Division I Explores the New England Holocaust Memorial

By 6th Grader Rhys

This past week, the Division 1 students went to the New England Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston. As we approached, it was hard to distinguish the memorial from a regular public sculpture because of its distinctly modern design. From what I had learned about its location and creators, I expected to see something more like a museum exhibit.

The memorial affected me in a way that I had not expected, and at first I thought it was too artsy to be a memorial, until I read the engravings. The memorial consists of six towers, followed by a series of plaques about the Holocaust and quotes from survivors. On the towers, there are millions of engravings -- each representing a different number -- which represents every person murdered under the Nazi regime. These included Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Romani people, LGBTQ people, and other “outsiders.”

The towers, meant to signify the gassing chambers at the six extermination camps, are made of glass. I have asked myself why the material is glass many times. Although I don’t think there is a definitive answer, one thing the glass could symbolize is the fact that Jews could see everything that was going on, and they could see death, but there was nothing they could do about it. Glass is something that you can see through, but cannot get through without hurting yourself. I also started to think about how I would design a memorial given the opportunity. I think that ultimately, glass might not be my choice for a memorial, because it lets light into the “gas chambers,” represented by vapors continually rising from the grates below. I think opaque material, such as metal would be a better fit for this sort of monument, because many Jews struggled to find light, or hope, throughout the Holocaust.

Our class was very lucky to have a tour guide for the memorial whose grandparents had survived the concentration camps. She shared many stories about her relatives’ experience in the camps, while answering all of the questions we had with lots of energy. We learned many things, including how Jews hid their belongings so that they would not be taken, and what happened after the Jews and other persecuted groups were released.

From this experience, we got a view into what life was like for Jews at the time of the Holocaust, and we also got to reflect on how we remember and memorialize such an unimaginable event.