About 45 people gathered on the banks of the San Jacinto River in the early afternoon hours of a sunny Texas winter day to celebrate the launch of a memorial dedicated to deriving hope and understanding from one of the darkest periods of world history.
Members of the Greater East Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce on January 18 took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Holocaust Garden of Hope, which is scheduled to begin construction this year just south of the Kings Harbor retail center in Kingwood. Mark Linabury, chamber president, said the large turnout for a ribbon-cutting – the chamber’s first this year – reflects the dedication of the community to the project.
The Garden, a project of the Holocaust Remembrance Association (HRA18), will include eight areas featuring exhibits depicting the experience of children during and after the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews and members of other persecuted groups were murdered. The garden will include paintings, music, sculpture and physical structures to tell the stories of those who died, as well as those who survived.
“It’s not only going to be a physical garden, but it’s going to be a virtual garden,” Rozalie Jerome, executive director of the Garden of Hope project, said in her remarks. A website will feature video and audio tours of the garden.
The creation of the garden, which is dedicated to honoring Holocaust survivors, remembering victims and educating the public about the period, comes at a critical time in U.S. history, with incidents of anti-Semitic violence on the rise across the country.
Earlier this month, a gunman attacked a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, taking four people, including the rabbi, hostage. The incident ended when the hostages escaped and the gunman, a British national, was killed.
On the sidelines of the ribbon-cutting, Jerome said the Colleyville incident just demonstrates the need for projects like the Garden of Hope to educate the public about the dangers and insidious nature of anti-Semitism. “The hostage taker, the terrorist, was ranting all kinds of anti-Semitic garbage. This is old-fashioned anti-Semitism,” she said. “We’re here to educate and show the truth, not the lies.”
Jerome is herself the child of Holocaust survivors. “My father was a very successful businessman. PhD, engineer who owned several businesses. Everything was taken from him, because he was Jewish,” she said in her remarks.
Both her parents, who were living in Hungary during World War II, lost many members of their families to the reign of terror of the Arrow Cross, a group of Hungarians who collaborated with the Nazis.
“In Budapest, where my father and mother were living, their neighbors and business friends did something else,” Jerome said. Her father’s business associates risked their own lives by sheltering the couple from the Arrow Cross. One section of the Garden of Hope will focus on honoring those righteous Christians who protected their Jewish neighbors, as well as the Allied troops who liberated the Nazi death camps at the end of the war.
One of the women in attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony is the daughter of one of the liberators, a US Army soldier who helped free the surviving prisoners from the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. She recalls that her father never spoke about his wartime experiences, except when he was among his brothers in arms at reunions of World War II veterans.
“If they were off in a corner, we left them alone, because that was the only time that I saw my Daddy cry,” she remembers.
Since the garden will be built in a flood-prone area, all of the exhibits will be designed to be flood-resistant. The city of Houston has permitted the Garden of Hope for construction. Construction documents, which are currently being finalized, will be send to a short list of contractors within the next six to eight weeks. The Holocaust Remembrance Association expects to have a contractor selected by the beginning of April, with construction slated to start in August or September.
Christine Ege, HRA director, said the garden will help to fulfill the association’s purpose of not just bringing historic facts to light, but, sensitizing people’s hearts to the underlying issues surrounding the Holocaust.
“The garden is meant to be a physical expression of that goal,” she said. “It’s been so many years, so many decades, since the Holocaust that people have sort of glazed over, when we talk about it. They say, ‘Why do we keep having to talk about this?’ It’s so we don’t have to do the same thing again.”
The HRA will host a Dinner Theater Soirée, Saturday January 29 at 7 p.m. in the Nathaniel Center on Russel Palmer Road to raise funds for the Garden of Hope. The evening will feature a musical drama presented by Opera Leggera in honor of Polish national hero and Holocaust victims Janusz Korczak, world-renowned pediatrician, educator, author and advocate for children’s rights, and his partner, Stefa Wilczynaska. For information, call 888-546-8111 or email [email protected]