by David Taylor, Houston Chronicle staff writer, Nov. 18, 2022
Rozalie Jerome knows struggle. The Kingwood resident and executive director of the Holocaust Remembrance Association has spent the last 14 years dreaming of and working toward a memorial garden after a chance meeting with a descendant of a Nazi. On Nov. 14, with land clearing already underway, the blowing of the shofar at the groundbreaking signaled the beginning of construction on the project that is at least one-third funded.
Jerome’s work as a producer for a TV show, “The Crossover,” led to her first meeting of Jobst Bittner, author, pastor, and founder of the international March of Life movement. In a previous Chronicle story, Jerome’s work to organize the first Texas March of Life events introduced her to Alexander Pollak, a local resident and Holocaust survivor. His vision for the memorial garden was on the banks of Lake Houston near Kings Harbor where the lasting memorial was launched.
One by one, community leaders expressed their joint commitment to education, healing, and reconciliation as they assembled for the dirt-turning exercise for the Holocaust Garden of Hope in Kingwood. The public open-air museum, Jerome said, is designed to impact the next generation to take a stand against antisemitism, persecution, prejudice, and indifference.
“Your dedication to continued peace and unity in our community is greatly appreciated,” said city of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin relaying his pride in Houston and Kingwood for hosting the March of Remembrance the last decade and now the Holocaust Garden of Hope at Kings Harbor.
“On behalf of all the citizens of Houston, I thank you.”
The day began inside Raffa’s Restaurant where a VIP luncheon filled with donors, dignitaries, educators, and other civic governmental leaders heard a summary of the history of the Holocaust Garden of Hope. A panel interview emceed by award-winning broadcast journalist Shara Fryer enjoined the Consul of Israel to the Southwest Elad Shoshan and Consul General of Germany Kai Hennig.
Following an opening prayer by Rabbi Brian Strauss, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, the Machol Israeli Dance Company performed a moving dance to “Ein Od Milvado,” meaning “there is none besides Him.”
Claudia Kiesinger, repentant descendant of Nazi perpetrators and U.S. Director of the March of Remembrance, shared official remarks sent by German Pastor Jobst Bittner, founder of the International March of Life/March of Remembrance movement.
Child Holocaust survivor Ruth Steinfeld gave a brief explanation of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” that marked the turning point for increased persecution of German Jews prior to World War II.
“That’s the night my life changed forever,” she told in her story of how the Nazis ransacked her parents’ home and forcibly seized her grandfather and father. Her parents were murdered in Auschwitz. Miraculously, her mother had the courage to surrender Ruth and her sister to strangers who were able to arrange for the girls’ survival in hiding.
Holocaust survivors Morris Narunsky and Dr. Charles Guez and their descendants and those of liberators including Barb Isom, Cherri Huber, and Shara Fryer were also in attendance.
The garden is being designed by landscape architect Lauren Griffith and Cheryl Huffman of Lauren Griffith Associates. The chief graphic designer is Chris Frison of D|G Studios. Signage fabricators are Chris Brast and Isaac Lupovitch of Innovative Environments, and the metal and gate crafters are from Humble Industrial Services.
Susan Debose Peitzman is one of the commissioned artists for the project.
The ceremony ended with the blessing of the crowd in both English and Hebrew by Holocaust Remembrance Association Rabbi Dan Gordon of Temple Beth Torah and Rev. Doyle Theimer of Christ the King Lutheran Church.
While Phase One of the project is underway, the group still needs $2 million to finish the remaining exhibits. For details about Growing the Garden and planting a legacy through donations and corporate sponsorships, contact Jerome at email@example.com.
Plans call for the Garden to be free of charge to the public, and Jerome hopes it will not only be a local attraction, but a national and international destination.
“Today history is not just re-told in the Garden; rather, history is being made…But this, The Holocaust, may seem far removed from Texas and, indeed, the United States. But this remarkable Garden brings stories, pictures, and questions to Texas – freely to all who want to explore,” said Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, the author of the panel texts for the eight exhibits being built for the Holocaust Garden of Hope.