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Holocaust Monument Dedicated in Berlin

DW staff (jen)May 10, 2005

Sixty years after the end of WWII and 17 years after its inception, a German memorial to the Jewish victims of WWII genocide has been dedicated in Berlin.

An inaugural walk among the pillarsImage: dpa

The president of the German parliament, the monument's architect and the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany were among those who made speeches as the 19,000 square meter (4.7 acres) memorial -- a field of cement slabs situated at the Brandenburg Gate -- was officially dedicated.

Also present were some 1,500 guests from around the world, including many Holocaust survivors.

Der US-Architekt Peter Eisenman steht am 16.8.2003 mit der Publizistin Lea Rosh auf dem Gelände des Holocaust-Mahnmals am Brandenburger Tor in Berlin
US Architect Peter Eisenman with publicist Lea RoshImage: dpa

"It is an honor to give this monument to the German people," American architect Peter Eisenman (photo, with Lea Rosh) told the assembled guests, who included German President Horst Köhler and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Paul Spiegel, the president of Central Council of Jews in Germany, took the opportunity to praise the project, but also criticized it for focusing on the victims rather than the perpetrators of the crime.

The monument consists of 2,711 cement pillars, or stelae, of different heights, that visitors can walk among. The sculpture and underground information and documentation center cost 27.6 million euros to build. Starting on Thursday, it will be open to the public.

Holocaust-Mahnmal - Galerie
Between the cement pillarsImage: dpa

Symbol of 'incomprehensibility'

Addressing the invitees, Bundestag President Wolfgang Theirse called the monument "a constructed symbol for the incomprehensibility of the crime." He added that the German parliament's vote in 1999 to approve and fund the monument was the first decision for a memorial project in a unified Germany. As such, "it represents unified Germany's recognition of its own history," he said.

Der Bundestagspräsident Wolfgang Thierse, Porträt
Wolfgang ThierseImage: dpa

Thierse added that the monument is not, "the stony finale of the public debate of our Nazi history." With fewer and fewer survivors living to tell Holocaust stories, monuments are increasingly important, Thierse said. "What today can be hauntingly told by eye witnesses, in the future will need to be told by museums and by art."

For Spiegel, the dedication ceremony was a chance to honor those who made the monument reality (he named its initiators Lea Rosh and Eberhard Jäckel, among others) while sharply criticizing what he saw as a serious flaw.

Too much focus on victims

"By focusing on the Jews who were killed in WWII, the monument spares the viewer from confronting questions of guilt and responsibility," Spiegel told the assembled crowd. Therefore, he said, the underground information center -- a concept added late in the project's development -- was an "indispensable addition."

Paul Spiegel
Paul SpiegelImage: dpa

Still, he complained that "only a few of the visitors will bother to gather additional facts. ... It would have been better if the perpetrators' motives had been addressed" in the design of the sculpture itself.

For his part, US based architect Peter Eisenman told the crowd he wanted to leave behind a "lasting memorial to the killing of Jews by the Nazis." The field of stelae is meant to be provocative in its simplicity, Eisenman said.

Indescribable horrors

Holocaust Mahnmal in Berlin - Galerie
Information Center of the Holocaust memorialImage: AP

Holocaust survivor Sabina van der Linden of Sydney, Australia, told of the "indescribable horrors" that she had experienced as an 11-year-old child in Nazi Germany. Her family's history is documented in the underground information center.

One can't hold descendants responsible for their parents' acts, Van der Linden said. "But you can hold them responsible for what they do with the memories of their ancestors' crimes."