Overhaul adds to meaning of Holocaust Memorial


I went to visit the redesigned Baltimore Holocaust Memorial with a grim warning from a frowning Jewish friend that it included a heavy metal fence "as severe as something in a concentration camp."

Ironically, that's precisely the point, though it seems to have been lost on my associate. The fence is high, about 8 feet, and black. Its relatively tight grid would remind any Maryland sheep farmer of wire livestock fence.

This fence is part of the memorial by intention, not afterthought. It, in fact, evokes a concentration camp.

But don't get the idea that this black fence dominants the reworked memorial. It doesn't. It frames only a lawn at its rear, and does so with poetic purpose. (One can see the bright green grass there only by looking through the cold black grid of the fence.)

Importantly, the main section of the memorial is wide open to the public. (The only fence there now is chain-link and that comes down before the memorial's rededication Oct. 6.) Unlike the memorial it replaces, this one fronts on Lombard Street and can be seen easily from there.

Baltimore holds the distinction as the site of the only Holocaust memorial that had to be torn down. Certainly the only one in the United States, and possibly the only one in the world, according to Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, which coordinated the memorial's successful redesign.

The original memorial seemed cut off from the nearest big thoroughfare, Lombard Street, and featured an enclosed space behind imposing walls that provided seclusion for homeless people and drug addicts. In time, the place became strewn with trash and reeked of urine. Its desecretion became a point of sadness and embarrassment.

Instead of shutting down the memorial and moving it elsewhere, Jewish leaders committed to a costly overhaul. The results are on display now.

The new memorial is an impressive example of salvage architecture -- the transformation of a well-intended but deeply flawed memorial into an accessible and even more meaningful one.

The large, concrete, monolithic blocks that once formed a heavy, imposing wall have been retouched with steel wedges that suggest locomotive cowcatchers, a sliding cargo door and 1940s-era railroad tracks. We're reminded of trains that brought Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. Four other railroad tracks slice the wide plaza off Lombard Street. The words of Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish chemist who chronicled his experiences in Auschwitz, are on the memorial: "On both sides of the track, rows of red and white lights appeared as far as the eye could see. . . . With the rhythm of the wheels, with human sound now silenced, we awaited what was to happen. In an instant, our women, our parents, our children disappeared. We saw them for a short while as an obscure mass at the other end of the platform. Then we saw nothing more."

You can read those words from Lombard Street. You can squint and see a cargo train. You might be in a car one day with your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, niece or nephew, and find yourself being forced to answer the question, "What's that?" Which is precisely the point.

Prophetic handout

Cereal Mom, one of TJI's irregular correspondents, is five months' pregnant. The other evening, she was walking briskly down Thames Street to get to Mr. George Figgs' Orpheum Cinema in time for the 7 o'clock showing of "La Notte." A street-weary man sitting on a stoop started to say something. Cereal Mom couldn't quite hear, though she suspected the fellow was after a handout, maybe a dollar. Cereal Mom leaned in closer. What did the fellow say?

He said, "It's going to be a boy."

Everybody wants to be a psychic.

Restroom editor

The sign over the urinal in the mens' restroom of a Baltimore Giant instructs employees to wash their hands to "protect your health, your company, your job." Some scribbler added the words, "your customers."

Nice touch.

Nano nanny

Jill Fulton, a day care provider with a home-based operation in Westminster, has a license to make a living watching little kids. Recently, a couple of them ran away. "I lost two of them last week," Fulton said so passively it was scary.

But there's no need to panic. We're talking Nano Babies here. Along with Tamagotchis, Giga Pets and other creatures, Nano Babies erupted into a virtual baby boom this summer. They're electronic egg-shaped computerized creatures that hang on a key ring or lanyard. They have to be cared for, fed, cleaned and played with whenever they beep for service. And they can beep throughout the day and night, which makes them unsuitable for taking to school.

So, like many other mothers around the country, Fulton agreed to watch the two Nano babies that her two daughters had been caring for in the summer. (Your TJI columnist tried this for a while with his son's Giga Pet and found the experience completely frustrating; Giga Pet is a Giga Pest, and I can quote me on that.)

If neglected or underfed, the babies "run away." (Giga Pets just die.) A new one appears with the press of a restart button, but that's a button Fulton has decided not to push until at least the winter holiday season. In addition to her own daughters, see, she has six real kids to watch. Playing nanny to Nano Babies just doesn't pay.

Pub Date: 9/22/97

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