Six Million Jewish Martyrs: Behind Philadelphia’s Holocaust Memorial Public Monument

The “Six Million Jewish Martyrs” statue at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was the first public monument in North America to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust. Sculpted by renowned artist and Holocaust survivor Nathan Rapport, Philadelphia received the monument as a gift in 1964 from a group of Holocaust survivors and community leaders, the Association of Jewish New Americans and the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation (PHRF).

Towering and bronze, the monument depicts an anguished mother in a burning bush with a wailing child above her head, according to the Association for Public Art. Surrounding them, a man raises his hands in prayer while another pair holds the Torah scrolls, with more hands clutching daggers at the top as the flames transition into the candles of a menorah.
Beginning in 2006, PHRF spearheaded efforts to enhance the monument and its location, which culminated in the revitalization of the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza in October 2018. Besides the monument, there are five key elements of the memorial site, according to Visit Philadelphia

  • Six Pillars honors the 6 million Jewish people whose lives were taken during the Holocaust. They are presented in pairs, each one recounts attrocious acts commited during the holocaust and contrasting them with values and protections granted by the United States.

  • An Eternal Flame (a looped video of a flame) inside the Wall of Remembrance embodies the commitment to never forget not just what occurred, but those who were lost

  • The Theresienstadt Tree is a sapling from the iconic tree in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic. Children at the camp nurtured a young tree fully knowing that they would never get to see it fully grow.

  • The Tree Grove represents the thick woodlands that protected those who were brave enough to resist and confront the Nazi regime. It honors the legacy of those who lost their lives in the fight against almost overwhelming evil

  • The Rail Road Tracks embeded into the foundation of the plaza remind vistors of the massive industrialization and deporting of Holocaust victims

In addition to the 2018 revitalization, PHRF partnered with the USC Shoah Foundation to launch a virtual guide service of the plaza in April 2019. Powered through IWalk, the tour teaches visitors about the plaza by using testimony from Holocaust survivors and witnesses. PHRF has additionally trained teachers on how to use the IWalk tour of the plaza as a learning tool in schools throughout the city.

The plaza is open to the public every day and is free to visit. For more information, visit PHRF’s website here

Article by Jonathan Fragozo-Gonzalez and Amelia Winger on behalf of the Global Philadelphia Association