Holocaust Memorial, Miami Beach

While science traveling in Florida I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach. In vivid contrast to the nearby bikini beach, this memorial brings to life  unfathomable death. The contrast continues as what first appears to be a simple sculpture becomes on closer inspection a spectacularly complex look at the lives destroyed during the interminable years from 1933 to 1945 (which also happens to be the street numbers of Meridian Avenue where the memorial has stood since 1990).

Holocaust Memorial, Miami

A single forearm reaches for the sky, surrounded by a wall, on what appears to be a peaceful island in a pond of water lilies. The initial reaction one gets is a combination of wonder at the four-story high harm and solemn calm at the relatively idyllic setting. And then one begins to focus more closely.

Holocaust Memorial, Miami

Climbing the arm are figures. Agonizing figures. Part of a tattooed number becomes visible, and one starts to become uncomfortable with the realization of what is happening…what had happened.

Holocaust Memorial, Miami

One wall around the back lists names of people who are no more, whose millions of lives were taken as an act of genocide. The list continues inside.

Holocaust Memorial, Miami

Yes, inside; visitors can take a short tunnel deep inside the wall. The tunnel signposts the various concentration camps – Bergen Belsen, Birkenau, Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwicz and more. Once inside you see what is hidden from the initial view. The figures on the arm continue all the way to the Jerusalem stone foundation floor. The pain in their bodies and faces is almost unbearable, as one’s mind cannot grasp how anyone could survive the anquish, the despair, the unimaginable physical toll…or how anyone could inflict this agony upon others.

Holocaust Memorial, Miami

Walking among the figures, it’s difficult to hold back ones emotions. The old…

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…the women…

Holocaust Memorial, Miami

…and the young.

Holocaust Memorial, Miami

It’s a powerful monument that saps the energy from you as the magnitude of what it depicts settles into your comprehension. The memorial was anguishing for the community as well. Seen by some as misplaced so near the fun and sun of Miami’s South Beach, detractors called the sculpture “grotesque” and a “brutal intrusion on the cityscape.” And no wonder. Even today the Holocaust remains a difficult topic…a difficult memory that many would prefer not to think about. The sculptor, Kenneth Treister, described the process of creating the memorial:

“Imagine you’re in a concentration camp in Poland surrounded by the Nazis, no communication with the outside world and you’re suffering and you’re a martyr, you’re giving up your life. Each one probably died thinking that no one would ever care, no one would ever know, no one would ever remember.”

And remember we must, says Treister.

“Six million moments of death cannot be understood…

But we must all try.”

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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8 thoughts on “Holocaust Memorial, Miami Beach

  1. Forgive me for my stupidity, but what is the significance of the arm coming out of the ground (?) Why that image?? What is it supposed to represent, esp with the departed climbing up it??

    I understand some of the local’s objection to it being placed so close to the fun and frolics. But I also see the other side which is to make sure people don’t forget what happened. A reminder that there are flip-sides to life, and there are people that have suffered and still do. Life isn’t all fun and games.

    Anyway, sorry to bombard you with these questions. I’m just intrigued to find out 🙂

    • To some extent the sculpture lets you find your own interpretation. In the second photo you see that the arm reaching for the sky shows a tattooed number from Auschwitz. I imagine the arm and tormented figures are desperately searching for an escape from their horrors.

      I think the layout is as powerful as the sculpture. You begin with a tranquil pond, and as you walk around it you pass by the names of those who suffered, then walk through a tunnel with names of concentration camps into an inner sanctum of horrific, and horrified, statues. With each step you can feel the pain more deeply. I know I did.

      • Hello David. I’ve had time to think about the sculpture and what it means to me, and I think the large arm represents the Jews as a whole rising up, but they bring with it the anguish of the individuals who suffered as represented by the smaller figures – they may rise up, but what they endured will never be forgotten.

        I too think the contrast of the peacefulness of the lake by the name plaques of those who died adds to the whole image. I can imagine the feelings brought up walking through this. And regardless of the ‘grumblers’ who opposed its build, I’m glad it went ahead.

        Thank you for sharing this post 🙂

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