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Monday, February 27, 2017

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument 

cross-posted from Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art & Monuments

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999. The Calhoun Monument towers in the background. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument
by Samuel D. Gruber

A few months ago I wrote a post about a certain genre of Holocaust Memorials that I called "Things left Behind."  To the several memorials I discussed then I could have added the large Holocaust Monument  in Charleston, South Carolina, completed in 1999, where the central element is a lonely discarded tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl used by men in the synagogue and also in which for some it was customary to be wrapped for burial. Cast in bronze, the tallit lies on the floor of a rectangular space that can been seen as a synagogue, a prison, or even perhaps a gas chamber. Left behind, the tallit indicates prayer and life cut short, but also the rites of proper burial denied.

This one recognizable ritual object is set in the midst of a symbolic architecture which itself is inserted into an urban memorial field - Marion Square - rich and deceptive in the layers of history it chooses to reveal and hide. Designed by Jonathan Levi, the Holocaust Memorial was commissioned by the Charleston Jewish Federation. You can see more photos, drawings and models on the architect's website here.

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
I've made several visits to Charleston in recent years and in traveling around the historic city I've been attentive to markers and memorials that recognize and commemorate the Jewish history of the city, including the historic Jewish cemetery and the Francis Salvador marker. I've also been attentive to those markers, such as that at a former Brown Fellowship cemetery, that acknowledge - even in a small way - that for centuries Charleston was a majority African-American city where black slaves and then black citizens outnumbered whites. It can truly be said that slaves built Charleston - their sweat and toil, blood and struggles are mixed in the very bricks and mortar of the streets, churches, houses, and public buildings. Sadly, there are still too few markers commemorating and celebrating African-American history in the city (though the number is growing).  And none of these are in the three main ceremonial and commemorative spaces in the city - White Point Gardens, Washington Park, and Marion Square. These public parks have several monuments, however, that celebrate in some way the confederacy and slavery, and none is more prominent than the enormous Calhoun Monument that dominates Marion Square. Calhoun, a great defender of slavery, stands atop a tall monument fully visible from historic black churches in the area, including Mother Emanuel Church - where the terrible shootings took place in 2015.

The Calhoun monument also towers over Charleston's and South Carolina's official Holocaust Memorial Monument. While the city's Jewish community was able to erect a memorial to the injustices of Nazi Germany, no monument in the square explicitly mentions slavery or any of South Carolina's long history of crimes against African-Americans. A push to erect a monument in the square to Denmark Vesey, who threatened white rule, was rejected by the two private organizations, the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards which own the square and have final approval on all monuments even though the square is maintained by taxpayer dollars. Despite intensive lobbying, both organizations refused a Vesey statue. The armory (later the Citadel)which overlooks part the square was built in response to the failed Vesey slave rebellion. Nonetheless, memorials to the South's own rebellion against the United States, in which South Carolina was a leader, are legion.

Read more here....