The Sonoma County Community Holocaust Memorial is a collaboration project between a local artist and synagogues. It was created with the intention to preserve the memory of those affected in any way by the Genocide of the Second Word War and to act as a site of education for the community.
The Creation of the Memorial
Leslie Gattmann—The Artist
As the child of Holocaust survivors it has been an honor to work on the Sonoma County Holocaust Memorial. Asked to work on this project by Dennis Judd, I have had the opportunity to hear many stories of loss and survival as I worked with each family to create a tile honoring their murdered relatives.
I grew up with a strong Jewish identity, not particularly religious, but highly identified. I was also influenced by Camp Swig, a Jewish summer camp in the Santa Cruz mountains where a remarkable metal artist, Helen Burke, along with architect Samuel Noily created an award winning holocaust memorial. This memorial was in the form of a chapel in the redwoods which appeared inside like an eastern european synagogue, but on the outside, like a modern Northern California building that blended into the surrounding environment. An extensive mosaic floor graced the outdoor attached patio depicting the 12 Tribes of Israel. With the artistic help of hundreds of campers, it took more than 10 years to finish.
After my first year of college I left school to live in Israel for a year to try to understand my personal relationship with the country. Living on a kibbutz, learning to speak and write Hebrew gave me the foundation that I later built upon as I tried to weave together my interest in ceramics and Jewish identity.
When I returned to school at UC Santa Cruz, I majored in ceramics, and worked in Jewish education for income. Melding these two areas together, I began my business, Ceramic Judaica, creating Jewish ritual objects in porcelain, a niche that did not have much competition at the time. I studied Hebrew calligraphy and incorporated calligraphy into almost everything I made. My husband, Gene Frank, joined me in the business and we were able to grow it eventually to support our family. Ceramic Judaica was successful until my husband tragically died in 1998. Having 2 young children, I could not keep running the business by myself. As I tried to heal from the loss, I shattered some of our ceramic pieces to create a beautiful birdbath in his memory, and thus began my interest in mosaic.
Eventually I was able to return to school to earn my teaching credential in special education, always an interest of mine. I taught in the public school system for the next 7 years. Alongside my teaching career, a dear friend and I began "Celebrations!"--a Jewish education program for special needs families.
As soon as I decided to stop teaching full time, Dennis asked me to work with him to fulfill his mother’s dream of a holocaust memorial to be placed in the cemetery where Dennis’s father was buried. Both parents were survivors of Auschwitz, and both had lost many family members in the holocaust.
The first wall created, honors Dennis’s parents, Lillian and Emil Judd. It includes a quote from Elie Wiesel, reminding us we are the privileged custodians of the memory of the Holocaust. There is also a poem by Rabbi Jack Riemer and Sylvan Kamens for anyone visiting the cemetery and grieving. There are 2 shattered doves, representing the shattering of peace and justice, but as your eyes move up the wall they become restored to fullness. There are sharp fragments of mirror that reflect ourselves as we stand before the memorial, reminding us that it could have been ourselves who were targeted by the Nazis.
The two remaining walls of the memorial are dedicated to our community remembrance of relatives. I meet with each family and together we design a tile that represents their story of loss in the Holocaust.
Currently I am working on the third wall and there are still some spaces left for others who want to participate.