Verona, NJ – They are memories so painful, they’re fueling a heated debate in an unexpected spot.
A neighborhood in Verona, New Jersey is divided over a Holocaust memorial. Some residents say the memorial is a daily reminder of death, and they want it moved.
The memorial is a railroad track leading to a barbed wire-wrapped star bearing the names of concentration camps. It’s the vision of Sarah Kriegel, the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
“The tracks are the ones that carried all the people to the death camps, to the labor camps,” Kriegel says.
“We have to remember the Holocaust,” a Verona resident said.
The memorial, just outside Congregation Beth AHM of West Essex in Verona, brings Jane Janoff to tears – but not for the reasons you may think.
“When my 10-year-old daughter thinks something like this is going to happen to her, she’s too young to understand that it’s not,” Janoff says. “But she really thinks something is going to happen to her because of this memorial.”
Janoff, whose husband, Michael, is Jewish, says she doesn’t mind having a memorial across from her home. However, she says she’s offended by the 11 wooden railroad ties representing the six million Jews and five million Christians killed in the labor camps.
“Really, it’s a symbol of death to us,” she says.
Janoff and some of her neighbors want the tracks pulled.
“I feel that this memorial is very extreme,” one neighbor says.
“I wouldn’t even mind if it’s temporary, kind of like you have Nativity scenes from Christmas. Fine, I get it. To me, that would be more acceptable,” Michael Janoff says. “But every day, day in and day out, I have to think about, ‘wow, people died during this event.’ It’s just horrible.”
Rabbi Aaron Kriegel says the tracks are an important teaching tool, and he has no plans to remove them.
“If we took out the tracks, we would just be giving in to the senseless kind of thinking that says, ‘well, I can close my eyes while evil happens and pretend that it’s not there,'” Rabbi Kriegel says.
It’s a lesson no one wants to live through again.
Residents complained to the Town of Verona, but the town manager says there’s nothing they can do because the memorial doesn’t violate any statutes or codes.