When determining the appropriate place for a Holocaust memorial, one must use equal measures of sensitivity and common sense. Shopping malls and sports stadiums, while well-traveled and visible, are clearly inappropriate. While government buildings might seem ideal — because gravitas and solemnity tend to define both the environment and the demeanor of their visitors — a Holocaust memorial would be inappropriate and a disservice to the memory of the Shoah — the Holocaust.

Long Island Memorial Design by Berenbaum Jacobs Associates
Long Island Memorial Design by Berenbaum Jacobs Associates

 

In broad terms, the function of a memorial is to recall a particular person or event, and where possible, to mark the location of where the event transpired. As implied by its very name, once a memorial materializes, it is already distant in time from the event it seeks to commemorate. This condition is magnified over the passing years and through the generations.

Most importantly, the memorial becomes a focal point of commemorative activity, much as a grave becomes the nexus for personal remembrance and solace. Often, a memorial can stand in for a tombstone, especially when no “earthly remains” or gravesite exists. Just as human beings need a physical place where they can mourn loved ones, communities seek to consecrate areas that will allow them to mark collective loss in some tangible way.

While it is true that we build memorials under the sincere and well-intentioned guise of perpetuating a particular memory, it may be argued that the memorial may be the fastest way of divesting that memory. Even more disturbing is the possibility that this is precisely what we had intended. Because the sculptured medium has the guise of permanence, we may excuse ourselves from active participation in the act of remembering; the monument will always be there to do this unpleasant task for us.

North Shore Hebrew Academy Memorial. Designed by Eddie Jacobs
North Shore Hebrew Academy Memorial. Designed by Eddie Jacobs

In the case of the Shoah, as well as other events recalling humankind’s most radically evil potential, commemoration areas need to be mindful of two important considerations: The first, sensitivity with regard to the environment and surroundings of the proposed venue. Sites should be chosen that promote sanctity, ceremony, recollection and recognition — not distraction, disinterest or halfhearted attentiveness. If we are truly committed to both remember and not to forget, the second and most crucial consideration is to connect memorials such as these to an active and effective educational component. As we have seen all too many times, a memorial disassociated from an educational component all but guarantees stultification, and most disturbingly, a diminution of the very event it seeks to commemorate.

Face Exhibit in the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Skpoje, Macedonia. Designed by Berenbaum Jacobs Associates
Face Exhibit in the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Skpoje, Macedonia. Designed by Berenbaum Jacobs Associates

Our strength lies in our ability to look at our collective history squarely and honestly and in so doing, improve the way we confront our fellow man in the present and in the future.