A German pastor, son of World War II Nazis, had a simple request for his Jewish audience.
“Is there anyone here who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors?” Pastor Jobst Bittner asked. “I want to apologize for what my family and my country did.”
The year was 2011 and that pastor’s simple act of reconciliation stirred Rozalie Jerome of Kingwood so much that she traveled to Germany, visited Bittner’s church, and participated in his March of Remembrance with the children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren of Nazis. The purpose of the march? To remember those lost in the Holocaust and those brave enough to stand up, raise their voices and act.
Jerome is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Christians hid her parents during World War II. The March of Remembrance motivated her to return to the United States to organize her own march in Kingwood and, since then, organized marches especially on area college campuses – until this year.
Marches of Remembrance planned for Dallas, Houston, Houston Community College, Kingwood, Lone Star College, the University of St. Thomas, the University of Houston and Van Zandt County all were canceled.
“We couldn’t hold our marches because of COVID-19,” Jerome said. “I thought, we’ve got all these people at home, we’re planning a unique stone garden to memorialize the 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust. Let us turn our focus to the garden.”
Jerome’s stone garden is one part of the vision of the year-old Holocaust Remembrance Association (HRA). The HRA is a 501(c)(3) educational organization based in Kingwood and founded by Jerome and husband, Mitch Jerome, also a descendant of Holocaust survivors.
Rozalie is the executive director of HRA. She and Mitch also are founders of the Crossover Project, which promotes greater understanding of the differences and similarities between Jewish and Christian customs, history and theology, and disarming prejudice and intolerance.
Their goal is to use education, healing and reconciliation to sensitize hearts to the Holocaust. Their vision is to inspire individuals to stand in solidarity against persecution, prejudice and indifference.
The heart of the HRA is to create “Upstanders,” individuals who will stand against anti-semitism, persecution and prejudice in all forms.
King’s Harbor, the distinctive shopping center in Kingwood where the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston converge, soon will be the site of the kids-oriented Holocaust Garden of Hope.
The memorial garden, located along the King’s Harbor waterfront, will feature eight pocket exhibits, each focusing on a specific aspect of the Holocaust – Why Remember, Life Before, Web of Deception, The Atrocities, The Upstanders, Appetite for Genocide, Dilemma of Liberation, and Hope for the Future.
Within that garden, the association is creating an exhibit to bring awareness to bullying and racial discrimination. The garden is directly behind Zammitti’s Italian Ristorante in King’s Harbor, overlooking the San Jacinto River. It will display 1.5 million small painted stones, each with the name of a child who died in the Holocaust.
“We want to create ‘Upstanders,’ people who speak, act or intervene on behalf of those being bullied,” Rozalie said.
It is called the Upstander Stone Project.
“It’s not easy to comprehend a million-and-a-half children killed by the Nazis but, when you take a rock, paint it on one side, then paint the name of a child victim on the other side, you’ve gone from a million-and-a-half to just one very real child. A child with a name who died in the Holocaust,” she said. “That’s how you teach about the Holocaust. One child at a time.”
Everyone is getting involved in inscribing the children’s names onto the rocks: families, church groups, schools and nursing homes.
“They’re doing beautiful work. Kingwood Middle School, in fact, just picked up 17 bags,” said Rozalie.
“It comes from scripture,” explained Rozalie, quoting Luke, chapter 19, verses 39 and 40: “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
“We teach about the Holocaust through a triangle,” said Rozalie. “Visualize this: In the center is the victim. At the top of the triangle is an upstander. At the bottom left is the perpetrator or bully. At the bottom right is the bystander.”
Not everyone is a perpetrator or a bully, she explained. Those are the minority. Unfortunately, perpetrators do what they do because of the bystanders who do nothing. Fortunately, there are upstanders who are rescuers.
“The Germans who hid my parents during the Holocaust were upstanders,” Rozalie said. “Those who chose to write articles, work in the Resistance. They were upstanders, too. And by having so many people add names of murdered children to those stones, we are creating upstanders here, too, one murdered child at a time.”
Every child and adult who takes a bag receives a bracelet with the word “upstander” inscribed on it.
While the association has received its permit to begin building the Garden of Hope, groundbreaking is still some time off. In addition to distributing the bags, Rozalie and her staff are in the midst of a $2.7 million campaign to build the garden.
Individuals can donate. Organizations can sponsor exhibits, secure naming rights, even purchase a personalized bench by visiting holocaustremembranceassociation.org/give.