Thanks to an outpouring of support from over 250 donors, ranging from Holocaust survivors, to national foundations, and civic leaders from the city, our dream of a Holocaust Memorial Plaza in Philadelphia is now a reality. The plaza opened to the public on October 22nd, 2018 as the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza. I am humbled that the lead donor, Alan Horwitz, chose not only to contribute this generous gift, but also to share his naming opportunity to honor my grandfather, Sam Wasserman. Sam survived the Holocaust, but lost his first wife and children in the Sobibor death camp. My grandfather didn’t just survive—he fought back, escaping the camp, fighting the rest of the war as a partisan and somehow finding the strength to build a new life and family in America. Sam acted as a surrogate father to Alan, and Alan in turn has been a professional partner, mentor, and surrogate father to me. I am proud that this special place will keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive for many more generations to come.
Alan’s gift movingly supports Sam’s values of hope and resilience. The Memorial Plaza honors and promotes these values through engaging educational content and physical reminders of the past to gather around and reflect upon. The original group of survivors and Jewish community and business leaders that spearheaded the development of the original Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs in 1964 were visionary leaders. They foresaw the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive as a lesson for future generations. Inspired by their vision, we set out to reactivate and enhance the Memorial Plaza knowing that the need for Holocaust education and for tolerance is more important than ever. But even with construction complete, our work is far from over.
Seven decades after the Holocaust, many of us go about our daily lives thinking that Nazi-style hatred and prejudice are things of the past. They are not. Just days after the Memorial Plaza’s opening, a gunman brutally murdered eleven members of the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. Nationwide, anti-Semitic incidents rose nearly 60 percent between 2016 and 2017 — the largest single-year increase ever documented by the Anti-Defamation League — and that distressing trend has continued. At the same time, time is diminishing the voices of the last survivors. There is a real risk that knowledge of and connection to modern history’s worst genocide will fade from memory.
In this new reality, it is critical that the Memorial Plaza be a transformational place for civic engagement and learning not only today, but well into the future. We continue to fundraise towards an endowment so we can fulfill our mission to ensure that people never forget the Holocaust, to educate, and to work towards a world of tolerance and enlightenment. An endowment will fund long term maintenance and security for the site, as well as staffing to support educational programs and partnerships that serve and impact generations to come.
To this end, we are also now focusing on the important work of building an education program to extend our impact even further. To bring relevant, relatable, and inspiring content to the Memorial Plaza, we have partnered with the USC Shoah Foundation to develop a pioneering mobile app, IWalk. IWalk guides visitors through the Memorial Plaza using personal testimonials from Holocaust survivors and witnesses. As visitors approach specific features of the site, IWalk presents content specific to each feature and customizes it to each visitor’s age, language preference, and learning objectives. We are also partnering with ADL Philadelphia to train area teachers on the IWalk’s innovative curriculum.
I am inspired by the overwhelming support for the Memorial Plaza we created, and invite you to join us as we transform Holocaust remembrance and education for future generations.
Chairman, Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation
CEO, Campus Apartments