Just off the Brooklyn Bridge, there’s a granite and limestone memorial you’ve likely never entered that’s filled with names of thousands of people you’ll never meet. They’re the more than 11,000 Brooklynites who died fighting Nazi Germany and the Axis powers during World War II. Many of them hadn’t even finished high school before they were on the front lines of the war.
Their names are inscribed in bronze plaques within the Brooklyn War Memorial, one of five buildings planned shortly after the war by New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to honor each borough’s fallen men and women.
The Brooklyn structure was the only tribute completed, but the intended community center has sat rarely utilized or noticed in Cadman Park for more than 60 years.
Now Toba Potosky, president of the nonprofit Cadman Park Conservancy is fighting to transform the facility into the gathering place it was promised to be.
“When I talked to the vets — the vets who were around as the memorial was being built — they said the concept behind this memorial was to counter what Hitler was trying to create,” he told MetroFocus host Jack Ford. “And sort of that this would be a free center so that any faith, any group of people could come in and rent this space and have a celebration in here or have like education seminars inside here.”
Despite this, Potosky says the facility wasn’t easily accessible to the public when it was completed in 1951, and the dream of an open, central place went unfulfilled. But over the last four years, Potosky has been teaming up with veterans, local legislators and the New York City Parks Commission to make that vision a reality.
“The vision for the memorial is self-sustaining, it has to be self-sustaining memorial, education center, veterans center, a place for seminars and also celebrations, which was the original goal,” he said.
Even local pre-schoolers recently helped with the restoration and raked leaves to tidy up the memorial’s grounds.
“They came and they cleaned up, and they’re a part of the park,” Potosky said. “That’s something that a Brooklyn parks department commissioner had said to me, he said ‘one of the things that we’re doing is we’re connecting people to the park like never before.'”
The Cadman Park Conservancy is currently raising funds to cover much needed repairs and upgrades, including the construction of a wheelchair ramp for disabled veterans to access the facility.