Change in direction for proposed Holocaust memorial

A rendering of the initial proposal for a Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial. (Photo courtesy Dan Dembling)A rendering of the initial proposal for a Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial. (Photo courtesy Dan Dembling)

NISKAYUNA — Grim reminders of German concentration camps, including a large dark wall and a rail car, will no longer be part of the Holocaust memorial proposed for Niskayuna.

“The original design is off the table, and that was really a shock and awe design,” said Neil Golub, executive chairman of the board of the Golub Corp. and a leader in the Jewish community. Golub described himself as a “facilitator” between the United Jewish Federation and The Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial group headed by Dr. Michael Lozman.

Lozman, a Latham orthodontist, last fall proposed his vision of a $1.4 million memorial on 2 acres of land off Route 7 donated by Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery operated by the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese..

On April 10, about 120 people packed the boardroom at Niskayuna Town Hall for a public hearing on the project, with dozens speaking for and against the memorial during a two-hour session.

At the meeting, Golub said the Jewish community was never consulted about the plans for the memorial. Since then, there has been discussion between community members and Lozman.

Lozman did not disclose details on any revisions during Monday telephone conversations.

“We are working together with the Jewish Federation to develop a consensus and so far we have been quite successful and there’s more work to be done,” Lozman said. “There are changes in the design that will be coming as we continue our discussions.

“We’re working as a team and we’re looking at all parameters.”

Lozman also said he may be asking for more time as the proposal changes.

The Town Board had been scheduled to vote on a special use permit necessary for the construction of the memorial at its Sept. 25 meeting. The vote has already been postponed twice, from May 22 and June 26.

“Considering all the work and effort we’re all putting into it, it probably will require some extra time,” Lozman said. “In the process of making changes, October gives us more time to get thoughts together and work out consensus.”

Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said she does not expect the Town Board will vote on the special use permit in September.

“As it is, we’re looking at October,” Syed said, adding that Lozman has told officials he wants to conduct focus groups with the public.

“He hasn’t been able to schedule anything with anybody yet,” Syed said. “We’re hoping he can do that now that he has a little bit more time.”

If significant changes are made to the proposal, Syed added, designs and plans would once again have to be presented to the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Commission.

Board member John Della Ratta said it sounds like a new plan is coming.

“The important thing is we do something that is suitable for that area and hopefully suitable for the residents of the town of Niskayuna,” Della Ratta said. “I’m certainly in no rush to do it. Whatever we do do, we certainly want to do it right.”

Golub said people want something softer in a memorial that recalls such a tragic time.

“I think the community wanted something that was inspirational, a place where you could go and have a feeling of, ‘We have to do this, we have to remember,'” he said. “But his [Lozman’s] design is off the table. He has agreed to that, which I think is a tremendous step in the right direction. I highly compliment him on that.”

Golub said architects are now working on designs for the project. Sculptors and experts on the Holocaust also have been consulted.

Golub also said a delay could last past October; a complete, revised version of the project may not be ready for presentation to town officials for several months.

“What’s important is we agree on what has to be done,” Golub said. “We’re off on the right foot to come up with something that everybody can buy into.

“I see no harm in the town putting this off until we have come up with a plan,” Golub added. “We are committed to coming up with a plan.”

Some residents have spoken against the memorial, stating the tools of oppression, such as a railway car, which would have symbolized the way Jews and others were transported to camps during World War II, should not be used to honor Jewish dead.

The dark wall on the grounds was meant to symbolize gas chambers used in the camps.

Other have expressed concerns that dangerous traffic conditions and the potential for vandalism could come with the memorial. Some have wondered about a memorial expansion, or other groups requesting similar consideration for memorials in the town.

Golub said he does not believe the memorial, if built, will attract massive crowds.

“Will it draw hordes of people, like a theater outing at Proctors?” he asked. “No, it won’t. It will draw no more than you would have at a big funeral.”

Contact Gazette Reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.