by Yael Adar
The Scroll of Fire is one of the most beautiful sculptures in Israel. Located in what is the single largest memorial to the Holocaust in the world, the Martyrs Forest, it is an imposing work rich in detail and history – it tells the story of the rebirth of the nation from the Holocaust up to the Six Day War. The sculpture commands a spectacular view of its surroundings.
The Martyrs Forest is comprised of six million trees – truly, a living memorial. Four and half million pine trees represent the adults who perished in the Holocaust while a million and (one) half cypress trees account for the children who perished.
Dedicated in 1971 by Bnai Brith, the Scroll of Fire is the work of Warsaw-born Nathan Rapoport. Memorials to the Holocaust were a central theme in Rapoport’s works. His sculptures can also be found at Yad Vashem and Kibbutz Yad Mordecai as well as around the world, (including his home-town Warsaw), where he erected a memorial to the ghetto fighters, in the center of what was the headquarters of the Ghetto Fighters Revolt. Interestingly, Rapoport was not very well known in Israel - he was perhaps better known in the United States.
There are a number of recurring elements in the Scroll of Fire; mother and child, an olive tree/branch, a menorah and much symbolism. The scroll on the right focuses on the holocaust and its survivors while the scroll on the left deals with the struggle to establish a new homeland.
On the right pillar one can see Jews being marched off to the concentration camps. Above them are figures devoid of faces. Here, only their helmets and bayonets depict Nazis. It is as though their horrific acts wiped away their humanity and therefore they cannot be portrayed in full human form.
Next, the Warsaw ghetto is seen with its flames and the defenders of the ghetto, an angel bearing a Molotov cocktail and a bearded man bearing a rock are clearly visible. Ascending to the heavens in flames, are a mother and child, followed by survivors of the camps. The survivors are seen leaving the camps – now with their eyes raised, in hope. A small boat represents the thousands who came to Israel in the pre-State days, during the clandestine immigration era.
There is an olive tree – whose branches are formed from human bodies. The allegory here is one of renewal. Just as a tree sprouts new branches so is the renewal for the nation that is establishing its homeland possible. The central branch – which is depicted in a fetal position, perhaps best epitomizes this idea, that even in the midst of destruction a new life/nation can be formed.
In the scroll on the left the symbols of the wandering Jew, a (walking) stick and a sack are left behind since the wandering is over and the Jew has reached his homeland. A child is seen holding a cluster of grapes, one of the Seven Species with which Eretz Israel was endowed. A pregnant woman depicts the next generation that will be born into freedom.
Finally, the reunification of Jerusalem is depicted by a menorah, carried by a group of soldiers. This menorah is symbolic of the menorah from the Arch of Titus in Rome, which commemorated Roman suppression of the Jewish revolt. A small bearded man that supports the menorah is representative of the Prophet Elijah and Rapport’s apparent belief in divine intervention.
The explanation above provides just a glimpse of the details that can be seen in this sculpture. It is highly recommended to visit this site with a tour guide who will be able to provide a much more detailed explanation.
In an interview that Rapoport gave to Gems in Israel’s publisher almost 25 years ago, he said that art is the one thing that remains of a nation/culture after hundreds of years. Art helps tell the story of a nation’s past, its history. He also noted that the Jewish nation has much to convey and that not enough of it is expressed. He gave the example of the (Catholic) church – which truly understands the significance that art plays, as is evidenced by the integration of painting, sculpture, architecture, music and clothing into its daily life.
A small plaque near the Scroll of Fire – stands as a testament to the artist's work, “My words have been made of bronze and stone, they are silent, heavy and longstanding.”
Directions: The Martyrs Forest is located on Route 395. From Beit Jamal take Route 38 north, toward Beit Shemesh. At Shimshon Junction take Route 395 east. Be on the lookout for a sign leading to the Martyrs Forest and the Scroll of Fire monument (not far from Moshav Kissalon Ramat Raziel).
Tip: While in the area you may also want to take in the monument at Pilot’s Mountain (Har Ha'tayasim) This is a monument that commemorates the pilots of two planes that crashed nearby during the Maccabi operation during the 1948 War War of Independence.