Millions were murdered during the Holocaust forever changing the lives of families.
Olivia Shea, 14, a Princeton High School (PHS) freshman and Cranbury resident, is making sure all those lives lost continue to be remembered locally with a Holocaust Memorial in Cranbury Township.
“The tragedy of the Holocaust has us remember the horrific loss of 11 million people, but sadly it feels like we only remember and talk about it in this brief moment at school,” Shea said.
“Why can’t we remember the victims of the Holocaust using a more peaceful way, a way of showing that they will never be forgotten, and their legacies will always be here. These questions are why I did this project.”
A dedication ceremony took place where the memorial is located on a section of grass in between the Cranbury School and the Cranbury Public Library on Nov. 8.
Crocus flower bulbs were planted on Nov. 4 by Cranbury School students, who are part of the student-run PEAC (Perspective in Equity Action Club) and Kindness Clubs. The bulbs will bloom in spring.
“While working on this special project we came together as a community and planted these flower crocuses because they resemble new beginnings. We wanted our special memorial to remember the people who lost their lives,” Shea said.
“The crocuses mark our new beginning for the families and communities that have been affected by the Holocaust.”
Her project is also a collaboration between the school, public library and township.
“As the year progressed last year, we learned a lot about Olivia. What struck me was the kindness and empathy that Olivia has for others and that is why this idea came to be not just in Cranbury, but around the world,” said Jennifer Diszler, Cranbury School chief school administrator and principal.
“This one was a big one and she really wanted it to be a collaboration with not just our school but with the township and the library.”
Kathy Easton, chair of the Shade Tree Commission, helped and advised the students in planting crocus flower bulbs for the memorial, which will also feature a plaque placed in the ground at the site of the crocuses.
The plaque states, “In Remembrance of the Holocaust victims” and displays a quote from Anne Frank. The quote reads, “In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.”
“Each spring as the students and residents of Cranbury stand by this garden may it inspire us to sow seeds of kindness and compassion. Nurturing a future where the echoes of the past remind us to strive for a better world today and tomorrow,” said Brooke Basista, director of the Cranbury Public Library.
“May these flowers remind all of us here today and every spring to plant seeds of beauty and kindness in our community rather than those of hatred and bigotry.”
A financial donation from the Cranbury Lions Club helped make the Holocaust memorial in Cranbury become a reality.
Shea explained that when the crocus flowers bloom her wish is for the flowers to also present hope and peace for the future.
“Olivia thank you for including us in the planting. That type of leadership, having an idea and listening to others on how to implement the idea is super important,” Township Committeewoman Barbara Rogers said.
“Remember your ideas can be planted, can grow, but when you collaborate with others, they grow into something even larger.”
Shea thought of the memorial project during her eighth-grade English class.
Her Cranbury School English teacher Erica Kauffman had told her class about the paper clip project, a project where students in Tennesse collected millions of paper clips that became the Children’s Holocaust Memorial honoring those killed and the children of the Holocaust.
After hearing about the project in class, Shea thought the Cranbury School could do something similar.
“For the paper project students collected 30 million paper clips and that is a lot of paper clips. I thought that flowers would be a great way to represent that,” she said.
“I want people who come to this memorial to know that everyone is welcome in Cranbury, and it is not an exclusive town, it is an inclusive town for everybody. History will never be forgotten, but it should be remembered so we don’t make the same mistakes in the future.”