We’ve made it a habit to wander the city looking both up and down. But we can also find the unexpected by looking straight ahead. On the corner of Madison Avenue and East 25th Street is a discreet yet stark and deeply affecting Holocaust memorial. The piece’s smaller scale makes it an easy miss but placed at eye-level, it is an evocative memorial worth examining up close on the annex facade of the Appellate Division Courthouse.
The five-story building that houses the sculpture was built in the 1950s, an addition to the marble main building, which easily overshadows the annex with its riot of Beaux-Arts decorative features, typical of the “City Beautiful” era. But Looking closely at the annex reveals a somewhat different piece of public art. Carved at the base of a relief is an aerial view of Auschwitz, titled “Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust.”
The inscriptions “Indifference to Injustice” and “Is the Gate to Hell” frame the top and bottom of the camp. Chilling details such as names of the specific locations and divisions, such as the Torture Chamber and Commandant’s within the camp provide further meaning.
Commissioned by the Appellate Court, the Holocaust memorial is the work of artist Harriet Feigenbaum. Feigenbaum based the piece on a 1945 photograph taken during an Allied bombing. Feigenbaum’s choice of source material is used to question the moral character of the Allies, who, by the taking the photo itself, exhibit their awareness of the camp existence, and their simultaneous indifference to addressing that very existence. By doing so, she demonstrates the terrors that arise when law and justice are left by the wayside.
This particular piece of public art manages to be provocative and subtle at the same time, making it worthy of the pause and close up inspection.