Artist creates stone sculpture for Holocaust memorial

  • Joseph Gray’s granite sculpture newly installed at the Holocaust Memorial in Nashua was inspired by a photo taken at Auschwitz. JENNIFER MELI / Monitor staff

  • A photo from the Auschwitz Album, some of the only pictorial evidence of Nazi concentration camps, depicts women and children waiting at a holding station. Courtesy of Joseph Gray

  • Joseph Gray’s sculpture, part of the New Hampshire Holocaust Memorial in Nashua, was a tribute to child victims of the Holocaust.  Courtesy of Joseph Gray

Monitor staff
Friday, June 24, 2016

Joseph Gray searched for the perfect piece of granite.

Gray, a Gilford resident  known for his stone sculptures, had been commissioned to create a piece for the New Hampshire Holocaust Memorial. For inspiration, he looked at a blurry black-and-white photo.

It was the little girl who stood out, he said. Her bright white jacket was a stark contrast to her dark and dreary surroundings. She stood with hundreds of other women and children, waiting at a holding station.

Gray kept looking until he found a 10,000-pound rock he could use for his tribute – a memorial to all child victims of the Holocaust, including the little girl from the photo. That image was from the Auschwitz Album, a collection of some of the only pictorial evidence of Nazi concentration camps.

“Everybody around her, they’d been on a train for days. Their clothes were hanging off them. They were dirty. And this little girl was pretty,” Gray said. “And I could tell that even with everything that was going on, she wanted to be pretty. And that’s how I tried to carve her.”

Gray’s finished piece was unveiled during a dedication ceremony at the memorial site in Nashua on May 22. The sculpture, titled “Child Victim in Auschwitz,” portrays a young girl standing under an arch.

For six months, Gray traveled to a quarry in Hooksett almost every day to work on the sculpture – away from his studio in Pittsfield, where he does most of his work for other projects. The hours spent on the piece were “full of emotion,” he said, considering everything the monument represents.

“I always tell everybody I put my heart and soul into a sculpture,” he said. “But for this one, I had to put a million souls into it.”

Gray first got wind of the job last September, when he received a phone call from Fred Teeboom, founder of the New Hampshire Holocaust Memorial. Teeboom had been flipping through television channels one day, when he came across a New Hampshire Chronicle feature on the sculptor.

Teeboom had seen the picture of the little girl in the Auschwitz Album that same morning. He started thinking he wanted to add a piece to his memorial – one in memory of child victims of the Holocaust.

“I always felt that there was something missing,” he said. “I always felt the children were not adequately represented.”

So Teeboom set up a meeting with Gray. The two men discussed the sculpture, settling on granite to match the other monuments at Teeboom’s site in Nashua. Teeboom showed Gray the photo.

“The girl, she looks straight at the photographer with an expression of sadness or fear, in some ways accusatory,” Teeboom said. “I thought: ‘Wow, that is a representation I’d like to see.’ ”

Gray agreed. He added two tears to the child’s cheek, channeling the sadness he said he felt during the months it took to carve, chisel and polish his work.

“The most important thing was her face – trying to generate the sadness and the hopelessness and all that, and trying to maintain dignity through it all,” he said.

The sculptor used a firing technique to give the outside of the stone – everything except the child – a red-colored tint. Just as it did in the photograph, the little girl’s white dress stands out.

Perhaps she is a survivor, walking away from the horrors she and many other children faced in concentration camps. Perhaps she is an angel, emerging from a portal to tell her story and protect today’s children.

Gray said the piece is open to interpretation.

(Katie Galioto can be reached at 369-3302, kgalioto@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @katiegalioto.)