SAN MARCOS — Cal State University San Marcos officials and representatives participated in a rededication ceremony on May 1 for the restoration of an iconic Holocaust memorial at Forum Plaza on the school’s campus.
The White Rose Memorial is a public art piece has sat since 2003 near the front of the university’s Arts Building.
The monument pays homage to three non-Jewish students at Munich University who were executed via guillotine by the Nazi government for acts of peaceful resistance as part of a group called the White Rose Society.
The ceremony took place just four days after a shooting inspired by anti-Semitism occurred at Chabad of Poway, allegedly committed by CSUSM nursing student John Earnest.
While the day’s events were scheduled long before the Poway shooting, which saw one synagogue member killed and several other wounded, most of those who spoke in front of the white rose display discussed it.
Among them were CSUSM art students Sarah Bricke and Kimberly Lopez, who led the design efforts for the retooled White Rose Memorial.
“Before we can fully affect change, we must fully understand the world that we live in,” said Bricke, speaking to a crowd of over 100 people. “We live in a country where people are afraid to worship, where students are afraid to go to school. Simply put, we live in the kind of country that the White Rose resistance gave their lives to prevent.”
CSUSM President Karen Haynes, who will retire at the end of the academic year, also mentioned the Poway synagogue shooting in her remarks.
“Like all of you, I was dismayed and disheartened to learn that the alleged shooter was a CSUSM student,” Haynes said. “His actions and beliefs are antithetical to everything we stand for at this university. In trying to find some comfort in this difficult time, it has been reassuring to see how our campus has come together in solidarity and support of the victims, their families, friends and our entire community.”
Sophie Nadler, the president of CSUSM Hillel — a campus student Jewish organization — said she also believes the art’s presence on-campus symbolizes interfaith solidarity.
“For me, the White Rose means so much,” Nadler said. “My heart warms every time I walk past it. I think it symbolizes the strength of the CSUSM students in our community and how we all fight against hate. Walking by this memorial every day will continue to remind me that there are so many people fighting against anti-Semitism.”
The White Rose Memorial was originally created by then-CSUSM art student Cynthia Joseph.
Not merely a monument, visitors can also water the rose, making it an interactive experience.
“(Joseph’s) idea to base the entire work on a participatory element brings you into an active stance in history,” said CSUSM art history and cultural theory professor Andrea Liss, author of the book “Trespassing through Shadows: Memory, Photography and the Holocaust.” “That’s bringing the concept of inter subjectivity from past to present, idea into gesture, and movement into thought and action.“
Liss also explained the difficulty of creating public art about a moment of historical trauma.
“Adding to the extreme difficulty of conceptualizing aspects of the events through creative means is that the artists who confront this task now did not experience the events,” said Liss. “Thus, this post-witnessing presents difficult conundrums about how to respectfully represent aspects of this genocidal history and its subsequent traumas without disrespecting and revictimizing those whose humanity was so beautiful.”
The events memorialized by the White Rose public art are also featured in the film, “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days,” a 2005 movie nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Joseph, the artist who created the installation, said in a November CSUSM press release that she hopes the edifice exists on-campus long into the future. The university had to raise $4,600 to restore the piece.
“I call it an iron vase,” Joseph said. “It symbolizes the resistance to those who would deprive people of their personal freedoms. I invite people to water the plant, to add life.”