When a devastating fire destroyed part of Highland Park Conservative Temple 10 years ago, among the losses was the wall that held the synagogue’s display of Holocaust memorial plaques.
At about the same time, Congregation Anshe Emeth of South River had removed its plaques in memory of Holocaust victims in preparation for its merger with HPCT.
For the last decade, members of the merged Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth (in the former HPCT) have mulled over “an appropriate and respectful” way to memorialize family and friends murdered in the Shoa.
“The truth is our plaques and memorials looked very different from each other,” said Linda Diamond, who cochairs the synagogue’s Holocaust memorial committee with Udi Shorr. “When we tried to merge the plaques, it didn’t look right. It just didn’t work.”
A decision was made to come up with a new concept: the “Unto Every Person There Is a Name” project, which instead of plaques has names inscribed on six tablets representing the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. Mounted on the wall next to them is the touch screen of a computer into which short biographies and photos of the memorialized victims have been entered.
“During these years of discussions, we realized we could also make this an educational tool,” said Diamond, adding that they also wanted to include family members of congregants who have joined since the merger.
The program already has 300 entries, though some encompass members of one family, said temple executive director Linda Tondow. “For example,” she said, “they may be listed as a man and his five children.”
To see the biographies and photos, users simply type a name on the screen. It will be available when the temple is open, except for Shabbat and certain religious holidays.
“We want this to be open to the community,” said Diamond, as she demonstrated how the memorial works by typing in the name of her relatives murdered in the Shoa, the Thaler family of Stanislav, Austria-Hungary.
Her grandfather, Max Thaler, and his brother, Fischel, both came to the United States in the years after World War I; their four siblings with their spouses and children were killed in the Holocaust. Diamond’s great-grandparents died before World War II. A prewar photo of the family appears on the screen.
“One of the witnesses to the family’s deaths came to the States after the war and told my grandfather how he saw them all shot and thrown into the burial pits,” said Diamond. “We have photos because the family had money and had hired a photographer to take pictures that they sent to my grandfather and great-uncle.”
Diamond said the memorial is open to anyone in the community who wishes to memorialize loved ones killed in the Shoa and that synagogue leaders have envisioned its being used to do research by local schools, scholars, and interested community members.
“We don’t want to make this just a temple project,” she said. A second phase will display historic information about the Holocaust.
Tondow said the thinking behind the interactive project was “to make those memorialized seem real,” and provide a lasting legacy for generations to come.
“A great-grandchild of those murdered will be able to show their children someday,” she said, adding that even those who don’t know the history of family members lost in the Holocaust may enter their names. “Sometimes surviving family didn’t want to talk about it because it was too painful,” said Tondow. “That in itself is a story.”
The cost to add a photo or biography to a currently listed name is $54; for a new name, $136; and for a new name plus photo and/or biography, $180. After paying the costs of installation, all money will be earmarked toward compiling and installing historic information in the memorial.
For information, contact Tondow at 732-545-6482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.