Last Thursday – on the Jewish holiday Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day – the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island revealed the design for a Holocaust memorial to be constructed in Providence.
Herb Stern, chairman of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s memorial committee, said the winning design – by artist Jonathan Bonner, adjunct lecturer in art at Brown and senior critic of foundation studies at the Rhode Island School of Design – was chosen out of 12 proposals. He said Bonner convinced the committee that a less “visceral” and more “cerebral” design would more effectively provoke contemplation in future generations, whose distance from the tragedy might cause them to view the subject with less personal attachment.
The memorial, which is set to be constructed in Market Square, on the corner of North Main and College streets, has two posts inscribed with descriptions of the death camps that act as a gate. Bonner said this leads into a pathway that resembles railroad tracks, a symbolic image of the Holocaust. The path thins and curves as it moves forward and has names of victims on it.
At the end of the path is a white granite stone that represents hope and the future, Bonner said. Curved around the stone is a line of six black granite columns to represent the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. The phrase “Always Remember” will also be inscribed on the memorial, he said.
“They’re oval and cross-sectioned so that they will have a different significance depending on how you look at it,” Bonner said of the columns, which are of varying heights to express the indiscriminate murder of women, men and children.
The intentionally ambiguous columns can also be interpreted as bones or smoke stacks, Bonner said.
Bonner first came up with his winning design in 2004. He worked with a group of Holocaust survivors in Rhode Island to create his design, which he finalized and had city permission to construct, but for various reasons the project stalled.
“I moved to Providence in 1977, and on either side of me lived Holocaust survivors who became dear friends,” Bonner said. “That’s what primarily inspired me to get involved.”
When the Jewish Alliance initiated a design competition for the memorial in 2008, Bonner submitted his original design.
Michelle Cicchitelli, director of Shalom Family, an organization involved with the Jewish Alliance, said the Jewish community of Providence has long expressed interest in a memorial to honor family members and other victims of the Holocaust.
Stern said the Providence memorial was largely inspired by the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Recent growth in Holocaust denial discourse and anti-semitism in some European and Middle Eastern countries makes the issue especially salient, he said.
“You need people to be reminded what happens when intolerance rules,” Stern said. “It’s not just a Jewish statement, it’s a statement we need to make as a community.”
Cicchitelli said staff turnover contributed to why the project has stalled over the years.
A decrease in fundraising due to the economic downturn also stymied the project, Stern said. Current Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Savitt has been instrumental in re-energizing the project, Stern said.
“It’s not so much about honoring the dead and the living – which is probably more important at this point – but it’s about being a constant reminder,” Stern said.
The memorial is set to be completed by next April, in time for next year’s Yom HaShoah.