Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial offers an experience not easily forgotten

Posted October 1, 2015


I picked a hot, sunny September afternoon to visit the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial.

As I entered the Memorial, the first thing I noticed were the other visitors. The people walking along side of me through the exhibit were not your typical Miami Beach tourists: people looking for nightlife, celebrities, models and shopping. These tourists were sober, thoughtful, sad and some were even crying.

As I walked further into the Memorial, I realized that I wasn’t just seeing a different type of tourist, rather, I was seeing the impact the Holocaust Memorial has on everyone who visits. It is an emotionally charged tour, groups of usually rowdy and unruly school groups were quiet, they looked shocked, and they were scared by the stories they heard and statues they saw.

The Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach is an experience not easily forgotten. It is about the atrocities that man can commit against his fellow man, it is about death and unthinkable suffering, it is about tearing apart families, but it is also about survival and the ability of man to rise above and go on.

The Memorial is about people.

It commemorates the death of six million Jewish men, women and children killed by the Nazis during World War II; it is about death, suffering and surviving. It is not solemn and not contemplative.

Unlike the Vietnam memorial, and the 9/11 Memorial, which acknowledge the dead in a tasteful and respectful way, the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial forces the visitor to think about how many innocent people died and how they had died. The scenes depicted are horrific. There are not many places that make such an indelible impact. Many would argue that only by forcing people to remember the horror can we ensure that it doesn’t happen again to others.

Why did such a solemn, important and educational memorial find its home here? Isn’t it out of place? Such a stark contrast to the Miami party-loving atmosphere that we are used to seeing? The reason is because South Florida has one of the highest populations of Holocaust survivors in the United States, with many of them residing within the city limits.

When approaching the Memorial on foot, the first thing one sees is an enormous green sculpture of a hand reaching from the earth towards the heavens. It is in the middle of a pond full of lily pads.

At first a visitor might assume that the hand is reaching triumphantly out of the ground fighting against tyranny, illustrating the resilience of the human spirit; but as one approaches, one sees that the hand is made up of naked people struggling in pain and agony. The hand is reaching out in desperation, pleading for help. Each of the figures appear in extreme pain. Some are choking. Some are angry. Many figures were adults holding dead children in their arms.

To approach the hand one must walk on a beautiful walkway called the Arbor of History, which leads to the lonely path. As you walk through the lonely path you hear a recording of children speaking in Hebrew; on the wall are names of all the major concentration camps.

At the end of the path, there is a sculpture of a small woman whose face is in complete agony and whom reaches out towards you. As you approach, there are many more statues surrounding the pond. Some are crying, some are dead; all are skeletal and emaciated.

One of the most memorable parts of this Memorial is soon to disappear forever, and there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. It is what gives this sad place a sense of hope and it was the favorite part of my visit: it is the interaction visitors can have with the Holocaust survivors who volunteer at the Memorial and who share their stories. It is what gives the Memorial its heart and hope for the future.

A small visitor center is directly to the right side of the fountain. This is where one can find any information about the Memorial and talk with the volunteers; it is one of the most inspirational parts of visiting the Memorial.

I met Henry Flesher, age 91, who is a Holocaust survivor from Vienna, Austria. He works three days a week as a volunteer. You can still hear the Viennese accent; he has a sparkling smile and after five minutes of talking you feel as though you’ve made a new lifelong friend. The obvious joy he takes from his job is contagious and the horror of the last hour of he Memorial suddenly dissipated.

Flescher initially escaped to France where he was housed in Drancy deportation camp, a place where Jews, gypsies and other were held before getting shipped to the German concentration camps. Flescher did become a prisoner at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp and he showed me the tattoo of numbers inked on his arm. Flescher is the only survivor of his large family.

But despite his losses and all that he suffered, he has a positive outlook on life; he has been widowed twice, has three step grandchildren, and despite his age of 92, he hopes to marry again. He told me he enjoys“bingo, playing cards and dancing.”He told me he believed that:“if more people visited the Memorial and reflected on the past our future would be brighter.”

There are many reasons why it is important to visit this Memorial. It makes us feel the horror. It’s hard to come to terms with the human capability for evil that is shown here; we feel the Holocaust in all its horror. The mark of a great work of art can be to leave the viewer so agitated that it haunts them, and a visit to this Memorial could likely haunt you forever.

If You Go

  • Located at 1933-45 Meridian Ave., Miami Beach, Fla.
  • Admission to the Memorial is free.
  • Open to the public 365 days a year beginning at 9:30 a.m. and closing at sunset every day.
  • The final time of admission is 10 p.m.
  • Driving directions:
    • From the North: Take I-95 south to I-95- East/Julia Tuttle Causeway. Exit to the right onto Alton Road. Turn left on Dade Boulevard. Turn left on Meridian Avenue. The Memorial will be on the left.
    • From the South: Take I-95 north to I-395- East/MacArthur Causeway. Exit on the left onto Alton Road. Turn right on 17th Street. Turn left on Meridian Avenue. The memorial will be on the right.
  • City metered parking is available at the Memorial; coin change is needed. $1.50/hour.
  • There is metered parking available along the streets and in a small parking lot off 19th Street. The large parking lot off 19th Street is the Convention Center’s parking lot and costs $15 flat. Additional municipal parking is available on Meridian Ave. between 17th and 18th Streets, next to City Hall, which also is $15 flat.
  • The closest parking garage is at the intersection of Convention Center Drive and 17th Street and costs $1/hour.
  • Public transportation is available 7 days a week on Miami-Dade Bus Route 123- South Beach Local Metro Bus Fare: $2.25.
  • The Memorial is fully accessible to all patrons.
  • A wheelchair can be made available by calling 305-538-1663.
  • If you need the assistance of an American sign language interpreter, please call 305-538-1663.
  • Groups of 10 or more people must make a reservation.
  • Eating, drinking, and smoking are not permitted on the grounds of the Memorial.
  • Pets are not allowed; however, service animals are permitted.
  • Proper clothing, including shoes and shirts, is required.
  • Personal photography is welcome; however photo shoots are not permitted without express permission.
  • Bicycles, scooters and Segways are not permitted on the grounds of the Memorial.
  • Keep cell phones to a minimum and refrain from using profanity or other offensive behaviors.