R.I. Holocaust Memorial ‘speaks’ through a new app

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Situated on the banks of the Providence Riverwalk between the World War I and World War II memorials, the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial serves a dual purpose: it honors the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis and pays tribute to the survivors who made their way to Rhode Island and built new lives, families and businesses while contributing to the cultural landscape of our state.

The Holocaust memorial stands in tribute to all we have lost, all we have learned and hope for the future. And now the memorial can literally tell its story to people everywhere through a new app. 

The R.I. Holocaust Memorial is a sculpture garden with a number of symbolic features. There is a winding stone path engraved with railroad tracks, an outer curb with the names of some of the concentration camps, an inner curb with the names of many of the survivors who came to Rhode Island, six conically-shaped stone pillars and a smooth elliptical stone in the center. 

But how would a visitor who may have only casual knowledge of the Holocaust understand and appreciate what they are seeing? How are they supposed to have a meaningful, evocative and reflective experience when they visit this purposefully minimalist memorial?

That’s where the new app comes in. By providing information about how the memorial came to be, what its various components represent, and the experience of the Holocaust, it creates an emotional connection to the memorial’s stark beauty.

The new app brings the dream of the memorial’s creators to fulfillment: it honors memory and creates a thought-provoking experience, one that will help visitors understand why “never again” is such an important message – and perhaps will move them to stand up to hate. 

The memorial was the vision of David Newman, one of the Holocaust survivors who went on to build a life in Rhode Island. Newman procured the land from the City of Providence and commissioned Rhode Island School of Design-based sculptor Jonathan Bonner to create the memorial.

Bonner designed the memorial to be a stark reminder of the cruel realities of the Holocaust and to serve as a beacon of hope and renewal for the new lives that were built in Rhode Island.

Unfortunately, Newman passed away before he could see his vision become a reality. But, fortunately, Herb Stern, who was then the president of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (today the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island), understood how important it was that the memorial become a reality. Stern took up the mantle of leadership and brought together a committee of community leaders – whose names are inscribed on the outer curb stones of the memorial – to raise the funds and see the project through to completion.

It was a combination of Newman’s vision and Stern’s drive and commitment that resulted in the memorial that visitors see today.

The new app works with all cellphones and other devices and can be downloaded in either the Apple Store or Google Play by searching for “Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial.” It was designed to be a listening experience so visitors can focus on what they are seeing. It also has a written transcript with many images for those who prefer, or may need, to read. And, being an app, it is a learning tool that can be used offsite in a classroom, home, or really any place, to take a virtual tour of the memorial.

Docent-led guided tours of the memorial are also available.  To arrange a docent-led visit, contact Paula Olivieri, the education director at the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, at 401-453-7860 or Paula@BornsteinHolocaustCenter.org. 

LEV POPLOW is a communications consultant writing on behalf of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, in Providence. He can be reached at levpoplow@gmail.com.