Profaned Holocaust memorial to be razed Jewish council tires of desecration by addicts, prostitutes

November 28, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

After years of trying to combat the desecration of Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial, Jewish leaders have decided to tear down the huge slabs of concrete that make up the stark main section of the downtown landmark.

The Baltimore Jewish Council wants to redesign the shrine to get rid of its imposing concrete structure to prevent its further use as a toilet and shooting gallery for drug addicts. The memorial was dedicated to the 11 million victims of the Holocaust.

A somber Arthur C. Abramson, the council's executive director, said yesterday: "We lost the battle long ago. The community has decided it must raze the current structure."

The Jewish council wants to demolish the blemished monument next to Baltimore City Community College, possibly by this summer. Several architectural proposals are under review to redesign the memorial.

The block-long Holocaust memorial plaza has the concrete-slab shrine at one end and a statue of Holocaust victims being consumed by flames at the other end. The two works are separated by a park.

The redesigns would create a more visible memorial around the statue of Holocaust victims.

Leaders of the Jewish council declared a year ago that the time had come to revamp the memorial plaza. A couple of proposals were considered but rejected because the group has a limited budget of about $250,000, Mr. Abramson said. Estimates for the demolition alone have ranged from $90,000 to $300,000, he said.

But one thing in all the discussion and debate became clear: Hardly anyone wants to keep the concrete monument that dominates one end of the plaza.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who spoke at a breakfast yesterday in honor of his re-election to a third term given by the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said afterward that the city would participate in revamping the memorial.

The desecration that prompted the decision to demolish the memorial saddened many in Baltimore. "It is a major shame -- a memorial that was built to the survivors as well as to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust, it strikes me as a double pain to have that memorial now so desecrated that it has to come down," said City Councilman Carl Stokes.

Almost exactly 15 years ago the Jewish council, city officials and the community college dedicated the memorial to the 6 million Jews and 5 million others who perished in the Holocaust.

Two massive slabs of concrete were set up in front of a grove of trees as a symbol of "the intrusion of a cold, dark, brutal" force of the Nazi war machine in the lives of unsuspecting victims.

Thousands of people paused on the bright November afternoon to look at the grim list of concentration camps chiseled on plaques and to linger under the newly planted trees.

Some Jewish leaders and Holocaust victims had private doubts. They worried about the memorial's abstract design and its location at Water, Gay and East Lombard streets -- close to the Inner Harbor but also to The Block, the city's adult entertainment area.

By the late 1980s, when the building boom and revitalization of downtown Baltimore faded in a recession, the memorial often appeared forgotten. Visitors became increasingly scarce during the week.

At night, homeless people found a refuge in the park, while drug dealers and prostitutes took clients to the secluded, narrow walkways of the cave-like monument.

In 1988, Jewish leaders dedicated the flaming sculpture in memory of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Nazi police reduced to rubble thousands of Jewish shops, synagogues and homes in Germany and Austria.

In 1991, a public outcry over the condition of the monument prompted city cleanup crews to step up their efforts for a while. The Jewish council also briefly considered fencing in the memorial or moving it elsewhere in Baltimore.

Now the council is giving up the struggle over the monument. It was not an easy decision, Mr. Abramson said.

"It's unfortunate that the community had to make this decision," he said. "But we're not just tearing down a memorial, we're rebuilding a memorial."

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