Rabbi Charles H. Rosenzveig, a survivor of the Jewish ghetto in Ostrowiec, Poland, and members of Shaarit Haplaytah (“the Remnant” or Survivors of the Holocaust) envisioned the Holocaust Memorial Center. It replaces an earlier Holocaust Memorial Center installed in 1981–1984 on the Jewish Community Campus at Drake and Maple roads in West Bloomfield Township. Many of the Detroit area's 96,000 Jews live in the northwest Detroit area. This memorial and education center depicts both the vibrancy of the social and cultural life of European Jews before World War II and the horror of the Holocaust.
Built on a nine-acre site, the fifty-thousand-square-foot center resembles a Nazi death camp. The design revolves around the red brick wall harkening back to those of the Jewish ghettos and the wall encircled with cables resembling barbed and/or electrified wire of the concentration camps. The building exudes symbolism. The tall elevator shaft that pushes through the roof recalls a crematorium chimney. Sturdy brick pillars supporting the gaping entrance beneath a towerlike guard structure resemble the gateway at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Striped blue and gray metal panels that clad the exterior walls of the main block above the first story evoke the camp uniforms. Six glass pyramids glow in reference to the six million Jews exterminated. Inside, visitors descend from light into darkness and ascend again to light. Exhibits divide into thematic sections. The second floor holds the scholarship center for genealogical research and offices.
The courtyard landscape is planted with wild grasses and redwoods. Within the circular entrance drive weeds grow out of intersecting railroad tracks suggestive of the trains that crossed Europe to transport victims to the death camps.
Author Mary E. Kremposky explains in the Construction Association of Michigan's CAM Magazine (Fall 2004) that Kenneth Neumann (1939–2007) studied images of the Holocaust in preparation for designing the museum.