NISKAYUNA — Some Niskayuna residents are worried a Holocaust memorial proposed for Route 7 will adversely affect traffic patterns and drastically change their residential neighborhood.
Others believe the memorial is a way to remember the millions of Jews who died in concentration camps during World War II and serve as an educational reminder that such atrocities must never happen again.
Both opinions were offered Tuesday night, as about 120 people packed the board room at Niskayuna Town Hall for a public hearing on the project proposed by Dr. Michael Lozman, a Latham orthodontist.
The board will conduct other meetings on the project; no decision was made Tuesday.
Plans for the two-acre, $1.4 million memorial on the grounds of Holy Redeemer Cemetery were first submitted to the town in November and last month won approval by the town Planning Board. Some of the proposed design components have become controversial.
Mishka Luft of Niskayuna speaks at a special hearing regarding a Holocaust Memorial on Troy-Schenectady Road at the Town Hall Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Peter R. Barber)
If approved, a rail car in the memorial will remind visitors how Jews and others were transported to the camps during World War II. A dark wall will symbolize a gas chamber.
Lozman delivered a 30-minute presentation on the project to the board, and said some changes have already been made. There will be more vegetation planted to better hide the memorial from the highway, also known as Troy-Schenectady Road. A trail of headstones leading to the rail car has been eliminated.
Lozman also said there have been some misconceptions about the memorial. "There is no barbed wire, there is no gas chamber, there are no bodies lying around," he said.
Lozman also said he wants the memorial to be a place for learning, meditation and prayer. "We need to educate, and that's what this memorial is all about," he said.
Some people have questions. Neil Golub, executive chairman of the board of the Golub Corp. and a leader in the Jewish community, spoke first when public comments were allowed. About 20 other people lined up behind him.
"The issue in our community is all about the details," Golub said, "and unfortunately, in Michael's haste to get this wonderful idea through, he avoided the Jewish community, he did not communicate with the Jewish community and many of us felt like, 'Whoa, what's this all about?'
"There are many unanswered questions," Golub added. "It's all in the details. The questions we will have will be about the education, will be about the fundraising, the upkeep and the maintenance."
Mishka Luft also had questions. She quoted Rabbi Debora Gordon of Congregation Berith Sholom in Troy, who believes tools used by the oppressors, such as a railway car, should not be used as symbols in a memorial to honor Jewish dead.
Luft does not like the location either, and believes such a memorial belongs in Albany — even on the University at Albany campus. Outside the hearing, Luft wondered about the plans to "hide" the memorial with trees and shrubs.
Anthony Lombardi of Niskayuna speaks at a special hearing regarding a Holocaust memorial on Troy-Schenectady Road. (Peter R. Barber)
"Do you want it to be visible or not want it visible?" she asked. "Do you want it to be accessible or not accessible?"
While board members asked speakers to make their comments in three minutes, many talked longer. Some were brief — like Joel Fried. He said he wants a place like the memorial to take his 5-year-old daughter and talk to her about what happened to the Jewish people.
Anthony Lombardi said he has seen death and destruction during Army deployments in Iraq. "I don't want to be reminded of this every time I drive by," he said. He also worried about possible expansion.
Lozman's traffic study estimates about 10 vehicles per hour will visit the memorial, but longtime Old Troy Road resident Carolina Wierzbowski believes traffic will be a factor if the plan wins approval.
"We have endured Route 7 for 30 years," she said. "If the town is going to take action to make it worse, I'm going to ask you not to do that."
Other residents said the neighborhood has long been zoned residential and believe it should stay that way.
Some people said education will be a great benefit, as people visit such a memorial. "Every community should have a Holocaust memorial as a reminder to humankind to always be alert," said Alan Pfeffer.
Marian Rosenbloom, who said he grew up in the Warsaw Ghetto where children were used for target practice, also said there was a need for the memorial.
"This is why I am here tonight," he said, "to let the world know such atrocities must never happen again."
A previous version of this story misspelled Anthony Lombardi's last name in a photo caption.