Jewish leader attacks newBerlin Holocaust memorial
10 May 2005, BERLIN - The head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Paul Spiegel, sharply criticised Berlin's Holocaust memorial at its opening ceremony on Tuesday for being too abstract and failing to confront the issue of German guilt.
10 May 2005
BERLIN - The head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Paul Spiegel, sharply criticised Berlin's Holocaust memorial at its opening ceremony on Tuesday for being too abstract and failing to confront the issue of German guilt.
Spiegel, Germany's most prominent Jewish leader, pulled no punches in his keynote speech at the inauguration of the German government's memorial for the six million Jews murdered under the Nazi Third Reich.
"The 'Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe' honours the victims of Nazism - but it does not refer directly to the perpetrators," he said.
Spiegel said the memorial designed by Peter Eisenman - comprised of 2,711 undulating concrete blocks covering a site the size of three football fields - failed to ask the question "Why?" and spared viewers any "confrontation on questions of guilt and responsibility."
Instead, he complained, it merely showed the Jews "as a nation of victims poured in 2,711 concrete pillars."
This leaves the Holocaust memorial with an "incomplete message," he warned.
The memorial's columns resemble a field of gravestones sunk into the ground to varying depths. Visitors are left on their own to wander through the concrete blocks which have no set paths or signposts in what appears to be a deliberate attempt by Eisenman to disorient viewers.
Spiegel said any abstract art work attempting to depict the Holocaust, such as Berlin's memorial, was fated to lose out in the bid to prevent people from forgetting past horrors.
He underlined that the real Holocaust memorials - aside from Yad Vashem in Israel - were the former Nazi concentration camps, the mass graves and the burned-down synagogues in Germany.
"Here we were humiliated and betrayed by our neighbours and millions of us were murdered in the most gruesome manner," said Spiegel.
German Parliamentary President Wolfgang Thierse defended the memorial as "an expression of the difficulty of finding an artistic form for the incomprehensible monstrosity of Nazi crimes.
"Today we are opening a memorial to the worst, the most horrible of Nazi Germany's crimes - the attempt to destroy an entire people," said Thierse.
But this singular element of the memorial was also criticised by Spiegel who said there was a danger of creating a "hierarchy of victims."
"Given torture and death there can be no ranking of the suffering of individuals," said Spiegel, who won applause by calling for memorials to be built for Roma and homosexual Nazi victims.
Spiegel welcomed the memorial's underground museum and a 'Room of Names' where the names of 3.5 million known Holocaust victims are documented on a computer database.
"But as experience shows, only some of the visitors will make the effort to deepen their knowledge with facts after collecting impressions among the columns," he said.
"The majority of the people in Germany, as in other countries, have the mistaken idea they know enough about the Holocaust and are sated with information on the Nazi period," Spiegel said.
While wishing the Holocaust memorial well in its bid to "reach hearts and minds," Spiegel's concluding remarks were nothing short of damning.
"The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is not an authentic place," said the German Jewish leader.
Spiegel represents Germany's fast-growing Jewish community which has expanded from about 30,000 in 1989 to over 100,000 today due to immigration from the former Soviet Union.
The criticism by Spiegel came after almost two decades of bitter wrangles over building the Holocaust memorial.
Critics say that the monument - which is opening exactly 60 years after Nazi Germany's capitulation - comes far too late and is far too big.
This has been rejected by Thierse who said collective feelings needed for such a memorial needed time to develop.
The Holocaust memorial is built almost on top of the Berlin bunker in which Adolf Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945 as the Soviet Red Army captured Berlin.
After construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the site became part of the Cold War edifice's death strip with land mines and border guards armed with submachine guns.
Among the controversies linked to the memorial was the revelation that builders were using an anti-graffiti coating supplied by the German company Degussa, whose forerunner made poison gas used to murder Jews in Nazi concentration camp gas chambers.
Eventually the Degussa coating was accepted because it was deemed that the company had made fair efforts to account for and own up to its Third Reich past.
The memorial, which was fenced in during construction, will be open 24 hours a day and no longer have any protective barrier. An information centre overlooking the construction site was daubed with anti-Semitic slogans last year.
The memorial architect Eisenman, however, said he was relaxed about the threat of graffiti and noted this might even make the memorial more interesting.
Subject: German news