A planned Holocaust memorial has drawn controversy in the Schenectady County Town of Niskayuna. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard was at a crowded public hearing on the project Tuesday night.
The line of concerned Niskayuna residents stretched out the door Tuesday night, as the town board heard comments for and against a planned Holocaust memorial.
The project located on land donated by the Albany Diocesan Cemeteries on Troy-Schenectady Road is meant to be “honest” according to Dr. Michael Lozman, the man seeking the memorial.
The memorial would include a boxcar and rails, representing the trains that brought millions of Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II. There would be a wall, benches, and a chain fence surrounding the memorial.
Following suggestions made after a town planning board meeting in February, Lozman says the project has been adjusted.
“And we want as many people on board as possible, so we have been making changes. And it seems to be that there was three primary concerns,” said Lozman.
Lozman says main concerns addressed were traffic, the view of the memorial from the road, and the design of the memorial itself.
Lozman maintains there would be minimal impact on traffic. Trees would be planted in front of the memorial, obscuring the view from the road. Some design changes include the removal of several headstones surrounding the memorial and the elimination of an entrance sign.
Speaking on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Northeasten NY, Neil Golub, Executive Board Chair of the Golub Corporation, which owns Price Chopper and Market 32 Supermarkets, said the proposal should have been better communicated to the public.
“Clearly, the educational background for this was not good and needed a lot of work. It’s only been within the past three weeks or so that Michael has gone to the Jewish Federation and started communicating with them about all of these issues. And they all have to be gone through and they all have to be discussed,” said Golub.
Golub asked the town board to wait until Dr. Lozman and the Jewish Federation come to an agreement on issues before considering the approval of the project.
In the crowd were at least two Holocaust survivors who offered their support for a memorial.
Carl Rosner, born in Hamburg, Germany, was rescued from the Buchenwald concentration camp by American troops when he was 16.
“I don’t want to talk about the details that still need to be worked out. But I’m impressed, however, of the thought that is going into each and every detail here. So I would be proud to have this memorial in Niskayuna,” said Rosner.
Others recognized the significance of the memorial’s message but said a residential area is not the place for such a project.
Anthony Lombardi, an Iraq War veteran, said he doesn’t want a reminder of death and destruction when he drives by. Lombardi pointed out several issues he had with the project, including what he believes is room for expansion.
“You wouldn’t have this town if wasn’t for World War II, if you know your history of this town. That’s why it’s in the center of this town. It’s because of how many people escaped the persecution of Jews. I get why it’s in the center of this town. I know my history,” said Lombardi. “I also know in my mind’s eye that nobody here is stupid; the back of that over there allows for expansion.”
The memorial, located close to the roadside, would be sited on a wooded parcel of land with open space on three sides. It currently does not include permanent restrooms, but would allow space for portable toilets.
Another resident with concerns is Mishka Luft. Luft spoke to a list of reasons, but also called for a mutual understanding for a variety of opinions. She pointed to a recent editorial in the Daily Gazette.
“The editorial really spoke to one issue that I think needs to be addressed and that is the fear that coming out against such a memorial makes it seem that one is anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, a Holocaust denier, any such things. And I am urging that you don’t feel that’s an issue that you have to think about.”
The town board was not scheduled to make a decision on the project Tuesday night.