New sculpture in Grand Rapids honors west Michigan Holocaust survivors. 

July 1, 2022

New sculpture in Grand Rapids honors west Michigan Holocaust survivors. 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

GRAND RAPIDS — On Thursday evening, June 30, my wife, Becky, and I had the honor to be invited to attend The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids’ dedication ceremony of a Holocaust memorial at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. We were the guests of Scottville native Peg Tracy-Finkelstein and her husband, Morton Finkelstein (more about them later). 

Henry Pestka

“Ways to Say Goodbye” is a sculpture created by artist Ariel Schlesinger and was made possible through the family of the late Henry Pestka, a Holocaust survivor who came to Grand Rapids in 1947 where he became a successful real estate developer. Read more about Henry Petska on the West Michigan Holocaust Memorial website here. 

Thursday’s dedication ceremony at Meijer Gardens included several speakers and dignitaries who spoke of Henry Petska’s experiences during the Holocaust and the impact he left on west Michigan. Those included David Hooker, president and CEO of Frederik Meijer Gardens; David Alfonso, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Grand Rpaids; Sen. Debbie Stabenow; U.S. Representative Peter Meijer; Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Welch; Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss; George Selim, senior vice president of the Anti-Defamation League; and Petska’s grandchildren Nathan Petska, Alissa VanderKooi and Stephanie Rubins. The event’s master of ceremonies was former State Rep. Steve Pestka, son of Henry Petska. 

Mort and Peg Finkelstein

The Scottville connection:

In 2020 I wrote a two-part series of history articles highlighting Jews who operated business in and near Scottville. The stories included features of the Benows and Schoenberger families (read story here) and the story of Mike Shwartz, a Holocaust survivor who owned the Sugar Grove Market (read Mike’s story here). Peg Tracy-Finkelstein, Mason County Central Class of 1963, reached out to me. Peg now lives in Grand Rapids. Though raised Catholic, she converted to Judaism when she married her husband, Morton Finkelstein, one of the co-founders of the former sporting goods chain M.C. Sporting Goods. Peg’s story deserves telling as it’s one about a single mother who raised her children in the 1960s and 1970s while trying to succeed in a retail industry dominated by men. Her story will be told another time, because its worth telling. 

Peg has been instrumental in overseeing the archives at Temple Emanuel in Grand Rapids. Her research and efforts led to the establishment of the Gen and Jack Finkelstein Archives, in honor of the parents of Mort Finkelstein and his brother Releigh. Peg turned over her role as archivist to her daughter, Megan, in 2014 and then moved into other projects, including the creation of a Holocaust memorial website dedicated to telling the story of west Michigan Jews who survived the Holocaust. The website was funded through the Finkelstein Brothers Fund. The website can be found here. 

During the banquet following Thursday’s sculpture unveiling, Peg and Mort were recognized for their efforts. 

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