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Garden honors young victims, survivors of Holocaust

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Before staff members and volunteers gathered for socially distanced tour guide training at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County’s Children’s Memorial Garden on Friday, Oct. 9, Meryl Menashe walked up to a stanchion in which the name Vladka Meed was etched, along with some of her words.

“I will make you proud,” Menashe said, patted the stanchion.

Menashe, a member of the Children’s Memorial Garden Committee and a longtime educator at the center, in Glen Cove, knew Meed, who died at age 90 in 2012. She was a member of the Jewish resistance in Poland who smuggled dynamite into the Warsaw Ghetto and helped children escape. Meed is one of 14 victims and survivors of the Holocaust who are memorialized on stanchions throughout the garden.

In the past couple of years, the Children’s Memorial Garden, which was dedicated in 2003 to the 1.5 million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust, has undergone a number of renovations, including the installation and etching of the stanchions.

Tours designed by the Children’s Memorial Garden Committee will lead groups through this dark chapter of history, reading the words of those like Anne Frank, who was 15 when she died, leaving behind her diaries, and Janusz Korczak, a Polish educator, children’s author and doctor who worked at an orphanage in Warsaw and was killed at the Treblinka extermination camp. Anne Frank, Menashe said, “wanted to live after her death,” Menashe said. “And she did.”

“The point of this garden tour, designed by Meryl and the garden committee, is to really highlight voices of the Holocaust,” said Helen Turner, the center’s director of education.

The tours, which must be booked three days in advance, will run through Nov. 15, and will take groups on a 45-minute journey of quotes from before, during and after the Holocaust, all etched onto the 14 stations. “As we go through, you have the warning signs, you have Jewish resistance, you have rescue,” Menashe explained. “The last one was also a child’s voice, which was also deliberate.”

We want the voices of the Holocaust to come alive,” she added. “If it didn’t give me chills, I didn’t put it in.”

Menashe said she was proudest of the fact that every voice included in the garden is somehow connected to the Holocaust. “We wanted [the quotes] to be balanced; we wanted to represent everything,” she said, “and I have to say, it was a great committee. Everyone respected everybody, and there was a lot of give and take.”

The history of the Children’s Memorial Garden

According to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center website, the Children’s Memorial Garden is the first in its kind on public grounds in New York state. In the early 1900s, the property, today known as the Welwyn Preserve, was a 204-acre parcel given to Harriet and Harold Pratt as a wedding gift.

In the 1910s, Harriet Pratt asked the renowned landscape architects the Olmsted Brothers to design the layout of the estate as well as a garden, which was subsequently developed by Martha Brown Hutcheson and James Leal Greenleaf.

Harold Pratt died in 1939, and Harriet in 1963. In 1975 the property was bequeathed to Nassau County, and become the Welwyn Preserve.

In 1996, the Million Pennies Project, the brainchild of Holocaust survivor Irving Roth, was launched with the purpose of creating a Children’s Memorial Garden. By the end of 1998, according the HMTC website, students from Nassau and Suffolk counties to Queens had accumulated $12,000 in pennies, each representing a child who died, for the garden.

Volunteers hacked through the brush that covered the garden created almost 100 years earlier. On April 29, 2003 — Holocaust Remembrance Day — the Children’s Memorial Garden was officially dedicated as a living tribute to the 1.5 million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust.

In 2019, an amphitheater for outdoor workshops and events, and the stanchions, were completed. “It’s a beautiful project,” Menashe said.

To schedule a tour of the garden, contact Rachel Cara, the center’s education programming coordinator, at (516) 571-8040 or rachelcara@hmtcli.org. For more information about the garden or the center, go to www.hmtcli.org.