PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Since 2004, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust has stood in Portland’s Washington Park.
Scattered along the ground at the memorial are simple, everyday items cast in bronze — like a suitcase, a teddy bear, a violin and broken eyeglasses representing items left behind by Jews and others, as they were taken away.
It’s a hallowed place, designed to look like a European town square where Jews were rounded up before being taken to concentration camps where millions were killed.
The Oregon Holocaust Memorial serves as a permanent reminder of the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime: the lives that were ended or impacted in the 1930s and 1940s.
It also encourages future generations to be accepting of all people, regardless of their political or religious beliefs, their physical or mental disabilities or sexual orientation.
“Everything about this memorial evokes pain, I would say; pain and beauty because it is such a contemplative piece,” said Judy Margles, the director of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. “It’s a sacred space.”
The memorial includes a wall of history panels with engraved quotes from Holocaust survivors. Buried beneath the rock foundation of the memorial wall at one end are soil and ash collected from six major death camps: Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Margles described the site as “a hard place to be and rightly so.”
“It’s unintelligible that 6 million Jews and 5 million others were murdered by the Nazis,” said Margles.
Dozens of names are carved into the wall of the memorial. They are Holocaust survivors who started new lives in the Northwest, and their families, many of whom did not survive the concentration camps.
Holocaust survivor Evelyn Banko showed KOIN 6 News the names of her parents, Joseph and Florence Diamont. The pair escaped Austria when Evelyn was a little girl. They landed first in Latvia and eventually settled in Seattle in 1940. Banko said her father was in charge of a group of 25 Jewish refugees leaving Latvia.
“Our first stop when we got to North America was Vancouver, Canada, and we couldn’t get out of the ship because we had Nazi passports even though we were escaping the Nazis,” Banko said.
Beneath the names of her parents are the names of other less-fortunate relatives who died in concentration camps.
“They have no graves, no gravestones, no final resting place,” Banko said. “But at least this is a remembrance for them.”
The City of Portland donated the site in Washington Park to the Oregon Holocaust Memorial Coalition, which got its start in 1994 when a local group of Holocaust survivors gathered with the goal of memorializing their loved ones and millions of others who were murdered.
Grants and private donations funded the $800,000 Oregon Holocaust Memorial, which was dedicated on Aug. 29, 2004.
“You know, I’m sorry that my parents didn’t live to see this being built,” said Banko.
The Oregon Holocaust Memorial is open every day from dawn to dusk. Admission is free and tours can be scheduled through the Oregon Jewish Museum.