Communities that Remember Tragedy

It is crucial to our culture today to recognize the wrongdoings of the past in a way that honors the affected groups, but in the case of the Holocaust many of the memorials are just now being highlighted as crucial parts to the Jewish Culture prevalent in America. When people think of Jewish memorials, we often time think of the Holocaust. However, there are many memorials that actually celebrate the Jewish communities in American cities and admire their perseverance. In this digital exhibit, I will argue that these memorials, built during and following the Second World War, demonstrate how Jewish populations deserve recognition for establishing communities while still honoring the past.

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This memorial depicts gas chamber victims and one man left standing holding on the barbed wire. There is hopelessness in his face as he is left alone and only left surrounded by 10 dead bodies lying on the group on top of one another which is extremely morbid. ​The artist, George Sengal, is drawing attention to the randomness of surviving these death camps and also how rare it is because the majority were massacred. The bodies in the background are holding a number of items that are religiously and symbolically significant.  Some of these items are perceived to create a biblical link between Christians and Jews such as how one women is grasping an apple. This is the way in which the artist is attempting to make this tragedy apply to the mass population in San Francisco and not be only a memorial for the Jews. 

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Hyde Park is lesser know memorial to the Jewish population of Virginia, but it carries an important message about there were Jewish immigrants from Europe prior to World War II. In acknowledging the fact that there were was a Jewish community established before World War II, Hyde Park serves as a reminder of how there is a lack of recognition for how Jewish immigrants have been attempting to establish a home in the United States for longer than many realize. This community did see a surge in immigration during the time of Nazi Germany and there was also an increase in agricultural practices. It was a representation of how the population of the time was welcoming of their companions that were displaced because of the tragedy. Thus, it is a recognized site for refugees to come and be welcome, but then it morphed into a example of how Jewish communities were thriving and continued to persevering together through the devastating times. 

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The Jewish Center at Coney Island is a social and cultural hub to grow their community and increase the connectivity between New York Jews. Modeled after Christian facilities such as the YMCA, it was a representation of how religion in a non-official setting could serve to build community. It emphasizes how religion is a bonding point and how there is strength in numbers. As a whole, today the Jewish Center at Coney Island is a symbol of Jewish community and defining the perseverance of the Jews in major city such as New York to carve their own path within society. On the interior of the building, there are beautiful stain glass windows will symbols of Judaism including a Torah and other religious items. This are important because possessing and worshiping with these items during WWII would have been grounds for persecution in Nazi Germany. In making these into artistic windows, these images can be illuminated and appreciated when they were once used as a weapon of mass exodus. 

All three of these monuments are symbolic of how Jewish communities have emerged in major cities despite tragic pasts which would have deterred many from celebrating a religion which once got them persecuted. Additionally, powerful images of the holocaust serve as a reminder of the past, but also come together to bring together people of all religions to recognize the past. There is a specific contrast between the white, bleak nature of the Holocaust Memorial at Lands End and the beautiful stained glass windows of the Jewish Community Center at Coney Island is a representation of how Jewish culture has grown to be perceived as beautiful when it was once weaponize by some. Whether is it by outwardly addressing the tragedy to inform and unite the public, creating a sanctuary for persecuted groups, or finding a place of safe, welcoming worship, the Jewish population in the United States has flourished despite their trying past. It is that perseverance that should be highlighted and celebrated because they show how by coming together, people can fight their fears without giving into the pressures of societies that want to diminish their cultures. 

Overall, it is imperative to present day society and culturally sensitive to Jewish communities that people recognize their hardships, but still work to commend them for the ways in which they have established new norms of worship and gathering. Also, the different uses of materials and color choices can play a large role in showing the transformation between what once was during the tragic time of WWII and present day communities.