Jack Diamond has a well-earned reputation as one of Canada’s best architects. Based in Toronto, his firm, Diamond, Schmitt Architects Inc. have designed projects world- wide, such as the Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem, Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington and the New Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.
But none of his projects have been so profoundly meaningful to him as Britain’s propesed National Holocaust Memorial. His firm is among the finalists for the $82 million memorial and learning centre which will be located in a park next to Westminster Abbey, the home of Britain’s Parliament.
In an interview for the Globe and Mail, he said, “It’s obviously a hugely important project. Most of my father’s family perished in the Holocaust. With six million Jews killed, there must be very few families in the rest of the world that don’t have some connection and mine was no exception.”
After the war, his father found a niece who had survived the Bergen Belsen concentration camp and brought her to their home in South Africa. “She’d had her two children, one 11 and one 9, shot by the SS in front of her. And her husband disappeared at two in the morning by the SS and she never saw him again,” he said.
Mr. Diamond, 84, was born and raised in South Africa. His great- grandfather was a rabbi in London, England and his grandfather died in a pogrom in Lithuania in l917. His father, Jacob Diamond, left Lithuania for South Africa before the Second World War. He came to Toronto in 1964, taught at the University of Toronto and started the firm with his partner, Donald Schmitt, ten years later.
Last year when the-prime minister David Cameron announced plans for a new memorial and learning centre to “ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved and that the lessons it teaches are never forgotten”, the firm decided to enter the competition. London’s current Holocaust memorial is a small slab of stone more than 30 years old, in Hyde Park.
In the design, Mr. Diamond symbolizes the loss of the six million who died in the Holocaust, by dotting the walls of his structure with six million nuggets. It is a round creation like a huge ramp that takes the viewer slowly down to the learning centre, which is about seven metres below ground. Inside the learning centre there will be interactive stories of victims and heroes.
Mr. Diamond and his team will be making a public presentation on the design at the Canadian high commission in London next month.
“It’s a really important project,” he said. “More so than ever when you see what’s happening in the United States and in Europe.”
Mr. Diamond has been named a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada gold medalist and an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Doris is a multimedia journalist with many years of experience. She has worked in radio, television and print journalism and writes on a variety of topics, especially the crucial issues in Canadian and Jewish life.