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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial

Here is the "more later" followup promised in yesterday's International Holocaust Remembrance Day post.

Miami Beach used to be the retirement mecca for seemingly millions of little old Jewish men and women, back in the 1960s to 1980s.

Droves of elderly babushki came from all over the United States -- content to spend out their years rocking in front of hotel porches, all along Collins and Washington Avenues.

This is the Miami Beach long-time residents of South Florida recall, more than the flamingo pastels of Miami Vice, or the wild hedonism of the Versace Era.

But the problem with the elderly is that they don't last, and South Beach has nearly drained itself of the Jewish pensioner, and thereto, even more distressingly, of the Jewish Holocaust survivor.

I recall, as a teenager when I came to visit my parents in Florida, that we would rent a lovely room at the Winterhaven Hotel on Ocean Drive, for a fortnight every summer.

And as long as I live, I'll never forget the check-in clerk at the front desk, an elderly man whose hand shook with age, as he handed me the room keys whenever I came back from the beach. One day, when he was extending the keys to me, I saw some lettering or some such, on his wrist.

With all the innocence of the child I still was, I exclaimed, "Oh, you have a tattoo!". Like a sailor, I thought.

Drawing himself up as if slapped, he drew back his shirt cuff, and turned to me, nodding.

No words. But a look of such heart-numbing pain, that I can never erase it from my memory as long as I live.

In front of me, stood a man of indeterminate age, originally from Poland, now working in exchange for his lodging in the top floor at a Miami Beach hotel, but once when he had been exactly my age, he survived Auschwitz.

Auschwitz. The Holocaust. Gas chambers. Nazis. Extermination Camps...

A litany of such 20th century monstrosity that it beggars the modern mind, to say it out loud.

Being half-German, I have a special duty, an earnest consciousness, and an overwhelming desire to remember what can never be forgotten by Man.

And though my travellogues are expeditions into South Florida wonderlands, where nothing is gloomy, today allow me to take you to the Miami Beach Jewish Holocaust Memorial...

...because certain moments cannot be jollied up.

They cannot be trivialised, if they are to mean SOMETHING.


THE JEWISH HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL IN SOUTH BEACH






Many South Floridians don't even know the Jewish Holocaust Memorial exists.

Oh, maybe they do, in the way one knows there is a Miami Seaquarium or Monkey Jungle -- tourist destinations you somehow push to the back of your mind, far removed from your daily life, unless you live near it, and thus, one of the most moving sights of Miami/Miami Beach, is completely unknown to millions of its residents.

How can you miss it? As you pull into Meridian Avenue, there it is, immense, imposing, unforgettable.

I went there at night, and not the daytime, because in my humble opinion, this Michelangeloesque upraised hand in cast bronze, is at its most awe-inspiring with the setting sun behind it.

And when the skies have been threatening to open all day long, with menacing clouds above, I can't even explain to you the shades of inky blue that form a backdrop behind it.

Even this startling photograph, does not do the scene justice.






As you approach the memorial, one of the first sculptures you will see in this park, is that of a mother gathering within the folds of her skirts, her two young children.

I need not tell you that this is precisely what happened, a million times over, during the Holocaust, as parents and children faced the ultimate fear -- fear of the gathering storm of hate.

But inscribed on the wall just behind Mother and Children, are the words of Anne Frank.

They say, with the convinced heart of a child wise beyond her years:

"That in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."

And no matter what horrors I have read, witnessed, or experienced myself, so do I, so do I, Anne...





I have a confession to make to you: I suffer from Stendahl's Syndrome.

When Stendahl went to Naples, back in the mid-1800s, he was overwhelmed by the statuary, the monuments and reliquaries to be seen in such abundance in Italy. His pulse raced, he became dizzy, and he often observed others in exactly the same predicament.

I almost fainted when I approached the David statue, and though I was told by my parents it's a common enough occurence (a psychological reaction to seeing a well-known face or work of art, right in front of you, which can overwhelm a person), I didn't want to tell them that I was just scared of David's enormous proportions.

