- “Never bow your head, be helpful, and fight for justice and righteousness”: Nathan Rapoport and Philadelphia’s Holocaust Memorial (1964)
Nathan Rapoport’s Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs (figure 1) is a bronze sculpture situated at one of the busiest intersections in Philadelphia.1 The monument depicts two women, two children, hands holding daggers, a rabbi, and a Torah, all surrounded by the flames of a menorah.2 The sculpture was installed in 1964 and is located on a triangular plaza at the corner of Sixteenth and Arch Streets (figure 2), within view of City Hall, at the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the boulevard where such cultural institutions as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, and the recently moved Barnes Collection (figure 3) are situated. But despite the sculpture’s prominent location, it is rarely designated on maps and has gone practically unremarked in US literature on Holocaust memory.3 The sculpture does not appear in a 1980 brochure, with maps, of public art in the city that was published by the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art. In fact, it was not until 1991 that Rapoport’s sculpture was listed in a book on Philadelphia’s public art.4 Except for services on Holocaust Remembrance Day (hereafter called the “Yizkor Service”)—which takes place annually in April, when thousands of Philadelphians gather to commemorate the six million Jews and the other victims of Nazism who were murdered in the Holocaust—the space receives little formal attention.5 This is not a surprise for the 1960s and 1970s, since during that time, while Jewish communities in the United States were interested in the subject of the Holocaust, non-Jewish Americans had little or no concern for the topic. Philadelphia, however, was an exception.
The monument was commissioned by a base of well-established German-Jewish immigrants as well as by “New Americans” (Holocaust survivors). In 1967, a few years after the monument was installed, the Memorial Committee organized itself under the auspices of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The Memorial Committee was instrumental in creating one of the earliest Holocaust education programs in US public schools, [End Page 159] organized opposition to antisemitic activities, and brought together Philadelphia’s Christian and Jewish communities.6 So while the general public may have paid little attention to the monument, the Memorial Committee played a large and highly public role in promoting Holocaust memory and Jewish life in Philadelphia.
But public recognition of the monument did not extend outside of the Jewish community until the twenty-first century. This essay seeks to weave Rapoport’s monument into the dialogue of Holocaust memory in the United States by explaining the artist’s sculptural contributions to Holocaust memory, relating the commission of the monument, and explaining the work of the Memorial Committee and its impact on both Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Philadelphia.
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The New York Times did not mention the memorial in its 1987 obituary of Rapoport, instead invoking his more famous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument of 1948 and his 1983 Liberty Monument, in New Jersey.7 Sibyl Milton, in her 1991 book on Holocaust memorials, briefly mentions Rapoport’s Philadelphia monument, and posits that Rapoport’s work has been forgotten because of 1960s attitudes toward the Holocaust in the United States...