NISKAYUNA — If all goes according to plan, the region’s first Holocaust memorial could be open to the public in Niskayuna by the middle of next year.
A passion project proposed by Latham-based orthodontist Dr. Michael Lozman, the initial plans for the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial went before the Niskayuna planning board on Monday, Nov. 13.
“The type of memorial I want it to be is educational and reverent — a place where people could learn about the Holocaust and consequently develop an understanding of the horrors that took place [so that] history does not repeat itself," Lozman said.
The proposed memorial would sit on about 2 acres of land just east of Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery on Route 7. The land is technically part of the cemetery, which is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, but it would be donated by the diocese for the purpose of the memorial.
A stand of trees would be left in place to buffer the memorial from the cemetery. Visitors would park in the back of the memorial. The walkway from the parking lot to the front of the memorial would feature educational kiosks detailing the period’s history.
If built, visitors facing the memorial head on would notice railroad tracks in the ground, a boxcar and a wall 80 feet long and 20 feet tall, according to plans for the memorial.
Lozman said the railroad played a major role in transporting Jews to concentration camps during the Nazi regime.
“Six million Jews died in the Holocaust,” Lozman said. “Four million of those came to the death camps by railroad.”
The imposing wall is meant to symbolize a gas chamber — the primary method of murder in concentration camps.
Wire fencing similar to that found at the concentration camp in Auschwitz will surround the memorial plaza.
All in all, the planning board seemed amenable to the concept of the memorial. Members were mainly concerned with safety and maintenance issues. The current design calls for the boxcar to be open for people to enter, but the board had safety concerns about that aspect of the design.
The memorial is proposed to be a self-guided operation, open from dawn until dusk.
If built, Lozman hopes the memorial will be a place of education and reflection for the whole community, from elementary students to those who lived through the horrors.
The next step is to determine what kind of variances are necessary for site-plan approval and building permits.
Lozman has spent 16 years working to keep history alive. Since 2001, he has been taking groups of students to Eastern Europe to restore Jewish cemeteries destroyed by Nazi troops during World War II.
“When cemeteries disappear, then there is no tangible evidence the Jews were even in and contributed to the society in Eastern Europe,” Lozman said.
Lozman said he just completed restoration work on a cemetery — the 15th that he has restored — in Belarus. He has restored cemeteries in both Belarus and Lithuania.
“I feel a responsibility to the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust to maintain the cemeteries and preserve their names so they don’t fall into oblivion,” Lozman said.
The restoration projects include more than just pulling weeds. Lozman said groups reinstall iron fences around the cemetery and restore the headstones, in addition to landscaping work.
Before taking the college students to the former Eastern Bloc towns on the restoration trips, Lozman takes them to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
He has taken students from local universities, including Siena, on the trips, as well as students from farther-flung colleges like Dartmouth and Duke.
For the Holocaust Memorial, Lozman has partnered with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, which identified the location. He said he has also garnered support from the Capital District Board of Rabbis.
Lozman said he is grateful for the support and encouragement he has received for the project.
Several area architects, lawyers and designers have volunteered their time to the project, including architects Dan Dembling, Dan Hershberg, Dan Sanders and landscape architect Scott Lewendon. Attorney Dan Hubble, of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna LLP, is also lending his expertise.