The Holocaust Memorial Garden of Temple Emanuel of South Hills is one of the gardens featured in the WQED-TV program, “Gardens of Pennsylvania,” which was written, produced and hosted by Doug Oster.
The Holocaust Garden, dedicated in August 2004, is now several feet larger than the 16 feet by 32 feet it started out as and is the smallest garden featured in the program. In addition to gardens throughout the state, other Pittsburgh area gardens featured are Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and Kennywood Park.
Oster, who is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s garden columnist, also hosts a Sunday morning gardening show on KDKA radio and co-authored an organic gardening book.
Marga Randall, a Temple Emanuel congregant who died in 2005, escaped Nazi Germany with her mother and was instrumental in creating and expanding the garden in 2000. In a 2004 segment that aired on WQED’s “On Q” news magazine program, Oster interviewed Randall; he used parts of that interview in “Gardens of Pennsylvania.”
The Holocaust Garden segment tells Randall’s story and takes viewers through the symbolic plantings in the garden.
Lynn Rubin, a master gardener and Temple Emanuel board member, designed the garden and joined with other congregants to plant and maintain it. A charitable fund secures the garden in perpetuity.
Rubin, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor, and Randall were docents together at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
Rubin said she suspected that Randall knew her time was limited and “wanted to leave something as a legacy” to remind adults and teach children about the Holocaust so it would never happen again.
In addition to its beauty, what makes the garden such a standout is its emotional component, which includes plantings as visual symbols of the Holocaust. As she did her research for the project, Rubin sought plants that “would be symbolic and live in our soil.”
She learned that many plants that still grow in Germany and Eastern Europe grow in western Pennsylvania. Boxwood and evergreens symbolize the forests that hid and gave cover to Jews; bleeding hearts as pain, sorrow and death; and silver mound with one side silver, one side green, representing the silver lining found in righteous gentiles.
An urn filled with soil that Randall brought back from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is part of the garden, along with two granite benches that are inscribed with the word “remember” in English and Hebrew.
Several youth helped build the garden in 2004, spending the summer working alongside Rubin, with Randall teaching them about the Holocaust.
“She absolutely held them spellbound,” according to Rubin.
(Angela Leibowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)