The idea of establishing a memorial in the historical Jewish homeland for Jewish
victims of the Nazi Holocaust was conceived during World War II, as a response to
reports of the mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied countries. Yad Vashem was first
proposed in September 1942, at a board meeting of the Jewish National Fund, by Mordecai
Shenhavi, a member of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek.
In August 1945, the plan was discussed in greater detail at a Zionist meeting in
London where it was decided to set up a provisional board of Zionist leaders with
David Remez as chairman, Shlomo Zalman Shragai, Baruch Zuckerman, and Shenhavi.
In February 1946, Yad Vashem opened an office in Jerusalem and a branch office in
Tel Aviv and in June that year, convened its first plenary session. In July 1947,
the First Conference on Holocaust Research was held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
where further plans were made for Yad Vashem. However, the outbreak in May 1948 of
the War of Independence, brought almost all Yad Vashem operations to a standstill
for two years. In 1953, the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, unanimously passed the
Yad Vashem Law, establishing the Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.
On 9 November 2008, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was appointed by the Israeli government
as Chairman of Yad Vashem to replace the late Tommy Lapid.
One of Yad Vashem's tasks is to honor non-Jews who risked their lives, liberty or
positions to save Jews during the Holocaust. To this end a special independent Commission,
headed by a retired Supreme Court Justice, was established. The commission members,
including historians, public figures, lawyers and Holocaust survivors, examine and
evaluate each case according to a well-defined set of criteria and regulations. The
Righteous receive a certificate of honor and a medal and their names are commemorated
in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, on the Mount of Remembrance, Yad
Vashem. 555 individuals were recognized during 2011, and as of 2011, more than 24,300
individuals have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.