Martyrs' Forest - Remembering with 6 Million Trees

Photograph: Naomi Aviv Rosen, KKL-JNF
Photograph: Naomi Aviv Rosen, KKL-JNF
The idea of commemorating the victims of the holocaust in forests came up almost immediately after the end of World War II.  Holocaust survivors who came to Israel asked KKL-JNF to plant trees in the memory of their loved ones and communities that perished. Work on the Martyrs Forest began in 1946, and accelerated after Israel's declaration of independence, which allowed for expansion of the forest.
  • How to get there

    From Highway 1 (Tel Aviv – Jerusalem) turn south to Highway 38 at the Shaar Hagai Interchange toward Bet Shemesh. Turn left slightly before Eshta’ol Junction onto a marked dirt road to Martyrs Forest. (All terrain vehicles are suitable for driving toward the Martyrs Cave.) To get to the Scroll of Fire Memorial proceed and turn left (east) at Eshta’ol Junction to Highway 395 (to Ramat Raziel). Continue until the sign that says to turn right to Kisalon, and the road will soon branch off to the Scroll of Fire Memorial.
  • Geographic location-

    Jerusalem - Judean highlands and surroundings
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Area-

    Scroll of Fire Memorial, Martyrs Cave, Anne Frank Memorial.
  • Facilities-

    Lookout, Memorial, Marked path.
  • Other sites in the area-

    Yitzhak Rabin Park, Masrek Nature Reserve, Eshta’ol Forest, Tzor’a Forest, American Independence Park.
  • סוג חניון-

    Accessible parks,Overnight parks,Picnic parks
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Bicycle track,Lookouts

About the forest

The Jewish world was deeply moved when news broke out that KKL-JNF began planting the Martyrs forest in 1946. In planting the forest, KKL-JNF has not only commemorated the memory of those who perished in the holocaust, but also added color to the rocky ground of Jerusalem. With the support of the B'nai B'rith organization, six million trees were planted, symbolizing the victims, and memorials for perished communities were set throughout the forest. Representatives of Jewish communities from all over the world, holocaust survivors who just came to Israel, and residents of surrounding villages attended planting ceremonies.
In 1952, KKL-JNF held a ceremony on the Holocaust Memorial Day, the first national memorial ceremony of its kind, in the forest. In 1956, the main ceremony moved to the Yad Vashem museum, but KKL-JNF keeps holding its ceremony in the forest each year.
The forest offers many activities in its natural environment. It had landscape overlooks, foot travel tracks, cycling trails, roads for 4X4 vehicles, and picnic recreation areas. All throughout the forest are moving sights of heritage sites from the Independence War and holocaust memorials.

The Scroll of Fire

In the middle of the forest, near Moshav Kisalon, there is a monument that towers above the trees to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It was constructed by KKL JNF in 1968 and it is situated in a location with breathtaking views of the Judean Hills, the Judean Plain and the southern part of the Coastal Plain.

It would be difficult to imagine a better location for the beautiful memorial than the landscape of Martyrs Forest. The large bronze monument, which towers at 8.5m and weighs about twelve tons, was wrought by sculptor Nathan Rapoport (1911 1987). It is shaped like a double Torah scroll and tells the history of the people of Israel in relief. One scroll depicts the destruction of the nation in the time of the Romans and in the time of the Holocaust of European Jewry, and the other scroll depicts the rebirth—the ingathering, the war for independence, the establishment of the State of Israel and the unification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War. It is the largest sculpture in Israel cast in bronze and was brought in sections from Italy.

An aerial view of the monument reveals a figure eight, the symbol of infinity. In Judaism, the number eight—unlike seven, which symbolizes order and reason as exemplified by the Sabbath, the Sabbatical year and so on—expresses the unpredictable, and the scroll leads its viewers from annihilation to redemption. When facing the memorial, the sequence begins on the scroll to the right. The lower section has people walking to the camps and the ghettos. Among them is Janusz Korczak (1878 1942) with his pupils and some women in front of them. Above them, facing, upward, ghetto resistance fighters are depicted fighting the Nazi enemy, but there are no visible Germans. They figure only as symbols, such as a steel helmet and tanks. There are Jewish resistance fighters with simple weapons and farther along a menorah, encampments and a flag, and the illegal voyages by boat to the land of Israel. This part of the sculpture projects optimism, and the characters exude confidence. They are on their way to Israel, not to the death camps.
The second scroll depicts the revival of the nation of Israel, from the War of Independence until the liberation of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, also portraying battles but with a different atmosphere. A soldier parts from a woman and goes to the front. A new immigrant is given weapons and discards the rucksack of his wanderings. There are war scenes and just like in the famous photo, a paratrooper weeps at the Western Wall. The second scroll ends with a story that moves upward, a menorah being transported on a triumphal march, as a kind of “answer” to the scene on the Arch of Titus, where the Roman soldiers are taking the menorah. Above the Western Wall there are images of King David and the prophet Elijah, and there are many symbols of the repatriation of the land of Israel—a water tower, an orange tree, an olive tree, a boy holding a cluster of grapes.

