Updated 1:30 p.m.
After just eight months of construction, the brand new Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza is complete. It will open Monday, Oct. 22, on the Ben Franklin Parkway as a lasting tribute to Philly’s survivors, liberators and witnesses.
The triangle of land at the intersection of 16th and Arch has hosted the Six Million Jewish Martyrs statue since 1964, when it became the first public monument of its kind in the United States. Philadelphia is the natural home for such memorials, said Eszter Kutas, acting director of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.
“It’s the birthplace of our democracy,” Kutas said. “We are trying through holocaust testimony as well as some physical installations to connect Philadelphia’s story with what happened in Europe during the war.”
All four of Kutas’ grandparents survived the Holocaust. The idea of it being forgotten is painful for her — “As soon as it’s forgotten, it could happen again.”
A $9 million price tag
Construction on the project was quick: less than a year from start to finish is pretty much unheard of in Philly.
It was also costly. Originally projected to come in around $7 million, the capital campaign for the memorial reached $9 million by the time it was done.
But that discrepancy “is not for miscalculations of construction at all,” Kutas clarified. Rather, the foundation received more donations than it initially expected and decided to put some money aside for future maintenance and educational programming.
Money raised by the foundation and its collaborative of donors was supplemented by a mix of state and city sources. “We received such broad community support,” Kutas said, “we felt we could up [the total capital campaign] amount.”
Teaching the Holocaust, free and digital
The new memorial won’t impact much on the Parkway. It is not expected to increase traffic or cause any road closures, Kutas said, and it’s meant to be accessible. The entire plaza is public — leaving it open and free of cost for anyone meandering around the city.
When the memorial plaza opens to the public on Monday afternoon, on the wedge of land adjacent to the old Bell Telephone Building, it will boast:
- Six pillars, representing the six million Jewish victims, each each contrasting American constitutional protections and values with what happened during the Holocaust
- A grove of trees, representing the woods where people hid from the Nazi regime
- An eternal flame, symbolizing a commitment to remembering the Holocaust
- Original train tracks from the railroad adjacent to the Treblinka concentration camp
- A tree, representing one that children nurtured at the Theresienstadt concentration camp (despite knowing they would not live to see it mature)
Renderings of those attributes have been public for longer than a year now — and Kutas said the final product will look “quite similar.”
“There are little changes here and there,” she said, “but the layout of the plaza is exactly like how you see in those images.”
The foundation also developed a complementary digital component: a free app meant to be used by visitors to the memorial while they’re there. It’ll offer guided tours, plus first-person stories from survivors. Ideally, Kutas said, the app will educate young people who never actually lived through the Holocaust.
You can check out the memorial in person after it’s unveiled on Monday. After a brief private event, the plaza will open to the public around noon.