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Work on Holocaust Memorial Stopped over Degussa Role

October 27, 2003

Work on Berlin’s much-delayed Holocaust memorial has been halted following objections to the participation of chemicals maker Degussa, which once had a unit involved in the production of poison for Nazi death camps.

The first of 2,700 pillars for the memorial were placed in August.Image: AP

The foundation charged with the construction of a high-profile monument to Jews killed by the Nazis during the Second World War announced on Saturday work had been stopped indefinitely as it sought a replacement for Degussa, which was to coat the memorial to protect it against graffiti.

According to reports in the German media, foundation board member Lea Rosh said that contracting Degussa could offend many Holocaust survivors, since the company’s former subsidiary Degesch supplied "Zyklon B" hydrogen cyanide gas pellets to Nazi concentration camps.

“The problem we discussed is very complicated,” Rosh told the Berliner Morgenpost on Sunday. “We asked ourselves: Where should one draw the line? And we came to conclusion the line is very clearly Zyklon B.”

Berlin’s "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" has long been plagued with delays. In the planning for over 15 years, there have been disputes over its location, design, cost and building materials. Designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman the memorial will consist of a maze of 2,700 large concrete pillars and is being build close to the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag parliament building.

For many board members the association with the gas used in the execution of so many Jews appeared to make the Degussa's participation untenable, even though the Düsseldorf-based firm has never tried to hide its past and has paid into a Holocaust reparations fund.

Degussa unable to make amends

President of the German parliament the Bundestag and memorial foundation chairman Wolfgang Thierse pleaded for all parties not to engage in smearing the name of a company that now had a respectable international reputation.

Wolfgang Thierse Holocaust Denkmal
Wolfgang ThierseImage: AP

“We’ll stop the work and will check the possibilities for using a comparable product for graffiti protection,” Thierse told German ARD television.

Architect Eisenman had previously said he didn't want the concrete steles to be treated with a special anti-graffiti agent, arguing sprayers and vandals would find a way to paint the pillars if they really wanted to.

It’s unclear whether the decision to replace Degussa will postpone the completion of the memorial scheduled for 2005. Eisenman was only able to place the first pillars of the €27 million project on the site this August. Rosh, however, remained optimistic the delay would not be very long.

“Another company can be found,” she told the Associated Press on Sunday. She added that other firms had bid for the contract alongside Degussa, which offered to do the coating at a lower price as a sort of informal attempt to help set the past right. “Even if they had done it for free it wouldn’t have worked out. They offered their hand, but we weren’t able to take it,” Rosh

Degussa said in a statement released over the weekend that the company will respond to the matter at an appropriate time.