University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • North California Jewish Bulletin

    North California Jewish Bulletin

    The Northern California Jewish Bulletin - November 17, 1989

    Local sculptor creates memorial to European villages

    Bulletin Correspondent

    windowplowThe destroyed Jewish communities of Europe are being memorialized by a local sculptor who will de scribe his six-acre environmental design Sunday.

    Peter Boiger, a German-born non-Jew, will give his slide presentation at 2 pm. at Temple. Sinai, 2808 Summit St.,Oakland.

    Boiger has been working on the 27-foot Jerusalem stone memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for the past three years. Parts of Valley of the Destroyed Communities are still under construction.

    "It wasn't just a project," explains the Piedmont resident, who has been sculpting in stone and metal for 30 years. "It was probably the most fundamental challenge anybody could have had in his lifetime. As long as I'm thinking of it, and as long as I live, it will have had an effect on my life."

    Asked to elaborate on that effect,  Bolger says, "Oh my God, how do you measure your soul? Yad Vashem takes your breath away. If you're submerging yourself in the subject matter for that many years, it totally exhausts you."

    The work is being constructed one block of stone at a time. "It has to be done very slowly and consciously," Boiger says. "Each block of stone has to fit in terms of texture. If it doesn't, it has to be removed and replaced."

    Laid out on the six-acre plot at Yad Vashem, the memorial is roughly representative of a map of Europe.

    "All of the Jewish communities that were destroyed in the Holocaust are chiseled into the stone," Boiger explains. "It's an open air memorial that people can walk into."

    Information on the location of the 5,000 or so villages was plentiful. "At Yad Vashem there is more [material] than one needs in the archives for historical and documentary information," says Boiger. "I used it to an exhaustive degree."

    The sculptor says he's giving the slide presentation and lecture specifically to let people know about his project 'It's probably the strongest environmental sculpture [on that subject,] and nobody knows about it."

    Boiger got involved in the project after he was approached by Yahalom-Zur, Tel Aviv landscape architects, who were drawn to his "language of form," he says. Also, he had lived in Israel for seven years, taught in Jerusalem, and exhibited there and in Tel Aviv.

    "My work had the strength and the seriousness that was demanded. Monumentality is inherent in sculpture. Whether it is a few inches tall or a few feet, the feeling can be translated. very well."

    It may seem strange to some that a non-Jew was chosen for such a meaningful project about Jewish history, but Boiger credits the Israelis for their open-mindedness.

    "They were more concerned with quality. I raised the issue with the people who were making the decision about whether [my being a German] would disturb them. It's a credit to the tolerance that exists in Israel."

    Besides, whether he was born a Jew or not, Boiger says, "I've become Jewish. When I was 15, I started reading Martin Buber. It took a long time and it's my own way, not the traditional rabbinic way, but I've become Jewish."

    Meanwhile, Boiger is disturbed that the project is experiencing serious funding problems. "It's an incredible, unique sculptural experience. There's great stress to have it finished, but they have great financial problems and it isn't officially open."

    Evalee Harrison, program director at Temple Sinai, says she hopes people will learn from the slide presentation to take a more active interest in history and what came out of the Holocaust. '

    "I thought his work was very powerful and moving," Harrison says about Boiger. "We thought people should know about the memorial."

    In addition to the slide show, the Sinai event will include an exhibit of Boiger's abstract "figurist" sculptures that celebrate man's spirit and life. The presentation, which will be followed by a reception, is open to the public and is free.