Statehouse Holocaust Memorial Unveiling Caps Three-Year Journey

Listen to the Story

Ohio Governor and artist Daniel Libeskind reflect on the Holocaust Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse(Photo: Ohio Public Radio)
Ohio Governor and artist Daniel Libeskind reflect on the Holocaust Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse(Photo: Ohio Public Radio)

Monday’s Holocaust Memorial unveiling at the Ohio Statehouse marks the end of a three year saga from conception to creation. The story includes some controversy and the resignation of a top Statehouse official.

Three years ago Gov. John Kasich insisted that Ohio needed some type of memorial to pay tribute to the victims and liberators.

“We need to have remembrance in this Statehouse,” Kasich said at the annual Holocaust Commemoration. “That members of our Legislature and members of the public as they pass through this great rotunda will be able to understand not just the history of the times when people wouldn’t stand but the fact that it’s today that we must stand against evil.”

Those comments set the memorial project in motion. The Capitol Square board which runs the Statehouse created a panel to select a memorial site and artist. However, the board’s chair, former Republican Senate President Richard Finan, strongly opposed the project.

Finan didn’t believe the Statehouse was the appropriate site for a Holocaust memorial and claimed the governor’s involvement intruded the intended independence of the Capitol Square board.

“What the governor should have done was come to the board to apply for a memorial and then the memorial would go through a process within the board and be approved or not be approved. He didn’t do that, ” Finan said last year.

Tensions escalated after Finan asked a Statehouse crew to construct a mock-up of the memorial.  An 18-foot structure made up of pipes, tarps, and rope stood on the south lawn.

Finan eventually resigned soon after casting the only “no” vote on the Holocaust Memorial plans.

Other groups suggested that the memorial, which includes two tablets displaying the Star of David in the middle, could threaten First Amendment rights.

Joe Sommer is an Ohio board member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation who testified against the structure.

“We’re concerned that the prominent display of the Star of David—which is a sacred symbol of the Jewish religion—constitutes an endorsement of a specific and therefore would violate the First Amendment, ” Sommer said.

Joyce Garver Keller, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities says the star does not promote any certain religion and stresses the importance of the memorial standing on public grounds.

“Yes it’s appropriate for government because the Holocaust did not begin with smokestacks and ovens it began in the halls of government where legislation was passed that allowed the expulsion of Jews and others that the Nazis didn’t support.”

During the unveiling ceremony, Governor Kasich said he hopes the memorial reminds visitors to continue the fight against prejudice and recognize the evil that still exists.