It is amazing how a simple walk in the park can change your morning. This weekend I visited a place I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know existed until recently. What is worse is that I needed a television show to bring it to my attention. Like I said in my last post, I learn from TV and books equally.
The show, Mysteries at the Museum, has taught me many things and led to many activities I have written about on this blog. This is just the latest and perhaps most meaningful. Sadly however I cannot seem to find the clip online to share with you.
In the months since I decided to add this to my ongoing list of places to visit it somehow slipped my mind during the daily hustle and bustle. I am glad that I remembered it this weekend as I went through some paperwork. Suddenly it seemed urgent that I get there so I made the decision to visit there this past Sunday. To say that it was a powerful experience does not begin to convey the effect this place had on me.
As a lifelong resident of Brooklyn I am quite familiar with the area that surrounds this park. I wonder how many times I drove by without another glance at this spot. I find it a disgrace and a disservice that no one ever pointed this out to me nor did I find out within the countless articles I read on a daily basis. The Holocaust is a topic I frequently research and read up on but here this quiet spot remained practically in my own backyard waiting for me to notice it. Notice I did and now it is my job to report about it.
At first you notice the sign on the corner near the flagstaff that simply says “Holocaust Memorial Park”. It is on the signature green tablet that every New York City Park uses to identify itself. But that is where all similarities to another other park or tribute end.
Officially dedicated in 1997, by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, this is the first and only official N.Y.C. Holocaust memorial. It was many years in the making with construction beginning in 1994. There was much resistance and debate over how the markers would be inscribed. I am glad to say that what I saw during my visit was moving beyond tears and words alike.
It may take a second to notice it but there is a torch looking structure in the center of the block. Follow the path along the water and as the memorial is revealed to you, you will be in awe.
As reported by the New York Times:
“The Parks Department architect who designed the memorial -- a 14 1/2-foot steel tower surrounded by about 40 granite tablets resembling tombstones -- proposed adding 10 tablets as symbolic markers representing groups the Nazis persecuted, including homosexuals, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews.”
There are numerous, both on the left and on the right of the tower, grave like monuments with individual purposes and inscriptions. There are meaningful poems and quotes on some. Others tell the story of a specific person. Some just list a concentration camp and the atrocities that took place there.
For me the image of this entire scene bowled me over. I sat on one of the marble benches that are placed there and just tried to take it all in.
It was a beautiful morning and the water glistened nearby. There were even swans in the water. It was like an image out of a cinematographers mind.
On the benches closer to the street people were reading, talking, or relaxing. I tried to keep my unexpected utterances to a minimum but it was difficult.
I accidentally took this photo of my reaction as I returned to the car and stared towards the memorial. This seemingly hidden gem lies among everyday life with only a select few knowing the glory within it. I am proud to be part of that group.
The stones that remain imprinted within my mind are the one for the disabled, “I Believe”, the list of shoes left behind, and of course, Auschwitz. The last marker I passed on my way out was one that read “Nuremberg Laws”. A reminder of how that era ended.
All totaled approximately six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust although I suppose a final number would be too hard to construct. That makes it all the sadder. Seeing the list of countries affected listed in this way shows you how we are all connected in this world. When my eyes hit upon Holland I was instantly brought back to my time in Amsterdam walking through the former Jewish Quarter and seeing the Mirror Memorial, Never Again Auschwitz. The ground is covered in what seems like frozen water with shards of glass sticking out. That ground is sacred as there is an urn in the middle with the ashes of some of the victims of the Holocaust. It is another example of a simple yet incredible tribute I have seen.
As an avid traveler and history enthusiast I was sure to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. the first time I went back to that city as an adult in 2010.
Within the next few weeks I plan to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a Living Memorial to the Holocaust, right here in New York City.
In order for such horrors to never happen again we must remember those who lost their lives and honor their memories.
For me, this year especially has been full of visiting places with powerful emotional connections. I seem to attract them now. Each one no matter the context provides a deeper glimpse into a world that was and a world I now worry we will return to since this past Election Day.
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