In 1654, fearing oppression by the Portuguese who had recently conquered the Dutch settlement of Recife, Brazil, Jews living there set off for the Netherlands. However, rather than arriving safely in Amsterdam, one of the 16 ships carrying them was blown off course and robbed by pirates. The 23 survivors were picked up by a French ship heading to Canada and left off in New Amsterdam, as New York was then known.
In 1954, to mark the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in North America, observations were held in many cities. Rabbi Ferdinand M. Isserman of Temple Israel formed a St. Louis committee to erect a suitable monument in Forest Park. The resulting sculpture was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1956.
Created by Danish-born Carl C. Mose, head of the Sculpture Department at Washington University, the monument features a flagpole with a wave-like limestone base. Depicted on the base are Biblical quotations relating to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms”: freedom from tyranny; of religion; from fear and war; and from want. Among other figures, a ship, symbolic of that which bore the refugees to New Amsterdam, is also represented.
In 1989, renovation of the monument was undertaken at the request of Forest Park Forever. Civic leader Howard Baer, then 87 and the sole living member of the original 1954 committee, chaired the fundraising effort and engaged Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum as architects for the project. The sculpture was raised up on a pedestal of nine steps and lighting, benches and sidewalks were added to Lopata Plaza surrounding the monument — named in honor of major contributors Lucy and Stanley Lopata. Ted and Nancy Koplar donated the fountains on the west side of the monument