A challenge of conveying the unimaginable and remembering the unthinkable.
In 1984, a small group of Holocaust survivors joined together to develop a permanent memorial in Miami to the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis. A year later, the Holocaust Memorial Committee was formally established as a private non-profit organization.
The committee decided that Miami Beach was the perfect location for such a memorial, as South Florida has one of the highest populations of Holocaust survivors in the United States, with many of them residing within the city limits.
“There are 20-25,000 survivors in this region,” the late Abe Resnick, one of the founding committee members and a Miami Beach City Commissioner, told The Miami Herald in 1985. “We felt this is the right place to put up a monument to represent all of Florida.”
VOICES AGAINST THE MEMORIAL
As preparations were being made to build the Memorial, there were those who objected to its erection. Several disapproved, arguing that Miami Beach was a place for “sun and fun” and the Memorial would be too somber for the vacation destination.
“Gloom is doom! Don’t turn one of this city’s few bright spots into a cemetery,” said Miami Beach Garden Club member Florence Shubim. In the mid-80s, the Garden Club had plans to expand their center adjacent to where the Memorial stands, which were quashed by the Memorial’s proposed footprint.
Others said the Memorial’s presence on city-owned land violated the separation of Church and State, arguing it was a religious monument. While the Memorial is in memory of the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust, it is a patently historical monument and any religious symbols were removed.
A PLEA TO THE CITY
On November 27, 1984, approximately 500 people packed a meeting of the Miami Beach Planning Board. Dozens of Holocaust survivors from across South Florida were bused in for the meeting, many making emotional pleas to the Board and hoping to sway votes.“I lost five sisters and five brothers,” 79-year-old Clara Linder said in Yiddish through a translator, The Miami Herald reported. “They were all killed.”Machela Oksenhenbler, 80, pulled up her sleeve to show a grainy tattoo on her forearm bearing the numbers 54092, put there by the Nazis.The Planning Board unanimously approved the Memorial; eight days later, the City Commission also approved plans for the Memorial.
A BASHERT LOCATION
The proposed location spanned several city blocks with a physical address of 1933-1945 Meridian Avenue, street numbers that exactly match the years of the Nazi regime and its war against the Jews. The coincidence led many to believe the location of the Memorial was bashert (fate), and also helped convince several city legislators that the Memorial belonged in that specific spot.
DESIGNING THE MEMORIAL
The Holocaust Memorial Committee then turned to architect Kenneth Treister with the immense challenge of conveying the unimaginable and remembering the unthinkable: designing the Memorial.
Click here to read about Treister’s creative journey, in his own words
“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,” Treister said, discussing how he thought about memorializing the Holocaust vicitims. “Each one probably died thinking that no one would ever care, no one would ever know, no one would ever remember.”
INFO ON TOURS
A brochure, available for a suggested $2 donation, leads you on a self-guided tour of the Memorial. Visitors generally spend between one to one-and-a-half hours touring the Memorial. Groups of 10 or more people must make a reservation before visiting the Memorial. Click here for more information on making a reservation.
Groups or classes wishing to visit the Memorial must make a reservation no less than two weeks before their planned visit. Group reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis and a confirmation letter will be sent by email once a reservation is made. Click here for more information on making a reservation.
Teachers seeking to bring students to the Memorial, click here for more information.
- Prepare your students with background information about the Holocaust. You can find comprehensive materials by clicking here.
- We suggest students bring paper and a pen or pencil to take notes and to take a rubbing of a name on the Memorial Wall.
- Have students dress appropriately. The Memorial is an outdoor venue—we suggest bringing hats, sunglasses, sun block and bottled water.
- Please call if you are running late or need to cancel your visit.
- Give students the opportunity to use the restrooms and get a drink of water before starting the tour.
- After your visit, have students write a poem or essay about their experience at the Memorial. They are welcome to share their work on our visitor blog. You may also Click here for the complete Teacher Resource Guide.
Have a memorable visit by staying at the Cavalier’s South Beach Art Deco hotel that is located on Ocean Drive in front of the beach. For reservations call (305) 673 1199.