At a ceremony on June 27, the Children’s Memorial Garden at Glen Cove’s Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center celebrated its reopening. Under a bright sun in sweltering heat, several dozen people gathered around the amphitheater of the garden, where more than 20 years of renovations have been completed.
“It has been a very long and tough year, and we’re so happy to see people enjoying the outdoors,” said Andrea Bolender, chair of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, which is adjacent to Welwyn Preserve. “This year, Welwyn and the memorial garden has become a beacon to this community.”
Bolender introduced Jolanta Zamecka, chair of the HMTC Garden Committee, who has been involved with the garden renovation project since its inception. “She had a vision,” Bolender said of Zamecka, “and her dedication and spirit has brought us to this day.”
“This Children’s Memorial Garden is dedicated to the one and a half million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust, and to all children throughout the world who died during World War II,” Zamecka said. “It is the first public garden of its kind in New York state.”
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 29, 2003, she explained, the garden was officially dedicated to those children. It was inspired by Holocaust survivor Irving Roth, who also started the Million Pennies Project, in which schoolchildren from suburban Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens collected pennies to create a garden as a living memorial. Each penny symbolized the stolen life of a child.
“These children must not be forgotten,” Zamecka said. “They were innocent victims during an incredibly brutal period of human history.”
The Holocaust center was founded in 1992, and in 1998, Zamecka said, she was asked by its board of directors to create a garden with the proceeds of the Million Pennies Project. “At first, the thought was to create a small garden in the back of the building,” she recalled, “but we gathered information from the Glen Cove Library that a formal garden already existed at Welwyn that was developed in 1911 by the residents of the house, Harold and Harriet Pratt.”
In 1998, Zamecka recounted, the garden “was an overgrown mess,” adding, “It was so overgrown you couldn’t recognize it as a garden, and certainly couldn’t enter it. With a machete, I hacked my way into the center and uncovered remnants of the old garden.”
The steps leading down to the garden, as well as the walls surrounding it, were deteriorated. “But I knew then, in my heart, this is where the Children’s Memorial Garden should be located,” Zamecka said.
In 2018, Garden Committee Vice Chairman Bob Praver got involved with the second stage of the revitalization. “There were two aspects to this effort,” Zamecka said. “One was the physical upgrading to the garden, and the second was to achieve the all-important goal of creating a connection between the garden and the mission of the Holocaust Center.”
For years, she said, the garden has been used as an outdoor classroom, but before the amphitheater was built, children “would sit around the old reflecting pool, which did not have water, with their feet dangling over the edge.”
Then, she said, there was the inscriptions project, Praver’s brainchild, seeking to develop a theme in which the garden would relate to the diverse aspects of the Holocaust: the origins of Nazi tyranny, the struggle against that tyranny, and the incalculable suffering. “The objective was accomplished by creating a series of 14 stanchions throughout the garden,” Zamecka said. “Each of them contains a quotation that captures a voice of the Holocaust.”
“We knew the direction we needed to go” in 2018, she said, “but to make dreams come true, you need to have a vision, and you need others who share that vision and want to fulfill [it].”
The ceremony honored two people who helped fulfill the dream for the garden: landscaper Steven Dubner and Steven Fleisher, of the Shirley and William Fleischer Family Foundation, which provided financial support.
“Steve Dubner not only shared our vision,” Zamecka said, “but he took us on a magical ride of grand possibility.”
In redesigning the amphitheater around the reflecting pool, Dubner said, the idea was to allow visitors to have space to “reflect on what they experienced” in a peaceful and tranquil environment. “This would be their opportunity to comprehend the impact on society of what had transpired in the past,” he said.
Fleisher, whose foundation donated more than $100,000 to the project, said that the values promoted by the center align with what his parents always believed in. “The idea of children coming and taking classes, learning lessons from the Holocaust — not just about what happened, but most importantly, so these lessons can be used so that others don’t suffer from bigotry and hatred, and how to become upstanders, not to just be passive — is so important,” he said.
HMTC is a small organization, Zamecka noted, but “the work that is done here is critical,” she said.