And guess what?

I had the exact same reaction to this towering hand, which as you can see, is well over 20 feet in size.

But I bit my lips, and carried on, cognisant that I was taking photographs of The Sculpture of Love and Anguish, as it's properly called, not just for me, but for all of you.

So, thanks Sundries readers, for making me face, and conquer at least this one fear.

After all, when you think of what the statue represents, how absolutely ridiculous are any of our niggly fears compared to it.






I think the architects who designed this pond-framed statue, understood instinctively that it was a powerful, perhaps too powerful monument, and consequently, sealed it off by a moat, and surrounded it by an open-air walkway called The Garden of Meditation.

I cannot tell you how pretty, how inviting, and peaceful it is.

You have to come down here, and see it yourself one day.





Jerusalem has Yad Vashem. I've been told by many friends who have been there, that the experience is almost claustrophobic in intensity.

But our flowery trellis path here in the Miami Beach version liberates the spirit, free to gulp the horrible significance of its gorgeous black granite slabs -- that which contains the visual and historical memories of the Holocaust.

As you continue walking along its reflecting testimonials, you begin to prepare yourself for something a little more sombre, a little more emotional, than the peeping flowers and moonlit sky offer above.






Perhaps the JFK grave in Arlington has made all Eternal Flames mere copy-cats, but when you see this flame, licked by the cheery Florida wind right and left, you know it's absolutely fitting to see it there.

I shot the Eternal Flame without flash, just as you would see it were you to approach it yourself.

But the images of the Holocaust are also imprinted on our collective memories in black and white, so here is a Youtube link, with the flame flickering to the sound of children's voices.





Now, turning to your left, you can see the opening to the Dome of Contemplation -- in the sunlight, its many crevices craftily reveal hidden messages...





...like this stark, horrible image of the JUDE inside a Magen David, above.

The yellow cloth Star of David, a new kind of brand for a new-old kind of genocide.






The long, narrow road to the concentration camps, to the open pits, to the firing squads, to the cattle cars, and finally, into the gas chambers were walked by each person who died there.

It is called The Lonely Path, and I knew I had to come at night, to see it. In the sunlight, it's almost cheery Jerusalem pink stone walls give it a different feel entirely.

But at night, with the songs of children representing innocent life about to die, well, let's just say, there is a reason my hand was unsteady as I shot the footage below.









And here it is, just a few feet away.

What does the structure represent, you ask?

It is said that every memorial visitor has a different interpretation. On face value, it represents the hand of a Holocaust victim -- with number tattoo near the wrist -- lifting itself to the heavens, being weighted by dozens of figures of men, women and children, all around it.

I don't know.

Would you be offended if I told you that to me, it represents the hand of God?

Many Holocaust survivors and those who read of it, believe that such incidents as the Showa are proof positive that there is no such entity as God.

How can there be a God, when He allows such unbelievable evil to exist?

I don't know. I can only tell you what is in my heart.

That to me, the Holocaust and other incidents like it, represent a reaching out of God, to try to make human beings understand...






...that they must NEVER FORGET ITS LESSONS.

That to forget is to allow evil a chance in the world. That we do forget, time and time again, is our real human tragedy.

God bless all those who perished in this and other Holocausts.

May we be strong to face hate, and to fight it wherever it raises a hand to smite us.

Labels: , ,

14 Comments:

  • I, too, found this post overwhelming. Forgive my prejudice, made from not visiting there, but I just don't associate such artistic gravitas with Miami. Thank you for such a serious post and such a well-organized travelogue, Victoria. I'll be going back to again a couple of times today.

    By Blogger Ron, at Sun Jan 28, 07:50:00 am GMT-5  

  • I am former Miami Beacher.... this monument was one of my most cherised places of the Beach, far from the hustle and bustle of Ocean Boulevard. Curiously enough, the hand coming out of the pond reminded me of another tragedy, the tragedy of the Cuban rafters... If somebody is reading this and remembering that one day an crudely made oar was left on the walk around the pond, that was me. I found the oar in a raft wreck in Key West. Standing on the beach in Key West, and seeing the wreck transported me to the monument whose power communicate so much to me....

