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Holocaust memorial unveiled on Ohio's Statehouse lawn
Controversy arose over the process and the message, but the dedication focused on the emotion
Story by JO INGLES AND ANDY CHOW


 
Gov. Kasich and memorial architect Daniel Libeskind just after they pulled the tarp, revealing the memorial.
Courtesy of KAREN KASLER
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In The Region:

The unveiling today of the Holocaust Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse marks the end of a three-year saga from conception to creation. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, that story includes some controversy and the resignation of a top Statehouse official.

LISTEN: A sound portrait of the dedication

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LISTEN: The evolution of the memorial

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Bill Ruth helped liberator the Nordhausen concentration camp, which was part of the Buchenwald in central Germany. He was among those witnessing the dedication of Ohio's Holocaust Memorial on the Statehouse grounds today.

The memorial was first envisioned by Gov. John Kasich three years ago, and ran into controversy over its placement. But those witnessing the dedication said it is appropriate because the extermination of Jews began with laws passed by governments.

“We need to have remembrance in this Statehouse," Gov. John Kasich declared three years ago during the annual Holocaust Commemoration.

“That members of our Legislature and members of the public --  as they pass through this great rotunda-- will be able to understand not just the history of the times when people wouldn’t stand, but the fact that  today that we must stand against evil.”

Those comments set the memorial project in motion. The Capitol Square board which runs the Statehouse created a panel to select a memorial site and artist. However, the board’s chair, former Republican Senate President Richard Finan, strongly opposed the project.

Finan doesn't believe the Statehouse is the appropriate site for a Holocaust memorial and claimed the governor’s involvement intruded on the intended independence of the Capitol Square board.

“What the governor should have done was come to the board to apply for a memorial and then the memorial would go through a process within the board and be approved or not be approved. He didn’t do that," Finan said a year ago.

Differences over how and why
Tensions escalated after Finan asked a Statehouse crew to construct a mock-up of the memorial — and an 18-foot structure of pipes, tarps, and rope stood on the south lawn.

Finan eventually resigned, soon after casting the only “no” vote on the Holocaust Memorial plans.

Other groups suggested that the memorial, which includes two tablets displaying the Star of David in the middle, could threaten First Amendment rights. Joe Sommer is an Ohio board member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who testified against the structure.

 “We’re concerned that the prominent display of the Star of David — which is a sacred symbol of the Jewish religion —constitutes an endorsement of a specific and therefore would violate the First Amendment.”

Joyce Garver Keller, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, says the star does not promote any certain religion and stresses the importance of the memorial standing on public grounds.

“Yes it’s appropriate for government because the Holocaust did not begin with smokestacks and ovens. It began in the halls of government, where legislation was passed that allowed the expulsion of Jews and others that the Nazis didn’t support.”

During today's unveiling ceremony, Gov.Kasich said he hopes the memorial reminds visitors to continue the fight against prejudice and recognize the evil that still exists.

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