By Charly SHELTON
Last Thursday saw the next step in the discussion and debate over the new Hindenburg Park sign. The L.A. County Commission on Human Relations met at the Sparr Heights Community Center to hear testimony from members of the public who wished to speak in favor or against the new sign that went up at Hindenburg Park, part of Crescenta Valley Park. The sign was erected by The Tricentennial Foundation, a nonprofit German-American heritage group, in conjunction with L.A. County Parks and Recreation. The sign was funded by the nonprofit and the design was a collaborative effort, resulting in a sign that reads “Wilkommen zum Hindenburg Park, the historic German section of Crescenta Valley Park” in a Gothic German font. The sign denotes the name of that section of what is now Crescenta Valley Park which was Hindenburg Park from 1924 to 1958 and then reinstated as the same in 1992 with the rider “part of Crescenta Valley Park.”
The sign has caused great controversy throughout Southern California over the use of Hindenburg’s name, as he was the former chancellor of Germany who immediately preceded and appointed Adolf Hitler to power. The argument has been made to pull the sign down posthaste, citing that a great number of people are offended by its display.
Public comments ranged from those in favor and those in opposition of the sign, with many citing “historical facts” of “how it really happened” – many citations contradicted each other. Reports at the meeting painted Hindenburg as senile, mad genius, racist, not racist, working with Hitler toward the same goal, or as hating Hitler and trying to remove him from power before he died. Very few of the reports cited works where this information came from, but nearly all of the facts or opinions stated in each speaker’s allotted two minutes drew grumbles and whisperings from the crowd, at times erupting into shouting.
“So how did this sign come into being?” asked speaker Rosemary Jenkins.
She classified the German group who commissioned the sign as being anti-Semitic, which was met by “boos” and “not true” responses by audience members.
With cries of political correctness versus acceptance of history, offense versus honor, keeping the sign versus tearing it down, the room occasionally erupted with anger or with cheers depending on which side of the crowd had the podium. For the most part, the arguments came down to honoring history versus sensitivity to modern citizens.
“We are definitely in favor of the sign and we are not in favor of outside groups coming in to tell us in our Valley how we shall remember our history,” said Stuart Byles, president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. “We celebrate all our history in this valley. All of it. Good or bad because we know that if it is not celebrated it will be swept under the rug and confiscated by people who are offended by this.”
This was contrasted by those who were in opposition to the sign and said they were offended by it.
“The bottom line is I am a resident and it is offensive to me, it’s offensive to my children, it hurts me and my children when we go to the dog park,” said Julie Taylor. “We are taxpayers here just like anyone else … I don’t think it’s right. Especially in a primarily Armenian community that suffered their own genocide, I just don’t think it’s right as a human being and I don’t appreciate being called ignorant and an outsider when I am a resident of this community.”
The emotion of this issue was apparent as each side felt angry and disrespected by the opposing side.
“I’ve been thinking for the last hour or so what I can contribute that might be different than what everyone else has said, so first I’ll say what needs to be said,” said Rabbi Becky Silverstein. “I want to be clear that the German community of Los Angeles and this area should be supported in honoring their heritage. They need to do so without invoking the memory of such tragic events in world history and, as many folks have already acknowledged, it is doubtful that was the intent.
“But I think what I can add is the recognition that there is so much pain and loss in this room, pain and loss on the side of the Jewish community, pain and loss on the side of the German community, no doubt a sense of pain on those who are neither of those communities who are here this evening. Perhaps what a new sign or a different sign … can bring is a sense of reconciliation that our world really needs. And though it may seem naïve, that sense of reconciliation and the deeper conversations around race and religion and ethnicity that have surfaced here in La Crescenta … will add to the healing of the world. Each of us has that responsibility, whether you’re a religious person or not. We have a responsibility to be active in the world. We have a responsibility to make a more just world. And the only way we can do that is by talking one with the other by acknowledging each other’s pain. Let’s add some history and talk to one another.”
All of the collected opinions will be processed and presented at the meeting of the LA. County Commission on Human Relations on May 2.
For more information on this ongoing story, visit CVWeekly.com.