    By Blogger Charlie Bravo, at Sun Jan 28, 09:08:00 am GMT-5  

  • The unfortunate thing is that as a species we HAVE forgotten, at least to say never again. Right after WW II there was stalin (and I meant to use lower case) and the death of no less than 16 MILLION Russians. The chinese "cultural revolution." A succession of dictators and fanatics in Africa, amin, the Hutus and Tutsis, the whole current genocide in Darfour. pol pott in Cambodia.
    saddam and the Kurds.

    They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, well from where I stand it appears that human history has been one long infinitely repeating progression of death.


    jim

    By Anonymous mr whipple, at Sun Jan 28, 09:22:00 am GMT-5  

  • Excellent work Victoria! I grew up in the Miami Beach you described. I met many Holocaust survivors and I am deeply touched by your post.

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Sun Jan 28, 01:36:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I, too, found this post overwhelming. Forgive my prejudice, made from not visiting there, but I just don't associate such artistic gravitas with Miami. Thank you for such a serious post and such a well-organized travelogue, Victoria. I'll be going back to again a couple of times today

    I'm glad you liked it, Ron.

    Listen, I know it's a hard blogpost to read and more to the point, to look at, but sometimes one just has to.

    You know, I'm an unusually sunny person. I see the world through rose-tinted glasses, and I suppose, that's the way I'll always be even if suddenly, everything goes wrong (touch wood), 'cause that's my nature.

    But I have a vein of seriousness deep within me, too. And sometimes, it peeps out.

    In the language of the day, it keeps me centered.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 28, 07:24:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I am former Miami Beacher....

    I remember, my dear Charlie.

    this monument was one of my most cherised places of the Beach, far from the hustle and bustle of Ocean Boulevard.

    Precisely. Ocean Drive to me, is not my favourite place in the world, I admit.

    Oh, I love to immerse myself in the superficial, into the maniacally sinful (yes, at times), but it's not me.

    There are little spots in South Beach, which are infinitely more me -- and this is one of them.

    Curiously enough, the hand coming out of the pond reminded me of another tragedy, the tragedy of the Cuban rafters...

    True! Good point, and one I hadn't thought of before, Charlie.

    If somebody is reading this and remembering that one day an crudely made oar was left on the walk around the pond, that was me. I found the oar in a raft wreck in Key West. Standing on the beach in Key West, and seeing the wreck transported me to the monument whose power communicate so much to me....

    Oh baby...how poignant this gesture of yours.

    I wonder who amongst the South Beach denizens or tourists who saw the oar, understood what it meant...?

    You know, it's funny you mention the oar and Key West in the same breath.

    Once, when a friend and I went to the Jose Marti centre in Key West (a lovely building, BTW, if small), we went upstairs to the small museum of Cuban-American history in Key West, since at least 1898.

    And there, in one side, was a real-life authentic "balsa" (raft) with oars, rescued from a nameless, faceless Cuban -- who dared to cross the shark-infested water to come to freedom.

    I confess, I cried.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 28, 07:30:00 pm GMT-5  

  • The unfortunate thing is that as a species we HAVE forgotten, at least to say never again. Right after WW II there was stalin (and I meant to use lower case) and the death of no less than 16 MILLION Russians. The chinese "cultural revolution." A succession of dictators and fanatics in Africa, amin, the Hutus and Tutsis, the whole current genocide in Darfour. pol pott in Cambodia.
    saddam and the Kurds.

    They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, well from where I stand it appears that human history has been one long infinitely repeating progression of death.


    Perfect. To comment further, would be to marr its perfection, but let's just say -- it's truth incarnate.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 28, 07:32:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Excellent work Victoria!

