The ashes of the millions who were put to death by Nazi Germany were ground into the earth of Eastern Europe long ago, and many concentration camp survivors have nowhere to go to mourn their dead.
Looking back on the horrors of those years, Lydia Budgor paused with a catch in her throat as work began Tuesday in Pan Pacific Park on a monument to victims of the Holocaust.
Mood of Period
"Most of us survivors don't have any graves to come to, to meditate and to pray," she said. "This is a place where I will come several times a year to sit down and meditate and pray and say this is part of me and my family."
Budgor is president of the Council of Postwar Jewish Organizations and Nazi Holocaust Survivors of Southern California, some of whose members have been working for more than 20 years to establish a memorial in Los Angeles.
About 50 of them gathered on a grassy slope at the north end of the Fairfax District park to embrace, listen to brief speeches and turn the first spades of earth for construction of the six black granite pillars that will make up the monument.
"It does not attempt to do what history books would do, but it helps create the mood of the period," said Joseph Young, its designer.
Topped by lamps that will be lit for 24 hours once a year to mark Yom Hashoa, the international day of Holocaust remembrance, each pillar will carry a bas relief showing a scene from the destruction of European Jewry.
Twelve more plaques will tell the story of the period, from Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933 to the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945.
"Since our families perished in the Holocaust, we wanted to have a place where we can mourn them and we can always remember them," said Otto Schirn, a native of Vienna and survivor of the Auschwitz death camp. "We wanted to do it in a public place where everybody can share our sorrow with us."
Schirn, longtime president of a group of concentration camp survivors from Poland, said he has been working on the project since the late 1960s. But it was only four years ago that permission was granted to place the monument in the park, which is located between Beverly Boulevard and 3rd Street in the heart of the city's Jewish community.
Schirn credited county Supervisor Ed Edelman with coming up with the site and with prodding real estate developer Jona Goldrich to chair the fund-raising committee.
"Ed Edelman said you've got to take this on, otherwise this monument will never be built," said Goldrich, who fled Nazi-occupied Poland as a teen-ager in 1942. "I think the Holocaust is important for everybody to know about, not just Jewish people."
Goldrich said he has raised $220,000 toward the $1.4-million project, with an additional $230,000 in pledges.
With the Simon Wiesenthal Center seeking donations for its museum on Pico Boulevard, the Martyrs Memorial museum of the Jewish Federation Council moving into new quarters on Wilshire Boulevard and fund-raising under way for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, "some people say, 'How many Holocaust things do we need?' "Goldrich said.
He said his response is that the museums will serve people who know about the Holocaust and are seeking to learn more, while the monument in Pan Pacific Park will alert future generations who know nothing about it.
"I want it to make an impression in this city. It's got to be overwhelming," he said. "If you built a monument on every street corner in Los Angeles, you couldn't tell the story. That's how horrible (the Holocaust) was."
Although he is not a survivor of the concentration camps, Young said the theme of the monument is a familiar one.
"Like many people, I did have relatives who were lost," he said.
Young's resume includes murals at UCLA, the 84-foot-high west apse of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington and mosaics in several Los Angeles synagogues.
Trust Fund Established
An agreement calls for the county to provide security and routine maintenance for the monument, and the sponsors are responsible for setting up a trust fund to cover extraordinary maintenance problems such as those that crippled the Triforium, Young's most visible work.
Erected in City Hall Mall in downtown Los Angeles in 1975, the six-story Triforium was supposed to broadcast recorded music from its self-contained glass bell carillon as a computer told 1,494 colored glass prisms when to light up, and how brightly.
But its moving parts soon broke down, and the Triforium has been dark and quiet in recent years.
"That baby was born years ago and it has to grow up on its own," Young said. "It would be nice if the city would learn how to use it."
He said that the Holocaust monument would be fashioned from heavy, two-inch slabs of imported black granite and that he and two assistants would make plaster casts of the bas reliefs to be cast in bronze at a foundry.
"Hopefully it will be completed by next year, so that the flames can be lit for Yom Hashoa in reality," he said. The commemoration day, based on the Jewish calendar, occurs in the spring. This year it was Tuesday.