The R.I. Holocaust Memorial

Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial in the evening after its dedication on Wednesday. (Bob Thayer/Journal)

The Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial in the evening after its dedication on Wednesday afternoon. (Bob Thayer/Journal)

Yesterday saw the dedication of the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial, remembering the more than six million Jews murdered by Hitler and the Nazis, plus the many who escaped, including those who moved to and made a new life in Rhode Island.

The memorial was created by the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island and the Holocaust Education and Resource Center of Rhode Island.

The above lovely photo by Bob Thayer of the memorial ran in today’s Providence Journal with a moving story of the dedication, “Providence’s Holocaust memorial a place to remember and reflect,” by Paul Edward Parker. He wrote of survivor Alice Dreifuss Goldstein, 80, who spoke to an audience of about 200 at the event:

“It’s amazing how many people don’t know about it,” Goldstein said … “The main thing that’s important is that we keep teaching this story.” Speakers at the dedication of the memorial said it would accomplish just that, while also being a place of quiet reflection for people to contemplate the horrors of the Holocaust and the strength of those who endured it.

The memorial, designed by Brown and RISD-based sculptor Jonathan Bonner, sits just south of the World War I Monument by architect Paul Philippe Cret, erected in the 1920s and moved from the demolished Memorial Square to the new Memorial Park in 1996.

Bonner’s design, chosen from 12 entries in a competition, features a crescent of six tapering black granite pillars, perhaps smokestacks, from three to ten feet in height that embrace a curving brick walkway inscribed with railroad tracks leading to a large white granite stone that suggests the memory stones placed by loved ones atop the gravestones of their ancestors.

By Thursday afternoon, about 20 small stones had been placed atop the ovular shape at the center of the memorial. The design strikes me as overly literal but maybe that is why it is so moving. It was a beautiful day. My son Billy and I sat on a bench nearby and watched people walk to and through the space. Some sat near it, perhaps in contemplation. Then we went away. It was sad. It was supposed to be sad, in spite of the feeling of hope embodied by the white stone. But the memorial’s existence here, finally, spoke volumes for hope in the state that bears the word as its motto.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to The R.I. Holocaust Memorial

  1. peterkellow says:

    It is just too easy for consciences to be eased by commemorating and event that has only a tangential relation to RI. Why don’t they commemorate the Great Swamp Fight of 1675 when the settlers killed 300 Narraganset warriors and slaughtered 300 of their wives and children. This was a policy of extermination equally as the Holocaust was. If RI wants to confront truth, confront that.

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    • There is a memorial on the site itself, and so far as I know there exists nobody who considers the event a great victory of the white man over the red man. And so far as I can tell, there are no forces in the world who are still interested in extirpating the Native Americans as is the case with the Jews.

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      • peterkellow says:

        If ‘nobody considers the event a great victory of the white man over the red man’ why does the commemoration you refer to say THE NARRAGANSETT INDIANS WERE DECISEVELY DEFEATED BY THE UNITED FORCES OF THE MASSACHUSETTS BAY, CONNECTICUT AND PLYMOUTH COLONIES with no mention of the 300 women and children slaughtered. This was created by the RI authorities and is a clear case of official massacre denial. But then no one is interested in ‘extirpating the Native Americans’ as you say. So who cares? You obviously see these ‘memorials’ as polemical with an agenda. This is, as I suspected, the real reason for the Holocaust memorial in RI. Memorials should serve only the simply purpose of commemoration. If they have a politising agenda that demeans and abuses the victims. To commemorate they have to speak the truth. The Swamp Fight memorial literally lies. The RI Holocaust memorial is inherently dishonest as there can be no proper justification for it. It can only be a political statement.

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        • And when were those lines inscribed on that monument? Not in recent years, I’d suspect. Why is it so difficult to accept that a memorial to the Holocaust is just a memorial to the Holocaust?

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          • peterkellow says:

            Because it is inappropriate and arbitrary in that setting. In Berlin it IS appropriate. Stalin killed 20 million in the gulag. Mao killed tens of millions. The selection of a Jewish Holocaust memorial in RI is a political statement. It may not be a cheap gesture by the Israeli lobby but lots of people will think that it is. OK, the Israeli lobby is free to put its case. But don’t exploit victims of the holocaust in the process trivialising their suffering. At best it is bad taste at worst deeply degrading and insulting. I am sorry that you cannot see that.

            David’s reply: No, I cannot see that. The design of the memorial may trivialize the Holocaust but that’s a demerit of the design and the designer and those who accepted it, not of the decision to commemorate the Holocaust in Rhode Island. That this memorial might be a “cheap gesture” by the “Israeli lobby” is merely a ridiculous idea. Come on!

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