During a recent stroll in Woldenberg Park, I happened upon the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial. It's rather large, and I had never seen it before. Who put it up, when did it get built, and what do the panels of the memorial denote?
On Sunday, June 1, 2003, the New Orleans' Holocaust Memorial was dedicated. There are many Holocaust memorials in the United States, but this one is the first in the Crescent City. All of them honor the 6 millions Jews and millions of others who were killed between 1933 and 1945 by Adolph Hitler's Nazis and those who collaborated with them.
About six years before the dedication, Rabbi Ed Cohn of Temple Sinai was in Boston. While there, he visited a Holocaust memorial and got the idea to create one in New Orleans. He told his plan to then-mayor Marc Morial.
Created by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, the memorial is an example of kinetic art. Essential to the memorial is movement. As you walk around the nine brilliantly colored panels, you experience time -- the fourth dimension. Each of the panels is 11 and a half feet high, and there are at least 18 images that are viewed by walking slowly around the panels clockwise.
The first view is a large yellow Star of David. It symbolizes the persecution and humiliation of the Jews. Another panel is entirely dark, and it expresses the dark period when, for the Jews and others, the world became void of light and hope, morality and compassion. Then out of this darkness appear six colors representing the souls of the 6 million Jewish victims who perished in the Holocaust. One and a half million were children. A seventh square was added in loving tribute to the righteous gentiles, homosexuals, gypsies and other victims of Nazi hate.
Behind these seven colors appears a symbolic representation of societal destruction. The disintegrated yellow Star of David can be seen in the background. The mood is one of complete devastation and desperation. The next view, a chaotic one, expresses human misery and absence of empathy and religious and moral values, including reverence for life itself.
Out of the chaos emerges a rainbow, the biblical sign of hope, renewal and the reassertion of life's worth. Then we see many shades of blue, the color of the sky, which represent human hope and divine holiness. Out of this color of hope appears a sacred menorah, which symbolizes the faithfulness and spiritual values of the Jewish people. The menorah that stood in the Temple of Jerusalem also represents the miracle of the Chanukah lights, a timeless emblem of human liberty. The menorah on the panel is represented by a rainbow and a reverse rainbow.
Behind the menorah on another panel is a double rainbow representing heaven and earth, a call from all people of all faiths, races and nations that never again must anyone experience such horror. Behind it appears the biblical rainbow, the covenant between God and man.
Finally, looking back, the symbols of the victims' oppression and destruction can be seen. Behind the yellow Star of David are the chaos, murder and destruction of those torturous years.
The Aquarium of the Americas was the site where people gathered for the dedication, and there was a standing-room-only crowd of about 500. Among those who attended the solemn ceremony were 15 Holocaust survivors. Rabbi Cohn told the audience, "This is not a joyous occasion, not a momentous occasion. What would have been good is to have no need to have this memorial."
I have been to Woldenberg Park dozens of times, and I always make it a point to visit this memorial. While it is beautiful as a work of art, it becomes an emotional experience when you understand the symbolism.
I hope you will go back to Woldenberg Park and look at the Holocaust Memorial with new knowledge and understanding.