TEANECK -- An unused portion of Marie W. Andreas Park on the Hackensack River could become the site of what officials believe would be Bergen County's first Holocaust memorial and center focusing on genocide and tolerance.
Still in the conceptual phase, the Holocaust Memorial and Center for Tolerance Education would be dedicated to the memory of those who were systematically persecuted and murdered by the German Nazi regime during World War II. The victims included 6 million Jews and others, including Roma, known as Gypsies; Slavs; and the mentally ill and disabled.
The monument would include a sunken granite disk, a reflecting pool and benches in a park setting, organizers said. Residents would be able to place bricks or pieces of concrete at the site bearing names of relatives and friends who perished in or survived the Holocaust, said Steve Fox, co-chairman of the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee and the vice president of the Jewish Community Council of Teaneck.
An unused two-story carriage house on the property would be converted into an education center for exhibitions on genocide, racism and prejudice as well as for lectures, said Fox, whose father survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and fought with the Jewish resistance before immigrating to the United States in 1949. He died last year at age 89.
The number of surviving Holocaust victims is diminishing, prompting organizers to push for the memorial now. In New Jersey, the number of survivors has declined from 4,500 just five years ago, to 1,500 to 1,800 today, said Paul B. Winkler, executive director of the state Commission on Holocaust Education, which supports the Teaneck proposal.
Teaneck is also well-suited for another reason: In 1976, the school district was among the first in the state to include Holocaust studies in its curriculum, Winkler said.
"In a few years there will be no more eyewitnesses to the tragedies of the Holocaust," Fox told the Township Council when the preliminary site plan and designs were presented on Tuesday.
The center will be open to everyone, he said. And the committee planning the memorial is diverse, including not just people of the Jewish faith but Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics and Presbyterians as well.
"We are envisioning a place that will allow people of all races to come and reflect," Fox said. "A place where people will remember those who have perished. ... A place where people can bring their children to show them who their ancestors were and explain what they went through. A place where groups of students from all over the county can come to reflect on why it's important for every group to shun discrimination and hate and what happens when we let hate go unchecked. …