There are two other works by Nathan Rapoport in two other places in Israel—a sculpture of Mordecai Anielewicz (1919-1943), the commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, and a memorial in the Negba Military Cemetery that symbolizes the connection between Israel’s defenders, both soldiers and civilians.

The Scroll of Fire can be reached from Highway 395, the road from Eshta’ol Junction to Tzuba. Turn off at the exit to Moshav Kisalon, but, before the entrance to the moshav, continue and follow the signs to the monument.

The Martyrs Cave

On the southern bank of Nahal Sorek, between the trees of the forest, which grow on both slopes, you will find the Martyrs Cave (B’nai B’rith Cave). It is a natural cave that was expanded in order to serve as a place for communing with the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

In front of the cave there is a plaza that was paved with stone by KKL JNF, and nearby there is a small, intimate recreation area with tables and benches constructed by KKL JNF, surrounded by forested slopes. The dirt road is wide, easy to follow (marked in red) and is suitable for all motor vehicles. It leads to the cave from Highway 38 (from Shaar Hagai Junction to Shimshon Junction) and continues along the riverbed channel as its slopes become steeper and steeper.

After 1.6km one arrives at a stone bridge above the road, which was built in honor of the B’nai B’rith Women, who contributed towards planting the forest, and about 400m beyond it is the cave.

Across from the cave there is a wooden footbridge. This is the end of a footpath (marked in blue) that starts on Mount Karmila. The path passes gorgeous landscapes but is very steep, and amateur hikers are urged to begin the route from the high end on Mount Karmila and conclude at the Martyrs Cave. This path is also known as the Braun Path and was developed thanks to a contribution from friends of JNF UK. Hikers should also be equipped with an up-to-date route map.

The dirt road proceeds up Nahal Kisalon from the B’nai B’rith Cave and is suitable for all motor vehicles. However, it is difficult, strewn with stones and is not recommended for anyone who cares about their car. Approximately 8km from the cave, there is a fork in the road—left to Moshav Sho’eva (marked in green) and right to the village of Ein Rafa, which is 4km away.

The Anne Frank Memorial

On Holocaust Remembrance Day 2011, KKL-JNF inaugurated an extraordinary project in memory of Anne Frank (1929-1945), who could see a chestnut tree through the window of her family’s hideout. The tree, which is mentioned many times in her diary, fell in 2010, in a storm, and friends of KKL-JNF in Holland initiated a project in Israel to commemorate Anne Frank and the tree.

The memorial is located in Anne Frank Memorial Park in Martyrs Forest near the B’nai B’rith Cave, on the road that ascends to Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. The monumental memorial includes several sculptural elements, all of which are significant. There is a circular route studded with quotes from Anne’s diary and a very large cube representing the room where she hid from the Nazis with her family.

The cube has three transparent sides, and the fourth is a tree with pentagonal leaves representing Anne’s chestnut tree. In a corner across from the tree there is a large seat, and when you sit on it you feel as if the cube is hanging in the air, and you are a child sitting on a high chair looking at a tree through a window.

The Dutch Jewish sculptor, Holocaust survivor Piet Cohen (1935) was chosen to design the sculpture. Like Anne Frank, he hid as a child during the war. He was hidden in a house in southern Holland and was not discovered. He later served in the IDF.

“The chestnut tree Anne Frank gazed at with love from her hiding place and wrote about the hope it gave her, fell last year,” said KKL JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler. “With the assistance of our good friends from KKL-JNF Holland, we found a way to commemorate the tree and present the world with the declaration of hope that it symbolized for her. We at KKL-JNF will continue to care for the natural surroundings in Martyrs Forest and all over Israel for benefit of all of Israel's citizens.”