    Gracias, Jose. No te imaginas donde fui hoy. Veras. :)

    I grew up in the Miami Beach you described.

    Ohh, no wonder you went to school with Mitch Kaplan, as you once said. Miami Beach High! ...just a few yards away from the Holocaust Memorial, too.

    I met many Holocaust survivors and I am deeply touched by your post.

    I'm deeply grateful for your and other's comments, Jose.

    It's like breathing oxygen, and I feel like doing more, not just for you, or for me, but for posterity.

    Snapshots likes these in the year 2007, will be gold one day.

    Lest future generations forget...

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 28, 07:35:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Thank you very much for your post. I'm a Miami native and have been to the memorial many, many times.

    IMHO, I think it's important for anyone who is planning on visiting it to go in with a clear head, in other words, clear your mind and approach it as if you have no prior knowledge of the Showa to realy feal the weight of what horrors have occured.

    As for your commentary on the non-existance of God, that's what I have experienced with my famly, I am the only practicing Jew. My grandparents usually don't want to even discuss any aspect of the Showa or Judiasm.

    Again, thank you for your post.

    By Blogger B, at Sun Jan 28, 08:52:00 pm GMT-5  

  • (I took the liberty of excising the duplicates, B, since as you say, Blogger has been acting up today)

    Thank you very much for your post. I'm a Miami native and have been to the memorial many, many times.

    Thanks for coming over to the blog, to comment, B. Much appreciated.

    IMHO, I think it's important for anyone who is planning on visiting it to go in with a clear head, in other words, clear your mind and approach it as if you have no prior knowledge of the Showa to realy feal the weight of what horrors have occured.

    I couldn't agree with you more, although it's hard to tell a tourist that -- chances are, s/he is in Miami Beach with a completely different mindset, one of relaxation and fun.

    When I was there, I was next to some Argentinian tourists (or perhaps residents, there are so many illegal ones in SoBe...).

    They were laughing, and challenging the other to take a better picture than the one they took, of the sculpture.

    But off to one side, there was a young girl (to my eye, Jewish, but I could be wrong of course), sitting under the Mother and Children statue, quietly reading a book.

    I didn't have to be told, she was communing with the scene, in her own way -- and it made all the difference to me, to see her do so.

    As for your commentary on the non-existance of God, that's what I have experienced with my famly, I am the only practicing Jew. My grandparents usually don't want to even discuss any aspect of the Showa or Judiasm.

    I am so sorry. I can't relate exactly, but I know from my German relatives, no one wants to speak of this time, let alone those who experienced it as victims.

    I'm sure you have learnt to live with their silence, but it still hurts one just the same.

    Again, thank you for your post.

    My pleasure, B. Welcome back, anytime.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Jan 29, 02:14:00 am GMT-5  

  • I said I wouldn't dishonour the monument's import, by my usual insouciant tone -- but I thought y'all might like this anecdote.

    I was on the phone with Renato, when he was reading/viewing this blogpost, in real-time.

    When he got to the video clip of The Lonely Path, which of course, ends with my close-up of the Hand sculpture, he gasped.

    "It's turning over! God, I thought you had fainted and the camera had fallen on the cobblestones."

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Jan 29, 02:23:00 am GMT-5  

  • Welcome "Stuck on the Palmetto" readers!

    Usually, I place a courtesy linkback in appreciation for having linked to my blogpost -- but Blogger is weird today, and when I go to update, the post goes all screwy.

    So better safe than sorry. Thanks though, Rick!

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Jan 29, 02:53:00 am GMT-5  

  • I completely agree with the post. the memorial is absolutely striking. I am from NY but I visit Miami at least annually and never miss a visit to the memorial, sometimes more then once.
    Some people claim that Miami is not the place for such a memorial. I would disagree. On the contrary, I think it is a perfect place. It is the place where one should never forget and never take things for granted. We, whose families survived the holocaust (directly or indirectly), should always remember those who died even during the happiest times of our lives. this is our duty.....

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