July 19, 2024
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Holocaust Memorial Project to be Presented to Council This Week

Teaneck—Clarence W. Brett Park is an undeveloped historic site where once stood the home of a slave owner and Tory enemy of the American Revolution, Dr. Abraham Van Buskirk. He lived and hid there while waiting for the Americans to retreat from the British forces to whom he rendered essential services, “being a loyalist of greatest merit who served throughout the whole war with zeal and fidelity,” according to testimony by British General Charles Cornwallis.

This place, where tyranny killed hundreds of Americans via treachery, cowardice and the need to dehumanize another people, is the site where the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee (THCC), is proposing to place a memorial to millions of people who were betrayed, dehumanized and murdered at the word of a tyrant.

The memorial of as yet undetermined proportions would be placed near the north side of Brett Park’s parking lot on River Road—away from the trees, the nature pathways and the Hackensack River—so that people when passing by will remember, or wonder, and through curiosity learn of those who were murdered in concentration camps prior and during World War II.

Everyone interviewed by JLBC was united in their desire to see a Holocaust Memorial in Teaneck though their differing issues concerning an appropriate location has brought wide spread media attention.

Teaneck Mayor, Mohammed Hameeduddin, said a presentation is being made to the Township Council on June 24 to see if it’s feasible to place the Memorial on the site of Brett Park. “I think it’s important for it (the Memorial) to be in Teaneck. I’m hopeful we can find common ground to make this memorial happen…We’re open to ideas of where they want to have it and if we can find consensus we can move forward.”

Steve Fox, whose father, a survivor, died two years ago, is co-chair of THCC, a sub-committee of the Jewish Community Council. He said the group is focused now on where to place the memorial and is awaiting Teaneck Council approval before coming up with designs and budgets. However it will be built only with private funds and donations.

Co-chair, Bruce Prince, said the idea of a memorial came about because of the passing of so many of the survivors of the Holocaust. “We want to do this while some of them are still alive to help us create a memorial that would be fitting and suitable. Teaneck has a very large Jewish population by percentage and many people have relatives or are descendants of survivors. We wanted a place to go and meditate and sort of connect.”

Prince said a Tolerance Center museum and study center had been the original plan, utilizing a boat house in disrepair that sits on the previous site considered, Andreas Park, just a short distance north of Brett Park. However the deed to the Township restricts that park for recreational purposes.

In an email, Robin Katz of Palisades Park, said that while she supports a Holocaust Memorial, she believes the THCC should be wary of what can come later, with more memorials being proposed as other groups equate the suffering of their people with those who were the subject of a planned genocide and systematically murdered. She pointed to the controversy surrounding the memorials to the Korean Comfort Women—who were sexually enslaved during World War II by the Japanese—that sit on public property in Palisades Park and Fort Lee. There is also a Holocaust Memorial at the County Court House in Hackensack.

Neither Fox nor Prince deemed this as a concern. “Using public land for memorials is a time honored tradition all over the world,” said Fox and spoke of a memorial to Martin Luther King going up on Bergen County property. “We are not sparking a sudden interest in public memorials.”

Richard Karp, President of Friends of the Hackensack River Greenway has other concerns. Jewish himself, he also wants to see a Holocaust Memorial but not in Brett Park primarily because it’s an historic site. “It’s where the largest battle of the Revolutionary War was fought,” where Washington’s army escaped to Morristown and there prevailed.

A second objection is that he sees this memorial as addressing only a single group while “of the 17 million killed in the concentration camps, six million were Jews but there were Slavs, Polish, homosexuals, Catholics, Protestant dissidents, socialists and Communists.”

He wants a memorial but said it should be on private land, “where a proper museum, memorial and educational center can be created.”

Another reason said Karp is that the Friends of the Hackensack River Greenway don’t want to see anything built, regardless of its size and purpose along the River because of the run-off and pollution caused by impermeable surfaces.

Fox said in answer that in designing the memorial and possible walkways to it, the environment will be of major concern.

Rabbi Steven Burg, the eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center & Museum of Tolerance in New York City, favors a memorial over a museum. A resident of Bergenfield, he has been advising the THCC on the Memorial and was invited to aid in the presentation to the Township to put the memorial in a broader context.

“Chances are if you go to a museum once a year, that’s a lot. Many times people go to a museum once in their life. A memorial is really there as a constant reminder of things that occurred and a constant reminder that we should not repeat the horrible things that happened in our past.”

He said when asked if it was appropriate to put it in a park where people want to get away from the world, and enjoy nature. “You want your kids to ask questions. That’s why we have memorials, as constant reminders.”

As someone who himself enjoys, what he said are the incredible parks and walkways throughout the state of New Jersey, Burg said memorials have to be where people will see them, not tucked away. “I don’t think it’s going to be the type of thing that’s over the top. It will be a conversation topic.”

Burg said, “We’re reaching the tail end of lifespan of survivors of the Holocaust…It’s important to put these things in place before they all leave us and be there for the dedication to see that people can carry on their message.”

To do this, part of the memorial will be bricks or stones, inscribed with the names of Holocaust victims which can be dedicated in exchange for donations, “so people can take their children or grandchildren,” said Burg.

Fox and Prince urge residents to come make their voices heard at the meeting next Thursday at the Teaneck Municipal Building. It is called for 7:30 p.m.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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