Remembering death, preserving faith
Holocaust sculpture both, somber, hopeful
By Troy Cozad
The Journal Gazette, May 16, 1986
The imprint of barbed, wire passes through children's handprints pressed into the reddish bricks, and stamped into the ends of the bricks are the names of 85 Holocaust victims who had, relatives in Fort Wayne.

"These symbols are part of the new Holocaust Memorial sculpture at the Achduth Vesholom 'Congregation, 5200 Old Mill Road." They are a grim reminder that more than 6 million Jews died during the Nazi terrorism of World War II.

But localartist Nancy McCroskey hopes the sculpture she created also reflects the historic strength of the Jewish faith and represents hope for the future.

"I did a lot of reading, and I was impressed with the vitality and durability of the Jewisb people," said McCroskey, 33, an assistant professor of ceramics and design at the Indiana-Purdue, Fort Wayne, art school since 1982.

"It's an interesting challenge when you think about designing something about the Holocaust. I knew I wanted it to be beautiful, hut it had to carry the memory of one of the ugliest events in human history.'"

McCroskey's solution was a pyramid-shaped sculpture patterned on the architectural style of Jewish synagogues in biblical times. Handprints were selected from a random group of congregation members, who pressed their hands into a malleable clay. McCroskey filled these molds tp make raised plaster images of the prints. These were then pressed into the wet clay of the sculpture in horizontal lines.

The sculpture began as several thousand pounds of clay, which McCroskey and an assistant stamped out with their feet. McCroskey said the design was to give an impression of stability and, ascension, and a sense of the background of the Jewish faith. The 10-foot-tall sculpture rises in 12 units, which represent the 12 tribes of Israel. McCroskey also worked in the word “zachor”, which means “remember” in Hebrew about halfway up the sculpture.

Jo Rothenberg, a congregation member who led the memorial committee, believes McCroskey was successful in creating an appropriate work.

"It's a very sensitive memorial," she said. "It has an archeological feeling. Llke building from the ancient history of the Jewish people. It's really awesome when you look at it."

Rothberg said the congregation started thinking about a local memorial three years ago.

"It's something that has happened to many Jews in recent years, 'this concern about 'Will our children remember?' " she said. "We were very concerned that something be done to keep the (Holocaust) memory alive from generation to generation. And not just for Jews. If the civil rights of anyone are threatened, then everyone is threatened. We hope the presence of this sculpture will be a reminder of what the Holocaust means to humanity. It's good to remember how fragile a thing freedom really is."

The memorial was funded by congregation members. The committee selected McCroskey as the artist because committee' members were impressed with her previous work.

McCroskey studied at the Maryland Art Institute in Balfimore, where she became interested in sculpture. A Seattle native, she said .growing up around mountains led to her interest in landscapes.

She recently sold some of her work to General Telephone Company of Indiana for its local corporate collection; but this is her first public work.

McCroskey,who is not Jewish, said she read accounts of the Holocaust, watched several Public Broadcasting System programs on the period and discussed the Holocaust with synagogue officials and members.

"You certainly don't have to be Jewish to have sympathy for the nightmare that was the Holocaust," she said. "It was an education for me to understand what really happened. But even more, this helped me get to know the people at the synagogue."

McCroskey made several models of her design and began work on the actual sculpture in January.

The memorial was dedicated May 4. Some elderly people cried and young people approached the work to place their hands in the palm prints.

A week later, McCroskey said she believes she captured the intent and mood she wanted.

"Of course, it's only successful if the people on the committee and in the congregation are happy with it - if they think it communicates what they want," she said.

A white-haired woman couldn't pass by the memorial without stopping and pointing out to the strangers looking at it two names on the end of the bricks. They were members of her family who died during the Holocaust.

It was a simple action, but little else could better demonstrate the memorial’s main purpose. To remember.

  ©2004 Nancy McCroskey
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