NISKAYUNA — The design for the Holocaust memorial proposed for Niskayuna has changed — but some concerns have not.
Some town residents who live near the two-acre plot of land off Troy-Schenectady road — adjacent to Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery — spoke against the proposed location Wednesday night in a crowded Niskayuna Town Hall.
About 35 people spoke during the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, with most supporting the project imagined by Dr. Michael Lozman and other members of the Jewish community. Lozman and others who have worked on the project — including Neil Golub of Price Chopper/Market 32, Rabbi Matthew Cutler of Congregation Gates of Heaven and Dan Dembling of Dembling + Dembling Architects in Albany — all spoke before public commentary began.
The new plan for the memorial includes a large Star of David-type structure that would be built on land donated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. In renderings of the memorial, Holocaust subjects such as “Names,” “Numbers,” “Bearing Witness,” “Final Solution,” “Kristallnacht” and “Never Again” are on the “walls” of the star.
Six slanted stone towers, all 18 feet tall, rise from the center of the Star of David. A version of broken railroad tracks — representing the rails over which Jews were transported to concentration camps — are on the exterior of the “star.” A boxcar is represented in a red brick wall, with faces peering out in a couple sections.
Lozman repeated his belief the memorial will be a powerful educational tool.
“If just one child looks at that memorial and says, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to do something about it, to make sure this never happens again,'” Lozman said. “If only one child does it, then the whole thing is of value. What if 100 children do it? Maybe 1,000 children do it. You can see how this can change the world.”
Carolina Wierzbowski lives in the Troy-Schenectady Road neighborhood and said she applauds the new design.
“I am not against your cause,” Wierzbowski said, adding her father spent time in a concentration camp during the 1940s. And she agreed with the contention that disrespect is growing in society.
“I don’t believe at all that a stone memorial in a cemetery is going to fix that,” Wierzbowski said to the memorial proponents and the more than 100 people who attended the meeting.
She said she is also concerned for her neighborhood.
“Your proposal seeks to change the neighborhood I live in to a non-residential use and threatens to establish a precedent for other groups, perhaps those not as well intentioned to follow suit,” Wierzbowski said.
Several speakers told stories about relatives who experienced the Holocaust.
Paul Miesing of Guilderland spoke in favor.
“There is no cost, and very little attractive alternatives exist for the proposed site, the size of a roundabout,” he said. “There will not be a high rise building nor any increase in traffic although it’s zoned for residential.
“The U.S. Holocaust Museum, in this nation’s capital, is not just about Jewish genocide but about human rights and rebuilding lives,” Miesing added. “Isn’t that something all of us should be for?”
Debbie Regan worries about the present, and the future. She heard all about the Holocaust from her grandparents, who survived the camps.
“In a world where Holocaust denial is rampant and anti-Semitic acts continue to occur, the risk of these memories of the Holocaust fading into oblivion becomes more and more real,” she said. “I have five very young children … the youngest Holocaust survivors today are around 74 years old.
“My children one day are going to live in a word where no holocaust survivors remain. We must continue to teach future generations to not forget. This Holocaust memorial is more important now than ever …this memorial will be a reminder that we must take action and respond whenever we see hatred, prejudice and anti-Semitism.”
Mishka Luft worried about vandalism.
“It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen the day after it opens,” she said. “And it’s going to happen continuously. Who’s going to clean up and fix it when that happens, and it’s going to happen a lot.”
Ellen Nitchman was concerned about increased traffic, especially on her street – Old Troy Road is directly across Troy-Schenectady Road and the proposed site of the memorial.
“Old Troy Road is already a turn-around for traffic, and this would only increase in our residential neighborhood,” she said. “If traffic exiting the memorial site was limited to right-hand turn only, no doubt those who want to turn left going east on Route 7 would scoot right across Route 7 onto Old Troy Road.”
Many speakers talked about the educational benefits a memorial would provide. Others said it would become a place for reflection: Donna Elia, a Presbyterian minister, said peace would be another benefit.
“This will help me in my work of peace-making and I think that’s true for a great many people,” she said.
Carl Rosner, a longtime resident of Niskayuna, survived a concentration camp. “I’m proud of Niskayuna,” he said. “Niskayuna will be noted on the state stage, the national stage and the international stage for having the guts and the idea of having such an amazing memorial built in our midst.”
“Why Niskayuna?” asked Paul Wein of Guilderland, a former Niskayuna resident. “Why not Niskayuna.”
Bob DiSarro, who lives across the street from the proposed site, has spoken against the memorial’s location in the past. He did so again on Wednesday, and also criticized the town’s new farmers market — scheduled for three Saturdays this summer at the Niskayuna Co-op.
“To me, putting a million-dollar memorial in the woods is pretty much the same as putting a farmers market in the parking lot of another market,” he said.
Ben Rosen agreed the memorial is needed. But for children, he believes the design is too abstract. “We need to have something a child can connect with,” he said.
Golub, who worked on the memorial project with Lozman and other principals, said after the meeting he doesn’t understand concerns of people who live both near – and one mile away from – the proposed site.
“I’ve lived across the street from the Dominican Retreat (on Union Street) for over 60 years,” he said. “In all of that time, I have never, ever, ever been encumbered by anything that went on at the retreat and they’ve had events and lots of people there and all kinds of stuff going on over all the years. I can never remember being offended by anything that went on there.”
He wondered how a memorial, in a wooded area, would interrupt critics’ lives and values. And for people who suggested moving the memorial to a more urban setting, such as Albany, Golub wondered where in Albany the project might find space.
“You can’t find parking space in Albany to handle the traffic they currently have,” he said.
Golub also believes worries about vandalism, maintenance schedules and other potential problems should not be considered worries at all.
“They presented a parade of imaginary horribles,” he said.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-39-5-3124 or at [email protected].