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Since the cornerstone of this memorial was laid in 1953, the act of paying tribute to the millions of Jewish lives lost in the Shoah has caused this building to grow in scope almost annually. The tireless efforts of the CJDC, the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center, founded in Grenoble by Isaac Schneerson to document the crimes of the Nazis and account for the lives being cruelly taken, was the original catalyst. The archives of the CJDC were critical to the success of the Nurenberg trials and the conviction of Klaus Barbie, leader of the Gestapo in Lyon, for Crimes against Humanity. The archives provided the memorial with the information necessary to become one of the top research centers of the Shoah and were initially housed here along with the more poignant evidence of ashes from Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto.
Visitors enter the memorial through an imposing set of industrial doors than clang noisily shut , revealing an enclosed stone courtyard. The panic at seeming to be imprisoned adds to the effect while reviewing the long lists of names of those lost. The names of the dead of the Warsaw Ghetto are inscribed on a bronze cylinder, meant to evoke the smokestacks of the death camps. The names of the 76,000 Jews deported from France, along with their birth year and the year they were taken, are displayed on the Wall of Names. The names of the children are displayed on a separate memorial. A large black marble Star of David on the crypt bears an eternal flame, to remember those who were lost without a name.
The Memorial has expanded recently to include Le Mur de Juste (The War of the Righteous), the names of 2700 French citizens who helped Jews during the Nazi occupation. Assisting Jews to escape the Gestapo squads was an act of selfless courage and some heroes in France saved many who would otherwise be listed as a name on a wall. The memorial has also recently added multimedia exhibits and offers visitors a tour of a model of the Warsaw Ghetto and a chance to experience the camps firsthand through a lifelike recreation.
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