Holocaust memorial by S.F. architect opens in Boston park

BOSTON — Amid the landmarks here to patriotism, the American Revolution and religious freedom, a monument to Holocaust victims has found a place on the Freedom Trail.

The New England Holocaust Memorial, six steel and glass towers representing the 6 million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis, was illuminated for the first time last Saturday night.

The six towers also represent both Jewish hope for the future and the chimneys of the Nazi camps.

"When it was lit, and I saw the smoke" rising from the towers, "a chill came over me," said Mira Birnbaum of Newton, Mass., a Holocaust survivor whose husband was on the committee that planned and built the memorial.

The memorial, designed by San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz, is located in a small park near Boston's Faneuil Hall, which is a national tourist attraction of shops and eateries.

Each tower bears the name of one of six major death camps — Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Belzec.

The hollow steel towers are covered with etched glass bearing numbers from 0000001 to 6000000, in random order, to memorialize the 6 million Jews killed. The numbers also symbolize the tattoos given to the Jews when they arrived at the camps.

Visitors to the memorial walk through the chimneys and look down into pits with realistic-looking embers and smoke reminiscent of the crematoria used to dispose of the victims' corpses. Lit from the inside, the towers are visible above the area skyline at night.

Some 1,000 people crowded into the memorial Saturday night, reading the descriptions of the horror of the Holocaust from survivors and liberators displayed on glass panels inside the towers.

As the evening progressed, people were drawn from nearby pubs and shops to join the somber procession.

A man read the quote on one of the towers, crossed himself, looked down at the glowing "embers" and crossed himself again.

Another man threw a paper-wrapped bouquet of flowers on the ground near the memorial, covered his face with his hands, then straightened up and walked away.

Saitowitz said the memorial exceeded even his expectations.

"Once it becomes full-scale, it takes on relationships with the other buildings surrounding it that even I didn't imagine," he said.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, addressing a crowd of more than 2,000 at the official dedication ceremony Sunday, said the memorial should stand as a reminder that "no one should ever deprive someone of his dignity again."

Referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a wall of black granite with the names of Americans killed during the Vietnam War, Wiesel, a survivor of Buchenwald, said, "If you were to have a wall" for Holocaust victims "it would stretch not just around the city, but around the entire state" of Massachusetts.

Although the memorial recalls primarily the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, the dedication ceremony also paid homage to the approximately 5 million others — Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, the physically and mentally disabled — who died at the hands of the Nazis.

Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, said the memorial symbolized "Abel's murder at the hands of his brother, Cain." Referring to Genesis, he said it would "stand as testimony to the Lord's word that `you shall not turn your back on your brother.'"

The New England Holocaust Memorial was almost a decade in the making. In the early stages, it faced opposition from some area Jews who asserted that Boston was not an appropriate place for a Holocaust memorial.

However, that notion seemed to be dispelled by popular opinion last weekend.

Hours after the end of the dedication ceremony, more than 100 people were in line to tour the memorial.

Several of the speakers touted the memorial's lessons for the future.

"Generations to come will not have the direct link" of Holocaust survivors "to tell the story," said Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. "It's going to take stories and pictures and monuments like this one so they can understand."