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Friday Slide Show: Segal's Holocaust Memorial Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

11 December 2015

Much of modern art is a puzzle. But there are some things you get at first glance. George Segal's Holocaust Memorial is one of them.

Holocaust Memorial. Across the road from the Legion of Honor.

We seem to recall first seeing it displayed indoors in Rochester, N.Y. But it was created for the California Palace of the Legion of Honor where it now stands overlooking the Golden Gate not far from Francis Willard's plaque quoting her argument for equal rights, "We are all one tempted humanity."

The placement was intentional. Segal thought the viewer might counterbalance the depiction of death looking at the memorial with the view of life looking the other way, like the one standing figure at the fence.

That standing figure was, like the 10 prone figures, cast from a real human being. He had been in the camps himself as a boy and agreed to have his body cast as the single survivor in the piece, his hand resting on the barbed wire fence.

The inspiration for the figure was, apparently, a Magaret Bourke-White photo from 1945 of survivors on the death camps.

The figures are bronze painted white, resembling the casts made of the victims of Pompeii. They are not arranged randomly. If you study them for a while (you can walk into the scultpure), you'll find various symbols among them.

We rarely see it without some bouquet of flowers tossed among the prone figures.

But it has also been subjected to vandalism of various kinds. This never bothered Segal, who died in 2000 at the age of 75. He felt it was "a reminder that problems of prejudice have not been solved," aa he put it in a speech at Notre Dame University.

Problems of prejudice. The trouble caused by people who are afraid of people who are not like themselves. Who look different. Who speak a different language. Who wear different clothes. Who eat different foods. Who worship differently.

Much of life is a puzzle. But if you don't enjoy the differences in people, you are missing something you should have gotten at first glance. They are beautiful.

Nothing at all to be afraid of.

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