Meijer Gardens to open Holocaust memorial

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“Ways To Say Goodbye,” by Ariel Schlesigner. Photo by Jamie Woodley

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park will unveil a Holocaust memorial and sculpture this month.

Meijer Gardens will host a dedication ceremony for its new Holocaust memorial site at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 30. 

The memorial will feature a new sculpture by artist Ariel Schlesinger titled “Ways to Say Goodbye.” The sculpture will be unveiled at the dedication ceremony and will serve as a centerpiece for the memorial.

The memorial site and art piece are a gift to Meijer Gardens from the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, made possible through a gift from the Petska family in memory of their grandfather Henry. The Petska family also wished to honor Holocaust survivors who settled in West Michigan, as well as the millions of Jews who lost their lives. 

“Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is extremely honored to dedicate Ariel Schlesinger’s beautiful sculpture ‘Ways to Say Goodbye’ and the surrounding memorial site,” said David Hooker, president and CEO of Meijer Gardens. “We are deeply grateful for this gift adding such an important work of art to our permanent collection, which is dedicated in memory of Henry Pestka and the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Our community will forever benefit from this extraordinary gift, which serves to educate and promote peace.” 

“Ways to Say Goodbye” is a contemporary aluminum cast sculpture in the shape of a living fig tree the artist found in Italy. The 20-foot tree has glass shards embedded in its branches in a nod to the Kristallnacht. Also known as the Night of the Broken Glass, the Kristallnacht was the symbolic beginning of the Holocaust when Nazi mobs terrorized Jewish homes, businesses and places of worship.

The memorial site is envisioned as a gathering place for Grand Rapids’ Jewish community. The sculpture will serve as a teaching tool locally and nationally to address the Holocaust and its legacy. 

“The memorial has important significance to my family because our father was a survivor,” Linda Pestka said. ”The numbers 73847 are numbers that we will never forget. They were tattooed to my father’s forearm, as though he were an animal, as identification for his potential death. It is our duty to educate, respect and honor the victims and their families of the unthinkable acts against life and morality. 

“The Meijer Gardens memorial sculpture will allow hundreds of thousands of people each year to become educated and aware of the atrocities against humanity. May we never forget.”

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