Remembrance and reflection

A woman bending over a flowery garden picking a red colored flower
Lynn Rubin is a master gardener and the designer of Temple Emanuel’s Holocaust Garden. The garden, inspired in part by Rubin’s friendship with Holocaust survivor Marga Randall, has been in place for 20 years.


any gardens tell a story of a family’s favorites or a person’s travels, but one exceptional garden in Mt. Lebanon can be read like a history book. 

The Holocaust Garden at Temple Emanuel of the South Hills (planted between the wings of the building) is an invitation for reflection on the triumphs of hope and survival over the ever-present dangers of hate.

A memorial stone in a garden depicting the star of david for concentration camps
Many use the Holocaust Garden as a place of reflection.

Designed by Master Gardener Lynn Rubin (who fellow Mt. Lebanon High School grads may remember as Lynn Zimmerman) at the behest of her friend Marga Silberman Randall, the garden is a lasting tribute to all who perished as well as those who survived the atrocities. 

black stone benches with the words "remember" and "Righteous Gentiles" carved into them next to a garden
Many use the Holocaust Garden as a place of reflection.

Randall—who with her mother was able to escape and flee to the United States—dedicated much of her life to educating others about the horrors of the genocide that eliminated the remainder of her immediate family. In 1988 she published a memoir, How Beautiful We Once Were. Randall died in 2005. 

A lush garden of flowers with red, white, purple and yellow flowers
Occasional splashes of red throughout the garden symbolize the fear that was a constant fact of life for Jews during the Holocaust.

The garden that bloomed from Rubin and Randall’s efforts turns 20 years old in 2024. 

A robust and vibrant mixed-use space, it hosts diverse daytime and nighttime visitors: laughing, playful preschool children romp in the sunshine while an insect-hunting colony of bats glide through the dark. 

The area has sometimes transformed into an outdoor sanctuary used by multiple faiths for special services and is quite often a respite for neighborhood walkers. 

Before beginning the design, Rubin interviewed as many survivors as she could find in order to discover what themes and ideas were most important to them. She then translated their memories into color and life. 

“My mom was a survivor and my dad was a liberator; my grandfather had a number and was tortured,” she said. “I took what I could from the Holocaust survivors. This is their garden.” 

The pocket garden, the nurturing of which has been a multifaceted effort by many volunteers and donors, uses plantings as if they were Morse Code, but only for those who hold the key. 

“Color is so important because the concentration camps were without color,” said Rubin. 

As a result, the loss of color came to symbolize a loss of dignity and the stripping away of the captives’ human rights. 

For example, survivors of Kristallnacht, a night of violent and concentrated attacks against Jewish people, businesses, and neighborhoods across Germany, told Rubin they equated red with fear after the red collars of their attackers featured prominently in memories of that dark and chaotic experience. 

So red salvia and canna serve as reminders of the precarious nature of unchallenged power, the spirit of evil, and the complicity of silence. 

She does not weed out red flowers that migrate from their designed spaces into other parts of the garden. “What the Nazis stood for still infiltrates today,” she explained. 

a close up of a light yellow flower in the midst of purple, red, and fellow flowers
Rubin selected flowers with many shades of yellow, a color she associates with hope.

Rubin believes the most important color is yellow—symbolic of hope. “We have lots of different kinds of yellow because there’s lots of different kinds of hope,” she said. 

What’s more, pink begonias and evening primrose symbolize rebirth because “babies are pink.” 

When Rubin pointed out the lush evergreens, she explained that they stand for the forests of Europe that hid and protected many of the persecuted. 

Further, sweet potato vines winding through the beds are symbolic of life for those who ate the peelings of potatoes to survive their captivity. 

All white blooms symbolize peace and safety–but white and blue together mark the creation of the State of Israel. 

For silver linings in the darkest of times, dusty miller and silver moss honor the “righteous gentiles” who protected the Jews, while forget-me-nots hold fast to the memory of those killed, and bleeding hearts symbolize grief, Rubin said. 

The Holocaust Garden is accessible to the public from the side of the Temple Emanuel parking lot closest to the intersection of Bower Hill Road and Sylvandell Drive.

Photos by John Altdorfer