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

After the completion of Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Jewish writer Rafael Seligmann expressed his unease with the efforts of German intellectuals to atone for their country’s sins by building a massive installation of approximately 2,700 stelae (pillars) in the center of Berlin, singling out Jewish suffering.

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Sealed Stone

Feelings cannot be decreed. Rafael Seligman on Peter Eisenman’s field of stelae.

The last, the 2,712th stela of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe has been put in place. Time for an inspection of the memorial site in Berlin. Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse shared his impressions with Bild-Zeitung readers: “This monument opens up, almost silently, the possibility of establishing a personal emotional connection – to the field of stelae and to what it represents: the genocide against the Jews of Europe.”

That is presumptuous. Thierse stands for many Germans who are all too well-meaning, but too narrow in their thinking, who do not wish to content themselves with Germany’s national responsibility for the genocide. Rather, they yearn for guilt, from which they, as members of a later generation, are free, and for great emotions. That, however, leads to the need to delve into the genocide. Lea Rosh once professed to the journalist Gabriele Riedle that she could imagine being murdered. That is shameless. No living person can imagine death – least of all her own murder.

Lea Rosh organized the “Association for the Promotion of the Establishment of a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” Her armor-piercing energy got the project under way; forced parliamentarians and the federal government to approve the building of the memorial and provide the necessary funds. What were the motives of the Berlin journalist?

“It always consoled me, even drew me back to Berlin, that the wounds of the war were not healing here.” Lea Rosh had to renounce this consolation after the fall of the Wall and the gradual growing-together of the German capital. Therefore, she forcefully called upon the federal government, the federal states, and the city of Berlin “to finally erect a memorial to the millions of murdered Jews in Berlin . . . to document to the whole public that we accept the burden of our history; that we intend, however, to write a new chapter in this history of ours.”

And now, thanks to Lea Rosh and her comrades-in-arms, Germany has almost accomplished this goal of writing and building. The memorial at the Brandenburg Gate is close to completion. It is immense in its dimensions. Rosh argued that the Holocaust, after all, was also immense. Architect Peter Eisenman also believes that he needs to make the loneliness and folornness of the victims demonstrable to the Germans.

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