A monumental memorial that takes the form of a tree cast from 32,000 pounds of bronze—crafted by Palm Beach-based artist, Bruce Gendelman, will soon stand as a moving tribute to Holocaust awareness and education on the MorseLife Health System campus. Scheduled to be completed this fall, the memorial will serve as a beacon for Holocaust remembrance and education as part of MorseLife’s commitment to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust through the Holocaust Learning Experience (HLE) presented by MorseLife NEXT GENERATIONS.
“The horrific facts of the Holocaust are almost beyond comprehension and impossible to discuss without getting emotional,” Keith A. Myers says, MorseLife’s president and CEO. “Bruce’s vision for what we have named the Gendelman Children’s Holocaust Memorial will provide a touchstone for reflection as students, families, and members of the community have the opportunity to meet with Survivors, their descendants, and our educators one-on-one.”
Standing at a height of 25 feet, the Gendelman Children’s Holocaust Memorial is a majestic structure with roots that branch into a 28-foot wide canopy. The memorial’s design is inspired by the kapok trees, considered sacred in many cultures for their ability to provide protection and connect the earth with the sky. The memorial is home to 5,000 ceramic butterflies painted by Survivors, temple congregations, MorseLife residents, and local students as part of the Butterfly Project. This project aims to honor the memory of the 1.5 million children Nazis murdered during the Holocaust. The sculpture will be surrounded by a peaceful butterfly garden on the Morselife campus, inviting visitors to pause and reflect. The Gendelman Children’s Holocaust Memorial is one of the largest bronze sculptures in the country, and it stands as a powerful tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.
“Kapok represents strength and resilience,” Gendelman says. “Their roots are deep and broad; their trunks are massive, their branches embracing – they stand up to the enormous winds of hurricanes. The millions of lost lives represented by the delicate and colorful butterflies deserve such a mighty and ‘living’ memorial.”
Within the tree’s canopy lie the ruins of a concentration camp’s chimney, a symbol frequently employed by Gendelman in his expansive Holocaust paintings. The HLE (Holocaust Learning and Education) organization draws upon the lessons of the Holocaust to educate and empower current and future generations, encouraging them to be proactive “upstanders” rather than passive bystanders in the face of bigotry and hatred, no matter where it may manifest. The collaboration between Gendelman and HLE stems from the MorseLife NOW for Holocaust Survivors Initiative, which is dedicated to assisting impoverished Holocaust survivors and their families in Palm Beach County.
“Survivors repeatedly tell us their greatest concern is that the lessons of the Holocaust will be forgotten when the witnesses to the horrors pass on,” Myers says. “The powerful impact of Bruce’s awe-inspiring memorial, combined with an engaging program of Holocaust education, is designed to fulfill our commitment to never forget.”
The Making of the Gendelman Children’s Holocaust Memorial involves a monumental effort, drawing upon the expertise of around 100 skilled artisans and engineers. Over four years, they meticulously crafted and engineered every aspect of the memorial, ensuring its resilience to endure South Florida’s challenging climate and extreme weather conditions.
To create the memorial, the intricate casting process was employed using the ancient lost-wax method, which dates back 6,000 years and has historical roots in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The tree is an amalgamation of over 300 individual castings meticulously welded on-site. The branches extending from the cast bronze limbs consist of 150 leafy branches, expertly water-jet cut from bronze plate. It features a poignant touch with 5,000 butterflies, each carefully nested in a 3D-printed plate to ensure protection. Gendelman arranges and secures each butterfly to the sculpture, adding a deeply personal element.
Gendelman’s practice incorporates landscape, portraiture, the Holocaust, and the COVID pandemic in various media, including oil painting, sculpture, photography, and multi-media installations. The artist’s paternal grandfather, David Neubauer, had managed to escape to the United States before WWII. His father, Max, had served as an American sniper on the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge. Gendelman’s work is a testament to those who would deny the Holocaust. His post-witness Holocaust artwork has been the focus of solo exhibitions at the National Museum of American Jewish History, the Holocaust Memorial Center, and the Palac Sztuki in Krakow, Poland, a museum that was once a Nazi headquarters.
Photo courtesy of MorseLife