Rio de Janeiro inaugurates new Holocaust memorial with 72-foot tower

Widow of the local Jewish politician who conceptualized the memorial says she hopes students will visit often, so they'll 'know better what the Holocaust and the Nazi regime were'

A rendering of the new Holocaust memorial in Rio de Janeiro. (Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust/Deputy Gerson Bergher via JTA)

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Rio de Janeiro inaugurated a Holocaust memorial that includes a 72-foot-tall tower and overlooks Sugarloaf Mountain, one of South America’s most famous landmarks.

Several government officials and Jewish communal representatives attended an inauguration event in Brazil’s second largest city on Sunday. Brazil’s Secretary of Communications Fabio Wajngarten, who is Jewish, represented President Jair Bolsonaro.

“I am a grandson of Holocaust survivors. My grandmother had a number tattooed on her arm and what she told me I will never forget. We cannot forget the atrocities of the Holocaust,” Wajngarten said.

The memorial’s tower is divided into 10 parts, representing the Ten Commandments. At its base, the sentence “Thou shalt not kill” is written. A large underground space houses a high-tech interactive exhibition area.

This December 18, 2019, handout photo provided by Agencia Brasil shows Communications Director Fabio Wajngarten in Brasilia, Brazil. (Carolina Antunes/Agencia Brasil via AP)

Brazil’s Supreme Court president, Judge Luiz Fux, stressed that one cannot remain indifferent to the pain of others and quoted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

“Indifference is the greatest danger for humankind. All of this was due to indifference. Not remembering the Holocaust means killing these people again,” said Fux, a Rio-born grandson of Romanian Jewish refugees who became the first Jewish president of Brazil’s highest court earlier this year.

The memorial is located at the peak of the Yitzhak Rabin park, which was itself inaugurated by the widow of Israel’s murdered prime minister, Leah Rabin, in 1996. The venue offers a breathtaking view of the picturesque Sugarloaf Mountain.

Brazilian Jewish politician Gerson Bergher. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Funded by the private sector, the memorial was conceptualized by late Rio city council member Gerson Bergher. His widow and recently reelected Rio council member Teresa Bergher stressed the memorial’s educational purposes.

“Our intention is that public schools can make constant visits to the memorial, so that students of the municipal and state network will know better what the Holocaust and the Nazi regime were,” she said.

The Berghers’ son Ary, a former president of the Rio Jewish federation, reminded those at the event of his father’s 30-year dedication to building the memorial.

“He fought to leave a legacy for humanity. The memorial is a dream come true,” Ary Bergher said.

The memorial is expected to host national and international exhibitions with themes that concern the defense of human rights, tolerance and humanism. It will work in cooperation with other major institutions of its kind, including Holocaust museums in Jerusalem and Washington, and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a recorded video message that played at the event Sunday.

“It’s my hope that this new memorial will serve to strengthen awareness of the Holocaust to this generation and for generations to come,” Netanyahu said.

Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, a fervent Evangelical Christian and a longtime right-wing pro-Israel friend of the Jewish community, laid the memorial cornerstone in 2017.

Rio is home to some 35,000 Jews. About half of Brazil’s 120,000-member Jewish community lives in Sao Paulo.

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