“We are here, on this gentle spring day, to remember the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust and to mark that evil with a monument to the victims of that injustice.”
—from the remarks made by Presiding Justice Francis T. Murphy (1927–2016) at the dedication of “Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust”
Established by the United States Congress as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust, we observe Holocaust Remembrance Day today, Thursday, 08/April/2021 with a look at a little-noticed Holocaust memorial.
A part of the façade of the five-story, white-marble clad, 1950s annex to the New York State Appellate Division Courthouse, the “Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust” can be missed easily amid the white marble. It, too, is sculpted of the same stone. The courthouse, which opened in 1900, is a riot of Beaux-Arts decorative features, an excellent example of City Beautiful-era design.
Artist Harriet Feigenbaum (1939–present), herself a Jew, was awarded the commission to design a Holocaust memorial by the Appellate Court. Ms. Feigenbaum based her design on a photograph snapped during Allied aerial reconnaissance in 1944. Ms. Feigenbaum chose to model her artwork from this photo as her way to ask a question: How could the Allies snap the photo, and then knowing the existence of the camp, and doing to nothing about it?
This little-noticed piece of public art manages to be simultaneously intriguing and subtle, giving us cause to pause and take a closer look.
The artwork, in the form of a non-structural column, has swirling flames chiseled along its entire height. The slender, vertical form reflects the Courthouse’s front columns; and the marble’s dark veining helps to create the impression of smoke. The flames seem to be lapping in the direction of the Courthouse, symbolically threatening justice itself. The column represents a smoke stack at Auschwitz the crematorium, where the gassed bodies of the camp’s inmates were destroyed. At the base of the chimney, at eye level when standing on the sidewalk, is the aerial view of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Labels such as “torture chamber” and “execution wall” identify areas of the camp.
Beneath the relief of the camp is carved “August 25, 1944,” the date of the Allied aerial photograph. The words “Indifference to Injustice is the Gate to Hell” are engraved half above the relief and half below it. Under the image of the camp’s layout is a giant flame extending below grade, another reminder of Crematorium 1 at Auschwitz.
Dedicated at a ceremony outside the Courthouse on the 22nd of May 1990 the “Memorial to the Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust” stands at 38 feet tall. At the time the columnar marble sculpture was the only one of its king on a public building in United States. It is a permanent part of the Madison Avenue exterior of the Courthouse’s annex.
Attending the ceremony and addressing the audience were New York State governor Mario M. Cuomo; New York City mayor David N. Dinkins; former a mayor, Edward I. Koch; and the Appellate Division Courthouse’s Presiding Justice Murphy, who, together with Harold J. Reynolds, the Clerk of the Court came up with the idea for the memorial.
Ms. Feigenbaum’s artistry transforms a silent shaft of Carrera marble into a powerful and meaningful symbol of incomprehensible injustice; all who see it are called to remember what happened, and it dares us not to forget. The Courthouse’s address is 27 Madison Avenue, opposite to Madison Square Park. The Memorial is at far north edge of the Appellate Division Courthouse’s annex, next to a black, boxy skyscraper.
Given the name Auschwitz by the Nazis, the town of Oświęcim, Poland was made infamous when the Nazis established a concentration camp there. It was liberated by the Soviet army on 27/January/1945. Estimates have been made that one million people were killed in its gas chambers, most of them Jews. As a point of reference, throughout New York’s five boroughs there are approximately 1.1 million Jews living. The Nazi’s Final Solution to rid Europe of Jews resulted in the loss of more than six million Jewish lives; others, including Poles, Roma, and homosexuals, were also put to death in the Nazi’s concentration camps.
Designated a New York City Landmark for its exterior in 1966, and for its interior in 1981, the New York State Appellate Division Courthouse is also listed in the New York State and National Registries of Historic Places. The lobby and courtroom can be seen by visitors when court is not in session, generally Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9:00AM to 12PM and Fridays after 2:00PM. The building closes at 5:00PM.
Walk About New York includes Madison Square, the Courthouse’s neighbor, on its Five Squares and a Circle Tour. What British prime minister’s mother lived in this fashionable neighborhood of the 1850s? Take the Tour; Know More!