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A Jewish Writer Criticizes the Holocaust Memorial (December 19, 2004)

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I am greeted at the site by Hans Haverkampf, the managing director of the Foundation for the Murdered Jews. An upstanding M.B.A. graduate. On the way to the field of stelae he explains the architectural subtleties to me. I remember an earlier visit to the construction site with a Sinti woman. It was her heartfelt wish that the memorial be dedicated to all groups of victims. When I ask why the foundation couldn’t bring itself to include the other victims of Nazi persecution as well, Haverkampf runs into intellectual trouble. You cannot lump all the war dead together. No. But didn’t the Gypsies suffer just like the Jews? Weren’t they murdered in Auschwitz just like the Jews? The managing director fights against the logic of an undivided humanism just as futilely as historian Eberhard Jäckel did before him.

I enter the gray, intentionally undulating forest of concrete. Feel the wet stone, Degussa*-sealed against graffiti. It is not the architecture that depresses me, but rather the insularity of the Shoah-zealots, an insularity that has congealed into hard-heartedness. Men and women like Rosh, Jäckel, Eisenman, who seek to monopolize the remembrance of the victims. And to select them! Wasn’t it bad enough that the Nazis separated their handpicked victims from those they kept alive? Do we today have the right to decide who is remembered where? Does a murdered handicapped person count less than the highly educated Edith Stein?

The Center of Remembrance is being built underneath the field of stelae. Once again I am given long explanations about “outstanding” achievements in construction technology and a modern museum concept. New images of horror are being prepared. Is there really a lack of them in Berlin, where, along with the Wannsee Villa, where the Holocaust was planned on January 20, 1942, numerous memorials give residents of the capital and visitors cause to reflect?

Unlike the local commemorative sites, the immense central memorial was decreed by the Bundestag over the heads of the people of Berlin. The parliamentarians didn’t want to be considered anti-Semites abroad. Thoughts, the sense of being moved, feelings – these things cannot be decreed. The task now is to live with the memorial. To win people over to it.

* To protect against graffiti, the stelae were covered with a coating produced by the chemical company Degussa. During the Nazi period, Degussa owned 42% of the company Degesch, which delivered the poisonous gas, Zyklon B, to concentration camps. When Degussa’s role as a supplier to the Holocaust Memorial became known, Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors, and members of the public responded with protest – eds.

Source: Rafael Seligmann, “Versiegelter Stein” [“Sealed Stone”], Welt am Sonntag, December 19, 2004.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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