Ceremony marks 50th anniversary of Holocaust memorial on Parkway

Jacob Ehrlich, 6, of East Falls, at the base of the statue during the annual memorial ceremony at the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs.
Jacob Ehrlich, 6, of East Falls, at the base of the statue during the annual memorial ceremony at the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: April 29, 2014

PHILADELPHIA On a bright, sunny afternoon on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City, Clara Vinoker, 80, a Holocaust survivor, sat with more than 500 people to pay tribute to the six million Jews killed in the Nazi genocide of World War II.

Vinoker, clutching photographs of her mother, father, and 6-year-old brother, who died in Ukraine during the Holocaust, said, voice cracking, "All of them were killed, but I survived."

She was among the crowd that assembled on the Parkway at 16th Street to mark the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs.

The monument was the first public statue in America to pay tribute to those who perished in the Holocaust.

Vinoker noted she was among the Holocaust survivors who commissioned the statue by artist Nathan Rapoport, a native of Warsaw. She said she was a member of the Association of Jewish New Americans, which cooperated with the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia to present the soaring statue to the city on April 26, 1964.

The statue, 18 feet tall from base to top, "depicts a mother gasping her last breaths as flames envelop her," according to a document provided by organizers. It also depicts a child holding the scroll of the Torah - the five books of Moses - and several arms symbolizing Jewish resistance.

Annually, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia marks the statue's anniversary.

Addressing the crowd, Mayor Nutter, wearing a blue-and-silver yarmulke on a stage flanked by the U.S and Israeli flags, hailed the statue.

"It was the first monument to the Holocaust on public land in United States," he said. "With sorrow, we remember the men, women, and children who did not survive."

The mayor was among several speakers in the somber but uplifting program, which included songs by the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Philadelphia Girls Choir.

More than a dozen wreaths of blue and white flowers were put at the base of the statue.

There also was a candle-lighting ceremony and the reading of several poems accompanied by violinist Philip Kates of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The keynote speaker, James E. Young, a professor in the department of Judaic and Near Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said that before the monument was built in Philadelphia, New York City rejected plans for a Holocaust memorial.

He said officials there decided the proposed statue was too large and they were concerned other groups would request memorials.

"This is the first monument in America that actually acknowledges . . . that the stories and memories of immigrants must be included in American history and memories," Young said after the ceremonies.

The event also marked Yom HaShoah (the Day of the Holocaust), a memorial day for those who died in the Holocaust, also known as the Shoah.

Asked about the significance of the statue's being in Philadelphia, Young said, "It's the City of Brotherly Love. And you have the Liberty Bell, which is probably most appropriate of all."

He urged the audience to "always ask, 'Toward what end do we remember? Why do we remember? Why today?' And remember to act, as well."

Miriam Caine of the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors said, "The survivors continue to inspire us by their strength of will, their energy, and all they have accomplished after living through hell. . . . But for the survivors and their families, the history of the Holocaust does not move on. It cannot and must not be forgotten."


vclark@phillynews.com

215-854-5717

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