Updated 4:25 p.m.
As its first summer approaches, the Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza is coming into its own.
When the $9 million project opened in October 2018 after just eight months of construction, it was rightly hailed as a success. But with naked plant beds and winter-ready trees, the public space looked standoffish and austere. Said one observer, “I thought it was sparse on purpose,” because of the solemnity of what it commemorates.
Yet organizers behind the memorial have made clear they want people to walk through. The Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, which has been working on the project since 2006, developed an app with free self-guided tours and first-person stories from World War II survivors.
With greenery in full bloom, the plaza is finally ready for its closeup.
Here’s a short photo essay exploring the space built to showcase the Six Million Jewish Martyrs statue, which in 1964 became the first public monument of its kind in the United States.
Located at the intersection of 16th, Arch and the Ben Franklin Parkway, the space is officially called the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza. It’s in the sightline of City Hall, just across from LOVE Park, and was designed by Philly-based architects WRT.
In the 1960s, the bronze Six Million Jewish Martyrs statue was presented to the city by a group of Holocaust survivors and community leaders, according to the memorial’s official history.
Those survivors included Dalck Feith, Harold Greenspan, Abram Shnaper, Joseph Smukler, who worked with the Association of Jewish New Americans and the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia to make the public art piece happen.
Adjacent to the to the old Bell Telephone Building at 1619 Arch St., the plaza’s plant beds aren’t as lush as they will eventually be, but they’re showing signs of life. No skateboarding, though.
The grove of trees at the back represents the woods where people hid from the Nazi regime. One of the trees is a silver maple sapling that hails from the famed Theresienstadt Tree, planted and cared for by children in the Theresienstadt camp during the war.
Six monolithic pillars, representing the six million Jewish victims, are meant to be viewed in pairs. One of each duo is emblazoned with an important American constitutional protection, set up in contrast to its partner, which details transgressions against those values during the Holocaust.
Original train tracks from the railroad adjacent to the Treblinka concentration camp are embedded in the plaza’s stone floor.
There’s an eternal flame encased in part of the rememberance wall, symbolizing a commitment to remembering the Holocaust.