonah’s Father Paul Waddell are among the 50 priests who are accompanying the archbishop.

“How could anybody not be moved when you see what took place?” Father Waddell said.

Yad Vashem was established in 1953 and takes up 45 acres. It’s more than a museum; it’s a place of remembrance and commemoration.

The museum is just one of many holy places the Catholic group is visiting in Israel.

“Oh, it’s been just absolutely wonderful. It’s a time for us priests to be together and to have an experience of our faith,” Father Waddell said.

But they said getting to spend time with the Cardinal-designate is a bonus.

“He’s a wonderful person, a very easy person to be with,” Monsignor Cowan said.

As their visit to the Holy Land continues, Archbishop Dolan and the priests will walk the Stations of the Cross in the old city of Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Archbishop Dolan will be ordained into the College of the Cardinals in Rome on Feb. 18.

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