What started as a collection of pennies to symbolize the number of children who died as a result of the Jewish Holocaust is about to become a real reminder of the extermination of innocent youngsters whose only “crime” to the German Nazi regime what their heritage and religion.
An organization called the Unknown Child Foundation Wednesday morning announced a launching to provide a statue memorial that will be complimented with a permanent display of the 1.5 million pennies collected over a three-year period as a school project by Horn Lake students and a Mid-South home school.
The plans are to construct the memorial with the sculpture as the main piece as part of the Circle G Ranch near the intersection of Goodman Road West and Highway 301 in Horn Lake.
Among the people on hand for Wednesday’s announcement was Rick Weinecke, the Canadian-born artist who now lives in Israel and who was commissioned to sculpt the centerpiece of the Unknown Child Foundation exhibit. He was joined by foundation board president Diane McNeil, Buddy Runnels of the Circle G Ranch and two survivors of the Holocaust who lent their support, Jack Cohen and Friderica Beck Saharovici.
Doug Thornton, architect of the Hernando firm AERC, is designing the project. While fundraising is ongoing, supporters hope the “Unknown Child” becomes a reality within the next year.
After three years of collecting, the children were able to achieve the goal of getting together 1.5 million pennies, representing the number of youngsters who perished during the Holocaust.
The Unknown Child Foundation was begun as a the result of the “Pennies Project,” as it was called, with the goal of a permanent display.
The concept, birthed through a simple collection of coinage, touched Weinecke, who took on the commission to sculpt “The Unknown Child.”
“A penny is an object that carries a certain amount of value, but in a sense not enough value for a normal person that if they saw it thrown on the street it would be walked over,” Weinecke said. “In a sense, this was a description of life for a Jewish child growing up within those years as the Nazi movement progressively moved into power.”
Having the site be on the grounds of the Circle G Ranch, commonly known as the site of Elvis Presley’s Honeymoon Cottage, is appropriate to resonate Presley’s love of children and his own heritage, according to Runnels, lead investor in the renovation of the ranch now underway.
“It is a meaning that is so deep, so needed to remember the sacrifice to honor the children survivors of the Holocaust,” Runnels said. “Elvis was generous to children and his mother was Jewish and many people do not know that. In relation to the goodness of Elvis and the reason he bought the ranch because of the fun, fellowship and freedom makes us excited to be a part of this.”
Saharovici, who grew up during World War II in Romania, believes the Unknown Child will send a poignant message to the visitors who come to view it.
“By preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its moral lessons, we tell the world such atrocities should never happen to Jews or to any other people anywhere in the world,” she said.
Beck also stressed the need for the memorial.
“The need for our participation in this great project is important,” Cohen said. “It is important for future generations who will remember the magnitude of this atrocity.”
Diane McNeil, Unknown Child Foundation Board President, put it in simple terms.
“This is bigger than any of us,” McNeil said.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.