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Frederik Meijer Gardens To Host Grand Rapids' First Holocaust Memorial

Entrance to the Frederik Meijer Gardens park with dozens of red, yellow, orange and white flowers
William J. Herbert/ Frederik Meijer Gardens
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'Ways to Say Goodbye’ by Ariel Schlesinger will be added to Frederik Meijer Garden's permanent sculpture collection. ";

Grand Rapids' first Holocaust memorial is set to debut at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in 2022.

The initiative was spurred by a gift from the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids and a donation from the Pestka family.

Linda and Steve Pestka are the children of Henry Pestka who was a Holocaust survivor.

They were looking for a way to honor their late father and the six million Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust.

Linda says she was excited at the idea of using artwork to help tell the history of events in an accurate way.

"There are over 700,00 visitors there (Frederik Meijer Gardens) per year. We would never be able to capture something like that on a lecture circuit," she explained. 

'Ways to Say Goodbye’ by Ariel Schlesinger will be added to Frederik Meijer Garden's permanent sculpture collection. The piece is a 20-foot-tall aluminum cast of a fig tree that has shards of glass inserted among the branches.

The tree is symbol of the Jewish struggle for survival both during and after the Holocaust. Schlesinger says in conceptualizing the sculpture, he held pieces of broken glass in his hands that pressed into his fingers.

He says it's also a tribute to the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass. The event was the symbolic beginning of the Holocaust during which Nazi mobs murdered Jews and destroyed Jewish property and synagogues throughout Germany.

Schlesinger transferred this concept to the sculpture by embedding the glass shards into the branches of the tree, representing the near annihilation of the Jewish people in a few short years.

The Garden's curator, Jochen Wierich, said this project marks a memorable moment in his long career.

"It’s exciting they came to us. It’s a first for me," Wierich explained, "To find the right sculpture, it was difficult. It was exciting, but I really enjoyed the process of working with a community,” Wierich said.

The Pestka family told WGVU they hope the artwork can be an area of representation for other families who were impacted by the Holocaust as well as education for others.

"Putting something of that magnitude in a public place shows how authentic this really is. This did happen," Linda explained.

The sculpture is set to debut in 2022.

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