Jay Poster, left, founder and general manager of King David Memorial Chapel and Cemetery, and Celena DiLullo, president of Palm Mortuaries, pose for a photo at the Holocaust Memorial Plaza at King David Memorial Chapel and Cemetery in Las Vegas on April 21, 2022.
Wade Vandervort/Las Vegas Sun via AP
LAS VEGAS — Visitors to the newly constructed Holocaust Memorial Plaza at King David Memorial Cemetery in Las Vegas might be caught off guard by the crumbled brick wall with rebar sticking out at the plaza's entryway.
But the symbolism is powerful.
"That depicts the deterioration of the Jewish community due to the Nazi regime," Jay Poster, the cemetery's general manager and founder, told the Las Vegas Sun.
The monument of perseverance was unveiled last month as part of the commemoration of Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day celebrated April 27 to correspond to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar on the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
The plaza includes a Jewish star rising from the ground to symbolize survival, the names and locations of the Nazi World War II extermination camps, and a complete timeline of the Holocaust.
The plaza will be sacred space where survivors and their descendants can pay their respects to the 6 million Jews and 5 million others killed in the Holocaust. More important, it will provide a resource for educators and rabbis in their teaching, officials stress.
"That's the entire Nazi regime, from when Hitler came to power to Victory Day," said Poster, pointing to the timeline etched into granite lining the back of the plaza.
On the ground, six bronze plaques represent the concentration camps where a majority of the Jews were gassed and murdered. Each plaque is engraved with the camp name, location and number of deaths, such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland where 1.1 million Jews were killed.
And, thanks to Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson, soil from near each of the six camps will be buried under the plaques. Akselrad was able to get the soil donated while on a mission trip in Poland this month helping refugees who are fleeing Ukraine.
Poster, when the plaza project launched late last year, was in communication with the chief rabbi of Poland to coordinate acquiring the pieces of earth. But with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there were more pressing priorities.
When Poster learned Akselrad, who is also his rabbi, was making the trip, he asked Akselrad if he could fulfill the request.
Akselrad returned last week with the valuable soil in zip bags, an invaluable step in the plaza project. Akselrad coordinated with Jonathan Ornstein, the executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, Poland.
"The symbolism, of course, is whether inside the camp or outside, we know Jews marched to their death on that soil," Akselrad said.
He continued, "The soil tells its own story. By incorporating the soil itself into the Holocaust Plaza, as you come to the plaza, if you stand where that soil is placed, you are standing on the exact same soil our ancestors stood in the most tragic moment in history."
That helps explain why Akselrad's trip to Poland, where he was one of 27 rabbis bringing supplies and financial donations for Ukrainian refugees, was so significant for his congregation.
"Regardless if they were Jewish or not Jewish, we were doing for the refugees what was not done for the Jews during the Holocaust," Akselrad said. "We felt a special obligation to help others, especially because our history in Poland was so tragic."
The tragedy will be remembered at the plaza, which includes a plaque with a famous quote that originally was found on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany, during the Holocaust: "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent."
The project, which spans about 100 yards and includes family burial plots, was paid for by Palm Mortuary and King David Memorial Cemetery.
King David, at 2697 E. Eldorado Lane in Las Vegas off Eastern Avenue, is the lone cemetery exclusively dedicated to Jewish burial in Southern Nevada. It is situated at the back of Palm Mortuary. The plaza will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.