Design selected for RI Holocaust memorial

Posted April 19, 2012, at 9:09 p.m.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A design incorporating granite columns and simulated railroad tracks has been selected for a Holocaust memorial planned for Rhode Island’s capital, and the Jewish group overseeing its construction is beginning a fundraising campaign to make the monument a reality.

Herb Stern, chairman of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s memorial committee, said the design for the memorial — to be located alongside ones for World Wars I and II at Market Square in Providence — was chosen from among about a dozen submitted.

The design by Providence sculptor Jonathan Bonner includes six black granite columns, in honor of the 6 million Jews killed, and a round white stone known as the “life stone” that he says is meant to represent the future.

It also contains a pathway inlaid with a pattern meant to suggest railroad tracks, reminiscent of the railways that carried Jews to the Nazi concentration camps across Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. It becomes narrower as it progresses, to represent the diminishing ranks of the Jewish population.

Stern, who estimates there are fewer than 20 Holocaust survivors remaining in Rhode Island, said Bonner’s contemplative, cerebral design was chosen over others that provoked far more visceral reactions.

“If it’s going to mean something, it’s going to have to come through the head,” Stern said he came to realize after debate by members of the memorial committee.

The design plans are set to be unveiled at an event at Brown University on Thursday evening designed to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day.

Alice Goldstein, of Warwick, who sits on the memorial design committee, was 7 when her father and two grandfathers were forced from their southwestern Germany village to the Dachau concentration camp. Her uncles were sent to Buchenwald.

“I remember being told to get off the streets because Jews pollute the streets,” she said, recalling how her father’s household goods store was forced to shut down because the Nazis called for a boycott of Jewish-owned shops.

Her grandfathers were deemed too old to work in the camps, and her father was released after six weeks following pleas from her mother. He was let go, she said, because the family had applied for visas to leave the country, as the Nazis wanted Jews out of Germany.

“It’s really important to have a physical reminder of what happened, because this is really the last generation of young people who will be able to actually speak with survivors,” Goldstein, now 80, said of the planned Rhode Island Holocaust memorial. “We are not going to be around another 10 or 15 years. It’s really important to plan for the future.”

The Jewish Alliance aims to raise about $800,000 for the memorial. Stern said he hopes the monument will be completed by this time next year.

Two stones serving as a kind of gateway to the memorial will be inscribed with text about the Holocaust. The hope is they could be embedded with chips to allow visitors with smartphones to access information digitally as well, Stern said.

Bonner, who teaches part-time at the Rhode Island School of Design, said he was prompted to get involved in the project in large part because he was moved by stories of the Holocaust he heard from two late neighbors. One was in a Jewish ghetto in Latvia, the other in Lithuania.

“It’s unfathomable, the horror of it,” he said.

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