The Memorial began with a Holocaust survivor, Stephan Ross (Szmulek Rozental), who was imprisoned at the age of nine and whose parents, one brother and five sisters were murdered by the Nazis. Between 1940 and 1945, Stephan survived 10 different concentration camps. His back was broken by a guard who caught him stealing a raw potato; another time he was hung for eating a potato. Tuberculosis wracked his body. He once hid in an outhouse, submerged to his neck in human waste, to save himself from being shot. Emaciated and near death, he was liberated from Dachau by American troops at age 14.
When Steve and his brother Harry, the only other surviving family member, were released from Dachau to seek medical attention, they came upon an American tank unit. One of the soldiers jumped off his tank, gave Steve and Harry his rations to eat, and embraced Steve, who fell to his knees, kissed the soldier’s boots, and wept for the first time in years. The soldier gave Steve a piece of cloth with which to wipe his tears. Steve later discovered that the cloth was in fact a U.S. flag: a treasured item that has been kept by Steve and his family as a symbol of freedom, life, compassion and love of the American soldiers.
In 1948, 16-year old Steve was brought to America in 1948 under the auspices of the U.S. Committee for Orphaned Children. Though illiterate upon his arrival in America, he subsequently managed to earn three college degrees and he worked for the City of Boston for more than 40 years, providing guidance and clinical services to inner-city youth and families.
Steve had one dream, one vision and one mission. He wanted to remember, with a memorial, his lost family members among the six million Jewish victims and other innocent people who lost their lives in the Holocaust, those soldiers who liberated the concentration camps; and all the soldiers who helped end the war. He wanted this memorial to serve as a lesson to future generations.
With the encouragement of a number of his Jewish and Christian City of Boston colleagues, Steve formed a committee to put together a proposal. He spoke with William Carmen, a World War II veteran, about the memorial proposal; Carmen immediately embraced the dream and became chairman of the committee. Israel Arbeiter, president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston, also became a member of the committee. Several City of Boston officials, including Mayor Raymond Flynn, supported the effort; soon after Mayor Thomas Menino was elected he also came on board to help.
The New England Holocaust Memorial was dedicated on October 22, 1995 in a public ceremony on the steps of Boston City Hall Plaza. Community and civic leaders spoke of the Memorial’s beauty and the significance of its location on the Freedom Trail. Author/educator Elie Wiesel reminded those gathered that the evil of racism is still very much alive in the world today. With voices of a children’s choir filling the air, he exclaimed, “We must look for hope. There is a marvelous saying by a great Hasidic master: ‘If you look for the spark, you will find it in the ashes.”
The mission to build this poignant monument had been accomplished. The mission of maintaining a dynamic, vibrant memorial for generations to come had just begun.
From the Memorial’s dedication and introductory panels:
“I will give them an everlasting name.” – Isaiah 56:5
Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis created a regime of hate and victimization in Germany that eventually consumed most of Europe. Driven by racist beliefs, they killed millions of men, women, and children in their quest to dominate Europe and to create a “pure and superior” race. The Nazis singled out the Jews for total extermination, their very existence to be erased from history and memory. Before their defeat in 1945, the Nazi regime murdered six million Jews—more than half of Europe’s Jewish population.
This memorial is dedicated to those six million Jewish men, women, and children. Here we create a marker—a place to grieve for the victims and for the destruction of their culture—a place to give them an everlasting name.
We seek to encourage a universal understanding of all that happened in that period. Nearly 11 million people, of many races, religions, and nationalities were murdered by the Nazis. Among the victims were Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissidents, homosexuals, and the mentally and physically disabled.
Survivors of the death camps, those who courageously aided them, and those soldiers who liberated them with compassion were caught up in this great tragedy, and they carry the burden of those memories throughout their lives. We acknowledge each unique experience, as well as the horror of the collective history.
To remember their suffering is to recognize the danger and evil that are possible whenever one group persecutes another. As you walk this Freedom Trail, pause here to reflect on the consequences of a world in which there is no freedom—a world in which basic human rights are not protected. And know that wherever prejudice, discrimination and victimization are tolerated, evil like the Holocaust can happen again.