The origin of the name is from a Biblical verse: "And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name ... that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5) In Hebrew "A memorial and a name" = yad vashem.
Located in Jerusalem, it consists of a memorial chamber, a historical museum, an art gallery, a Hall of Names, an archive, the "Valley of the Destroyed Communities," and an educational centre. As well, non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, often at great personal risk, are honoured by Yad Vashem as the "Righteous Among the Nations".
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Yad Vashem activities include:
- Documentation of the Holocaust:
- recording testimonies with survivors, and
- collecting the names of those who perished during the Holocaust
- collect photos, documents and resources regarding the Holocaust.
- Research and studies of the Holocaust:
- conduct research regarding the Holocaust,
- encourage students to research the Holocaust,
- publish research and make it availbale to the general public.
- operating the International School for Holocaust Studies 
- developing study programs for both Israeli and foreign schools in order to teach young students about the Holocaust,
- hold exhibitions about the Holocaust,
- teach the Holocaust to the general public.
- preserve the memory and names of those who died during the Holocaust,
- hold ceremonies of remembrance.
In 1993, the Yad Vashem institute decided to build a new, larger museum to replace the old, smaller museum, which was built during the 1960's. This was in response to the construction of larger Holocaust museums in Washington D.C. and Europe. The new museum is the largest Holocaust museum in the world. It is carved into the mountain and designed to reflect the story of the European Jewish community during the Holocaust and their resurrection from the ashes in Israel. It consists of a long corridor with 10 exhibition halls, each dedicated to a different chapter of the Holocaust. The museum combines the personal stories of 90 Holocaust victims and survivors and presents in its exhibitions about 2500 personal items: artworks and letters from the Holocaust donated by survivors. The new museum also includes an auditorium, study hall, computerized data bank and memorial monuments of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
On March 15, 2005, the dedication of the new Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Israel took place. Leaders from 40 states and the Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan attended the inauguration of Holocaust museum. President of Israel Moshe Katzav said that the new museum serves as "an important signpost to all of humankind, a signpost that warns how short the distance is between hatred and murder, between racism and genocide." 
Righteous among the nations
The museum also honors the Righteous Among the Nations. For example, a small garden and plaque on the grounds of Yad Vashem is dedicated to the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France who, during World War II, made their town a haven for Jews fleeing from the Nazis.
A few of the more than 20,000 non-Jews honoured here as "Righteous among the nations":
- Wladyslaw Bartoszewski
- Johan Benders
- Varian Fry
- Miep Gies
- Marie-Rose Gineste
- Hermann Friedrich Graebe
- Aristides Sousa Mendes
- Czeslaw Milosz
- Dorothea Neff
- Jonas Paulavicius
- Karl Plagge
- Traian Popovici
- Oskar and Emilie Schindler
- Irena Sendlerowa
- Suzanne Spaak
- André Trocmé
- Magda Trocmé
- Raoul Wallenberg
- Johan Hendrik Weidner
- Sugihara Chiune
- Major Karl Plagge