Years of delays mean a memorial for Roma and Sinti murdered by the Nazis is still just a construction site. Disputes have protracted the process, but the monument just might be ready in the fall.
Leaves float on the water, piles of stone slabs lie beside a pool, and a wooden shed hides placards out of sight. The memorial for the Roma and Sinti murdered under National Socialism is still just a construction site. But when it is complete, the centerpiece will be a black basin with one flower in the middle. Israeli artist Dani Karavan has designed the basin so every time the flower withers, a new one will emerge from a special triangular container.
The basin has already been built on the site. But 20 years have gone by since the decision was made to create the memorial.
On April 24, 1992, the German government decided to build both the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and a memorial for Roma and Sinti - or gypsies - murdered under National Socialism. Officials chose Berlin's "Tiergarten" between the Brandenburg Gate and the German parliament as the site for the two monuments.
Construction for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe began in 2003. The site was inaugurated two years later.
However, the federal government and city officials did not agree on details for the Roma and Sinti monument until 2005. Construction began in 2007.
Meanwhile, a little known group called the Sinti Alliance launched a protest against the inscription planned for their monument. They said that Sinti and Roma were not the only groups persecuted as "Zigeuner" or "gypsies," the term used by the Nazis.
The Sinti Alliance proposed to use the term for the memorial. They said using "Zigeuner" in a neutral way would prevent any discrimination between the various groups. However, the committee overseeing the memorial demurred. It said "Zigeuner" still evokes Nazi vocabulary.
In recent decades, the terms Sinti and Roma have caught on in German. The Sinti have been in Germany longer, while the term Roma is used to refer generally to all the groups which originally emigrated from India.
"The dispute has been used to avoid building the memorial," said Herbert Heuss, spokesperson for the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma. "I also think the political will is lacking."
Historians estimate that Nazis murdered 500,000 European Sinti and Roma, groups discriminated against under the Nazis' racial laws. However, missing data from the former Soviet Union makes it difficult to determine the precise number.
The crimes were long ignored. It was not until 1982 that German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt recognized the murders as genocide.
"We hope the memorial will systematically bring about the inclusion of the Sinti and Roma genocide in political education," Heuss said.
'A broken heart'
The Sinti and Roma memorial is scheduled to open in October. But time is running out, since few survivors of the genocide are still living.
Moreover, the German Minister of Culture is yet to give final confirmation of the monument's inauguration date. Conflicts between Karavan and Berlin officials have also had the effect of delaying construction.
Karavan accused authorities of carrying out his design sloppily. Construction last year only proceeded when the Ministry for Construction came in as an intermediary between Karavan and city officials.
Meanwhile, the dispute over the monument's name was resolved when representatives of the Nazis' victims agreed that neither "Zigeuner" nor "Sinti and Roma" would appear on the memorial's inscription.
Instead, one of the monument's walls will feature a comprehensive description of the Nazi extermination policy as it pertained to different groups of victims. The basin in the center of the memorial will be inscribed with the words of the Italian Roma poet Santino Spinelli, in both German and English:
"Gaunt face / dead eyes / cold lips / quiet / a broken heart / out of breath / without words / no tears."
Author: Matthias Bölinger / srs
Editor: Michael Lawton