BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — 75 years after World War II, the Central Valley will soon have its first Holocaust memorial to commemorate the millions of people, including six million Jews, who were murdered by the Nazis.
The astronomical number is hard to grasp in real terms, but the Chabad of Bakersfield Jewish Community Center is helping the community to do just that, creating a unique memorial from six million buttons. The memorial was possible in part to a generous donation of millions of buttons from the California Holocaust Education and Resource Center (CHERC).
Cynthia Fischer, executive director of the Visalia-based non-profit organization, has collected more than five million buttons over the last decade. She said her drive to collect buttons was never about her; it was about the millions of people, including six million Jews, who perished during the Holocaust.
“Buttons are all different sizes and all different colors and made out of different materials just like the people that were murdered by the Nazis,” said Fischer. “It’s the idea of supremacy that is wrong. So that’s why I have came up with the idea of buttons,” she continued.
Her goal was to create a Holocaust memorial in the Central Valley. Roughly eight years ago, local button collectors sent her several boxes filled with the objects. Then, roughly five years ago, she found and contacted several button society groups and collectors on the web.
“That’s how that word of mouth was spread through Facebook and through the internet. People started sending me buttons,” she said. “In particular and due to the internet and Facebook, I became aware of certain groups throughout the United States that buy, sell, trade, display, and study buttons. These button groups are to be found in every state and in most cities and towns. In fact, each state has a state button society that meets to host conventions in order to show, display, buy, sell, and enjoy buttons for their art and historical significance.”
Now, years later, Fischer and the non-profit she founded are making the dream for a valley Holocaust memorial a reality by donating the buttons to the Chabad of Bakersfield Jewish Community Center.
Rabbi Shmuel Schlanger, executive director of Chabad of Bakersfield, said it is a great honor to take on the project. Chabad will design, build and maintain the memorial.
“This memorial in a Chabad center makes a most befitting memorial,” Schlanger, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, said. The memorial, according to Schlanger, goes hand in hand with the teachings of the late Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
“He taught that the world is a garden rather than a jungle. In a garden, each plant or flower is placed at a specific spot by the landscaper for a specific purpose.”
“We hope that each and every person — child, adult alike from any background of any religion, color, race — who visits this memorial, will be able to contemplate not only the unique value of each victim represented by the buttons, but to affirm their own role in this world as a unique flower in God’s garden.”
Fischer, herself a grandmother, hopes future generations will visit the memorial and learn the lessons of the Holocaust.
“My hope is that the people, especially the children who see the Holocaust memorial and learn about the Holocaust, and see the size and scope of what can happen, [will] take responsibility to stand up to prejudice and stereotypes and bullying and say ‘never again.'”
Schlanger believes this memorial will bring great interest to the community. Chabad still need to collect more buttons. Anyone interested in participating by donating buttons or giving through a monetary donation can email Schlanger at Rabbi@chabadofbakersfield.com, or can call Chabad of Bakersfield at 661-834-1512.