Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park Announces Holocaust Memorial Gift, Sculpture Acquisition

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is honored to announce a major gift from The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids in order to establish the first Holocaust memorial in Grand Rapids, anchored by Ariel Schlesinger’s Ways to Say Goodbye. This gift is made possible by a donation from the Pestka Family in memory of their father Henry, the survivors who settled in Western Michigan and the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

“Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is highly honored and very pleased to receive this significant and meaningful gift to acquire Ariel Schlesinger’s monumental sculpture Ways to Say Goodbye,” said David Hooker, President & CEO of Meijer Gardens. “The sculpture will be installed in 2022 and dedicated in memory of Henry Pestka and the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. We are deeply grateful for this gift adding such an important work of art to our permanent collection. Our members and guests will forever benefit from this extraordinary gift which will serve to educate and promote peace.” continued Hooker.

Ways to Say Goodbye is a twenty-foot-tall aluminum cast of a fig tree that has shards of glass inserted among the branches. It is an exceptional work of contemporary sculpture dealing with themes of profound loss and grief and will serve to memorialize the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust and the Holocaust survivors of Western Michigan.

Ariel Schlesinger takes an organic form that is a metaphor of both the Jewish people and their history. The aluminum cast sculpture is of a living fig tree that he found on a farm while traveling in northern Italy. This tree was specifically chosen by Schlesinger for its character and as a symbol of the Jewish struggle for survival both during and after the Holocaust. The tree appears fragile and clinging to life, however it is also representative of great endurance. Schlesinger has commented that in conceptualizing the sculpture, he held pieces of broken glass in his hands that pressed into his fingers. This recalled the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass. The Kristallnacht was the symbolic beginning of the Holocaust, during which Nazi mobs murdered Jews and destroyed Jewish property and synagogues throughout Germany. Schlesinger transferred this concept to the sculpture by embedding the glass shards into the branches of the tree, representing the near annihilation of the Jewish people in a few short years.

Meijer Gardens and the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids envision Ways to Say Goodbye as a gathering place for the Jewish community of Grand Rapids. The sculpture will be an excellent teaching tool for educators both locally and nationally to address the Holocaust and its legacy.

“As time goes on and memories of the Holocaust fade, it is important to remember the barbarity human beings are capable of,” said Steve Pestka. “It is equally important to contemplate the strength of the survivors and their ability to continue and rebuild their lives. It is our hope that this work of art will promote an appreciation of our shared humanity and a reminder that hatred and intolerance continue to this day and the consequences of the ultimate dehumanization of human beings.”

“The memorial has important significance to my family because our father was a survivor,” said Linda Pestka.” The numbers 73847 are numbers that we will never forget. They were tattooed to my father’s forearm, as though he were an animal, as identification for his potential death. It is our duty to educate, respect and honor the victims and their families of the unthinkable acts against life and morality. The Holocaust did happen. Holocaust deniers are reporting false and harmful information. Anti-Semitism and other hate crimes are on the rise. The Meijer Gardens Memorial sculpture will allow hundreds of thousands of people each year to become educated and aware of the atrocities against humanity. May we never forget.”