On any day in Portland, Oregon’s lush Washington Park you will find people ignoring the often gray skies and drizzle so typical of the Pacific Northwest as they explore the park’s gardens, hiking trails, walking paths, playgrounds, and museums. It is a popular escape from the often busy big city life. But tucked away on the north end of the park is a grim reminder of the past.
The Oregon Holocaust Memorial honors the memory of the more than six million people who were killed during the Nazi horrors of World War Two. We mostly think of Jewish people when we think of the Holocaust, and while they made up the majority of the victims, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally challenged and physically handicapped, and many others that did not fit into Adolf Hitler’s vision of what was acceptable perished along with them. Nobody really knows how many people died to satisfy the Nazi bloodlust. Some say it was three million and others more than eleven million. But even one person was too much.
Dedicated in 2004, the memorial is a place to come and ponder the atrocities that happened, to remember those who were stolen from us, and to vow that we never let something like that happen again.
A circular area covered in cobblestones simulates a typical European town square. It was to these town squares that frightened Jewish families were herded before being loaded into boxcars and taken to the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Around the square are scattered bronze shoes, a suitcase, eyeglasses, and other everyday items that were left behind because the Nazis knew their prisoners would not need them again.
A cobblestone walkway leads to striking black granite panels inscribed with a history of the Holocaust, along with quotes from those who survived the atrocities of that time. The back of the wall is engraved with the names of people who died in the camps, followed by the names of their surviving relatives in Oregon and Washington.
Buried below the panel are soil and ash from six different Holocaust concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Treblinka.
A reader once asked why I would go to a place like this, or the Holocaust museums in Washington, DC, and Richmond, Virginia, that are so sad and depressing. I said because they are so sad and depressing. People must never forget what happened during those terrible times.
Parking is limited in Washington Park and the cost is $2/hour to a maximum of $8/day. Visitors would be better off to take public transit to the park and then use the free Washington Park Shuttle within the park grounds, which operates seven days a week from April through October, and weekends from November through March.
Note: My thanks to my friend Aaron Borovoy for the photos used in this blog.
Thought For The Day – For the survivor it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. – Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel