Trashed Holocaust Memorial will be redesigned, relocated

October 25, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

On the ground yesterday at the foot of the Baltimore Holocaust Memorial dedicated to the more than 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust were two discarded syringes and two empty glass vials used for drugs.

Thrown atop the block-long, concrete exhibit -- built in 1980 as a testament to the atrocities Jews suffered during World War II -- was a pair of underwear and beer cans. The memorial reeked of urine.

The Holocaust Memorial, a downtown fixture for 14 years, is now used daily as a toilet, drug hangout and secluded spot for sexual encounters.

To end the desecration, the Baltimore Jewish Council wants the memorial redesigned and moved from near Water and Gay streets to an area closer to Lombard Street. Planners hope to complete the project by late next year, said Arthur C. Abramson, who heads the council.

"The [current] design lends itself for people to do negative things," Mr. Abramson said. "But we have a strong obligation to make sure people remember what happened 50 years ago."

For years, the memorial has been an eyesore. At one point, after a community outcry, the city vowed to keep it clean and better patrol it.

Although the site is cleaned each weekday by a three- to four-member city work crew, it is littered soon afterward. On weekends, the bottles, trash and drug paraphernalia accumulate.

"Mondays are a more difficult day," said Alma Bell, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Recreation and Parks.

Twice last week, beer cans and other trash were found strewn near the concrete structure during the late morning hours, and on Friday, a discarded condom was found.

Mr. Abramson said the design of the main section of the memorial "caused unintended problems" because it is secluded and not easily visible from the streets. The 1-acre plot, located near downtown attractions and the Baltimore City Community College, is exposed to heavy foot traffic and loiterers.

"There's a design problem and a location problem," Mr. Abramson said.

Ms. Bell said that city cleanup crews could lessen the the amount of litter, but police need better enforcement to curtail drug use.

Daniel Davis, a Park Heights resident who moved here from New York two years ago, said he visited to the memorial in February.

"Would I go back? No. Would I take my family? No," Mr. Davis said. "It's embarrassing that Baltimore has a Holocaust memorial in that condition. You must hold your breath while you're there. It's better not having one at all."

While he was there, Mr. Davis said he cleared several bottles "out of respect."

Rabbi Joel Zaiman said an annual Yom Hashoa (Day of Remembrance) service for several hundred local Jews was moved from the memorial several years ago because of stench.

"It was not in a condition that was conducive," Rabbi Zaiman said, adding that the service was held at nearby War Memorial Plaza.

The current memorial will remain in place until the new one is completed, said Mr. Abramson.

Police said that while many homeless people go to the exhibit at night, most of the problems stem from visitors to the Inner Harbor and nearby movie theaters.

"I have to shoo people away frequently because they think that they can go there and get drunk or use drugs," said a police officer who patrols downtown. "It's not the homeless who cause the problem, because all they want to do is find a safe, quiet place."

The memorial currently has two parts: a long cave-like concrete structure with a granite insert that is located behind a slight hill and near Water Street, and a sculpture of Holocaust victims being consumed by flames. The sculpture is located just off Lombard Street.

The property is owned by the community college and leased to the Jewish council for $1 a year. The cost of the new memorial, to be paid for by the Jewish council, has not been determined.

Members of the Jewish council had considered moving the memorial from downtown. However, Holocaust survivors thought it would reach more people at its current location.

Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, whose Northwest Baltimore district includes the Park Heights neighborhood where many Jews live and which was once considered as a site for the memorial, said she is not "wedded" to keeping it downtown.

"I'd like to see it well-preserved and well-kept," Ms. Spector said.

She said other downtown landmarks are also trashed at night.

"The same thing happens at City Hall," Ms. Spector said. "It's a lack of respect. It's a social issue everywhere."

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