As with most visits to sites dedicated to remembrance of willfully destroyed human lives, a stop at the Miami Beach Holocaust memorial will likely leave you somewhat moved, disturbed and drained. I guess that’s the point of it. For example, my first reaction when I saw the memorial’s imposing arm reaching up to the sky was that it was a sign of defiance and victory — the spirit of the Jewish people couldn’t be defeated by the Nazis. Instead, I was saddened to learn the arm was symbolic of millions of tattooed arms that were grasping for help in their despair as they were dying, and there was no relief to be found.
It may seem a little odd that there should be a Holocaust memorial in tranquil Florida, given that those crimes against humanity were committed thousands of miles away. But there were a large number of Holocaust survivors (as many as 25,000) living in south Florida in the 1980s, a small group of whom wanted to develop this memorial in their community. This part of Miami Beach was at one time a Jewish neighborhood.
There was some resistance to the building of the project, generally that the project was too serious and somber for a fun in the sun vacation destination. These objections were overcome, and architect Kenneth Treister designed a truly unique Memorial. The Memorial took about 4 years to build, being dedicated in 1990 in a ceremony that featured Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate.
There are several important features of the memorial:
1) The outstretched bronze arm seen above, some four stories tall, situated on what seems an island. It is the obvious focal point of the Memorial. The arm bears a number tattoo of the type the Nazis used to identify Jews with in Auschwitz. There are hundreds of desperate people clinging to this arm. Many of these figures are emaciated and dying, crying, obviously suffering and in despair. There are mothers with children, elderly and naked people. There are dozens of images I took that convey this sense of desperation and I hope the photos I’ve selected do it justice.
2) One reaches the base of the bronze arm by walking through the Dome of Contemplation, which contains an eternal flame and an inscription from the 23rd Psalm. Your journey then takes you through a small tunnel made of pink-hued stone imported from Israel. Lining the walls of this tunnel are the names of the European concentration camps.
3) The Memorial Wall: An outer ring of polished granite contains a sampling of some of the names of Holocaust victims, submitted by survivors. These survivors had no cemeteries to go to remember their loved ones, and it was intended that this Memorial should serve as that place.
The outer ring of stones contains etched photos and captions that vividly tell the story of the Holocaust. I wonder if young people who read these inscriptions will believe it is really possible that a political movement could kill so many people?
4) Several statues at the outer periphery of the water, including one with a memorable quote from Anne Frank behind it:
5) A small Visitor Center which was closing as we visited but which I hear is informative and very helpful, so do stop by if you visit.
If you Go:
Admission to the Memorial is free. It is open daily from 9:30 am to sunset every day. Visitors should be appropriately dressed and show respectful behavior.
Remember, it is not fun thing to see. It is a sobering and moving experience.
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