Ohio’s Holocaust Memorial Fight
Gov. John Kasich’s proposed statehouse monument is unprecedented. Some argue it’s also unnecessary.
But a few months into the project, the group hit a road block: The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, headed by a defiant Finan, was not willing to adjust any of its application guidelines just so Kasich’s proposal could breeze through. “There is a specific method we have that is supposed to be followed,” Finan said. “The government should follow the process.” In the statehouse, George grew increasingly frustrated with the red tape enforced by Finan. “[The process] was designed so that it basically precluded anything from ever being approved,” he said.
Something drastic needed to be done, so George and the governor decided to steamroll Finan and go straight to the state’s general assembly for a vote, bypassing all of Capitol Square’s requirements. In March of 2012, as part of the state’s mid-biennium budget review, House Bill 312 was passed, mandating the creation of the Ohio Statehouse Holocaust Memorial.
Finan was furious. “If you polled every member of the general assembly 75 to 80 percent would agree not to put a Holocaust memorial in the statehouse,” he told me. “They just didn’t have the guts to stand up.” He didn’t keep these feelings to himself. Talking to a news station after the bill was signed, Finan proclaimed: “All one has to do now is go to the governor and say, ‘I want a statue of Donald Duck on the statehouse grounds,’ and if he gets convinced of it, boom!”
The Jewish community, not surprisingly, was not thrilled at having Holocaust victims compared to Disney characters. Joyce Garver Keller, the executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, declared Finan’s comments “insensitive on so many levels.”
Finan, however, still doesn’t see it this way. In a phone conversation 20 minutes before he left for church, Finan stood behind his speech. “It had nothing to do with the Jewish community,” he said, explaining that he is a big supporter of Jewish causes and was even given the Tree of Life Award by Dick Weiland, a prominent Jewish lobbyist in Ohio. He was simply standing up for the statehouse lawn. “I don’t think a Holocaust memorial fits with the historical markers,” he explains. “The statehouse is a Greek Revival building … that has statues of Civil War generals on the grounds.”
Others view the capitol in a much different light. “The statehouse is where we honor great Ohioans and the things that are important to our collective culture,” says George. “Whether that is a painting of Lake Erie in 1913, or a memorial to the chief protagonist of the Civil War, or a monument to the many Holocaust survivors and liberators who call Ohio home, the statehouse is where we try to tell the stories that are important to pass on.”
Despite Finan’s protests, the process is moving ahead, albeit slowly. Late last month, the Holocaust Memorial Artist Selection Committee announced they had chosen three finalists for the memorial: Jaume Plensa, Ann Hamilton, and Daniel Libeskind. Chosen on the basis of their prior work, the finalists will be flown out to the capitol in March in order to get a chance to study the space; they then will have six weeks to submit their plans.
At least one of the artists will not have to think too hard about the theme. Libeskind, the architect voted to design New York City’s World Trade Center site, is a child of Holocaust survivors, who grew up in Poland under an anti-Semitic communist regime. “This is not just something abstract for me,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about my whole life— how to memorialize the extermination of millions of Jews but at the same time give inspiration to the future.”
Back at her home in Canton, Ohio, Turkeltaub can relate. Sitting at her kitchen table, pleading with me to just have a little more cake, she told me she’s spent years trying to get rid of the anger in her heart. “My kids thought that their parents screaming at night [with nightmares] was normal,” she says. These days, Turkeltaub accepts most invitations she gets to speak. “I am one of the only survivors left,” she said. “I feel an urgency to tell my story.” Which is why she’s so excited to have a permanent monument that honors her story—and that of millions—when she is no longer able to talk. “Even if I’m not invited to the unveiling, I’m going to go anyway.”
CORRECTION, February 19: An earlier version of this article reported that the Ohio Arts Council selected the three finalists for the memorial. In fact, the Holocaust Memorial Artist Selection Committee, comprised of members of the Jewish community, representatives from Capitol Square Review Board, members of the arts community, Holocaust survivors, and a World War II veteran, selected the finalists. The error has been corrected.
Melbourne’s Jews confront the mysterious death of one of their own, Ben Zygier, in an Israeli prison