An almost two decade-long battle for the inclusion of non-Jewish victims in the Holocaust Memorial Park in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, came to an end this past weekend when supporters added five new stones in the victims’ honor. But, as Sheepshead Bites’ Ned Berke reports, not everyone was pleased with the outcome.
The stones, dispersed throughout the public park, remember the persecution of homosexual victims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled, Roma and Sinti, and “asocials.” The unveiling ended nearly 20 years of struggle for broader recognition within the park. Members of the Holocaust Memorial Committee, charged with reviewing and approving the placement of new names and markers, held a protest led by City Council candidate Ari Kagan, who complained that the group of “outsiders” went over the committee’s head in getting approval to place the stone, and represented a threat to the memory of Jewish victims.
The push to add the stones and make the park inclusive of all victims was spearheaded by Richard Landman, the gay son of two Jewish Holocaust survivors. He noted that the protest was smaller than in past years and that their cause had gained acceptance form politicians including Rep. Jerrold Nadler and the late Mayor Ed Koch.
Landman was joined by Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, Disabilities Network of NYC, Disabled in Action and Voice of Roma.
Activists have called for the inclusion of the non-Jewish victims since the early 1990s, during the building of the memorial. When Landman found out that those victims would no longer be added despite original plans, he started the push to reinstate them. After filing requests over the next 15 years, the Parks Department created a Blue Ribbon advisory panel to review Landman’s request, eventually giving it the go-ahead.
The stones were quietly installed in the park in July 2012, but Landman held off having a formal dedication for a year to test the community’s reaction. He also tried to keep this weekend’s ceremony quiet, hoping to avoid the ire of opponents.
“I wanted it to be a memorial, a commemoration of those victims who died,” Landman said. “I don’t want it to be a big, loud protest. It’s done. We’ve done it. It was done last year.”
Still, a protest was had.
Led by Kagan, a member of the Holocaust Memorial Committee, “a crowd of about two dozen gathered before the stones’ unveiling for a series of speeches delivered largely in Russian.”
During the protest, Kagan said their objection had to do with the City bypassing the Holocaust Memorial Committee. He laid out his complaints on Facebook.
I am outraged that the City of New York completely ignored the opinion of the Holocaust Memorial Committee, but preferred to listen to the opinions of the International Association of Gay and Lesbian Children of Holocaust Survivors, and groups like the Communist Party–USA and LAMBDA Democrats.
The Nazis killed many people during the war, but this sacred park at Sheepshead Bay is the Holocaust Memorial Park – not the “Nazi Victims Park” or the “WWII Victims Park”. The Committee made sure that all non-Jewish victims of Nazi atrocities were acknowledged in this park.
In 2009, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn tried to impose on us their decision to install these five new markers. Unlike every other stone or inscription, these five markers were to be installed without any review by historical committees or without the involvement of the communities of South Brooklyn.
We protested and the Mayor backed off. But today -four years later- we learned that the City once again ignored many local Holocaust survivors organizations and caved in to the demands of outsiders who clearly have a political agenda.
But Landman had a different view on how things had played out.
“I did it through the memorial committee for 15 years. For 15 years I was rejected. I am an attorney and a law professor. I said enough already. So I went to the government, to the mayor and to the Parks commissioner and to the Constitution of the State of New York. They cannot delegate their power to a committee, to a community group,” he said.
The protest ended right before the ceremony began but it didn’t mean the presence of the demonstrators was not felt, according an email Landman sent to Sheepshead Bites.
“Besides setting a climate where unstable people could feel comfortable riding their bikes and yelling ‘Faggot’ and anti-Obama and anti-non-Jewish slogans during our Unveiling Ceremony due to their protest, it was bizarre and embarrassing,” Landman wrote. “They are totally off base with the facts, history, laws, procedures, etc. and shouldn’t be misusing the lessons learned from the Holocaust for their personal reasons.”
Despite the controversy, Landman had a sense of accomplishment.
“Finally, I lived to this day that this could finally get done,” he said. “I think this is a kernel of history that’s going to grow. It has taken 20 years just to have the climate that I don’t have that many people screaming, and even the people screaming are clearly the minority.”
For photos of the ceremony and of the stones, visit Sheepshead Bites.