Children’s Holocaust memorial taking shape at former Elvis ranch 4-18-16

Tuesday November 27, 2018

March 23, 2016 — Holocaust survivor Friderica Beck Saharovici takes part in a launch event for the “The Unknown Child” project in Horn Lake Wednesday morning. The Unknown Child Foundation announced plans for a completed sculpture placed in a park setting on the grounds of the Circle G. Ranch. (Stan Carroll/The Commercial Appeal)

By Ron Maxey of The Commercial Appeal

Her aging voice is still strong, speaking across decades and generations to bring to life one of mankind’s darkest periods.

“I was born in a small town in Romania, not unlike many small towns in Mississippi,” Friderica Beck Saharovici told a crowd huddled against the chilling wind Wednesday on a ranch once owned by a rock-n-roll legend. “After a normal, happy childhood, things changed drastically when Romania became an ally of Germany. I was a first-grader when all the Jewish children were thrown out of the public schools for no other reason than being born Jewish.”

Saharovici said she could easily have become one of the unknown children of the Holocaust whose memories were honored on an overcast March morning in Horn Lake. “Only by the grace of God did I survive. Now, I’m very impressed that in a Southern state, with a small Jewish population and with a history of discrimination, that it would be a place to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.”

Such is the vision taking shape as part of the redevelopment plans for the old Circle G Ranch in Horn Lake, once owned by Elvis and used as a honeymoon getaway after he and Priscilla married in 1967. On the surface, it’s an unlikely pairing — a memorial to children of the Holocaust and a planned tourist draw for legions of Elvis fans.

But, organizers say, it makes sense if you accept that providence drives all things.

“This is where it’s supposed to be,” project organizer Kat Joslin said confidently as she discussed the relationship that has developed between the Florida-based owners of Circle G and the Unknown Child Foundation, the nonprofit entity behind plans to construct a memorial for children of the Holocaust.

The memorial, eventually envisioned as a complex housing a memorial park as well as educational programs and scholarships, has a price tag of $1.5 million — a number you’ll see repeated several times in the unfolding of this tale. Joslin said Wednesday’s launch of the Foundation is intended to give a boost to fundraising, with a goal of breaking ground on a complex within 18 months.

Rick Wienecke, a Canadian artist, was commissioned to do a sculpture that will be a part of the memorial park. A small model of the planned sculpture shows a child leaning against the inside of a crematorium door in a fetal position. The other side shows a replica of the oven doors at Auschwitz.

“I’m really happy to be standing on the piece of property that’s going to house the project,” Wienecke said. “I thank you for sticking with this because you have to, you really have to. It’s an incredibly important project.”

Wienecke added he was especially moved by the symbolism of 1.5 million pennies collected by area schoolchildren to represent each of the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. The pennies show, Wienecke noted, the relatively worthless value attached to the lives of Jewish children.

The Penny Project, launched in 2009 at Horn Lake Middle School as a way to raise student awareness about the Holocaust, led to formation of the Unknown Child Foundation to keep the work alive, which led to the serendipitous relationship with Circle G owners as they sought ways to develop the sprawling ranch.

Call it a lucky series of inspirations that somehow found their way to one another, or call it — as many did Wednesday — the playing out of a divine mission.

Either way, Saharovici, the lost child who lived to tell her story, is gratified.

“By preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its moral lessons, we tell the world that such atrocities should never happen again to Jews or to any other people in the world,” Saharovici said. “I don’t want my past to become anyone else’s future.”