Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Visitors walking among the stelae

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe[1] (German: Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), also known as the Holocaust Memorial (German: Holocaust-Mahnmal), is a memorial in Berlin to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It consists of a 19,000 m2 (4.7-acre) [2][3] site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or "stelae", arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 2.38 m (7 ft 10 in) long, 0.95 m (3 ft 1 in) wide and vary in height from 0.2 to 4.7 m (7.9 in to 15 ft 5.0 in).[2] They are organized in rows, 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew.[4][5] An attached underground "Place of Information" (German: Ort der Information) holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem.[6]

Building began on April 1, 2003, and was finished on December 15, 2004. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II, and opened to the public two days later. It is located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood. The cost of construction was approximately 25 million.[7]


According to Eisenman's project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.[8] The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe official English website[2] states that the design represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial, partly because Eisenman said the number and design of the monument had no symbolic significance. [9][10] However, observers have noted the memorial's resemblance to a cemetery.[11][12][13]

Place of Information

The information center, which is located at the site's eastern edge, begins with a timeline that lays out the history of the Final Solution, from when the National Socialists took power in 1933 through the murder of 500,000 Soviet Jews in 1941. The rest of the exhibition is divided into four rooms dedicated to personal aspects of the tragedy, e.g. the individual families or the letters thrown from the trains that transported them to the death camps.[14] The Room of Families focuses on the fates of 15 specific Jewish families. In the Room of Names, names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims obtained from the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel are read out loud.[15] Each chamber contains visual reminders of the stelae above: rectangular benches, horizontal floor markers and vertical illuminations.[16]


Early beginnings

The debates over whether to have such a memorial and what form it should take extend back in the late 1980s, when a small group of private German citizens, led by a television journalist, Lea Rosh, and a historian, Eberhard Jäckel, neither of whom is Jewish, first began pressing for Germany to honor the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.[7][17] Rosh soon emerged the driving force behind the memorial. In 1989, she founded a group to support its construction and to collect donations.[18] With growing support, the Bundestag passed a resolution in favour of the project.

First competition

The Memorial

In April 1994 a competition for the memorial's design was announced in Germany's major newspapers. Twelve artists were specifically invited to submit a design and given 50,000 DM (€25,000) to do so. The winning proposal was to be selected by a jury consisting of representatives from the fields of art, architecture, urban design, history, politics and administration, including Frank Schirrmacher, co-editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The deadline for the proposals was October 28. On May 11, an information colloquium took place in Berlin, where people interested in submitting a design could receive some more information about the nature of the memorial to be designed. Ignatz Bubis, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and Wolfgang Nagel, the construction senator of Berlin, spoke at the event.[19]

Before the deadline, the documents required to submit a proposal were requested over 2,600 times and 528 proposals were submitted. The jury met on January 15, 1995 to pick the best submission. First, Walter Jens, the president of the Akademie der Künste was elected chairman of the jury. In the following days, all but 13 submissions were eliminated from the race in several rounds of looking through all works. As had already been arranged, the jury met again on March 15. Eleven submissions were restored to the race as requested by several jurors, after they had had a chance to review the eliminated works in the months in between the meetings.[7]

Two works were then recommended by the jury to the foundation to be checked as to whether they could be completed within the price range given. One was designed by a group around the architect Simon Ungers from Hamburg; it consisted of 85x85 meters square of steel girders on top of concrete blocks located on the corners. The names of several extermination camps would be perforated into the girders, so that these would be projected onto objects or people in the area by sunlight. The other winner was a design by Christine Jackob-Marks. Her concept consisted of 100x100 meters large concrete plate, seven meters thick. It would be tilted, rising up to eleven meters and walkable on special paths. The names of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust would be engraved into the concrete, with spaces left empty for those victims whose names remain unknown. Large pieces of debris from Massada, a mountaintop-fortress in Israel, whose Jewish inhabitants killed themselves to avoid being captured or killed by the Roman soldiers rushing in, would be spread over the concrete plate. Other ideas involved a memorial not only to the Jews but to all the victims of Nazism.[17]

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had taken a close personal interest in the project, expressed his dissatisfaction with the recommendations of the jury to implement the work of the Jackob-Marks team. A new, more limited competition was launched in 1996 with 25 architects and sculptors invited to submit proposals.[7]

Eisenman design

The second competition in November 1997 produced four finalists, including a collaboration between architect Peter Eisenman and artist Richard Serra whose plan later emerged as the winner. Their design originally envisaged a huge labyrinth of 4,000 stone pillars of varying heights scattered over 180,000 square feet.[20] Serra, however, quit the design team soon after, citing personal and professional reasons that "had nothing to do with the merits of the project."[21] Kohl still insisted on numerous changes, but Eisenman soon indicated he could accommodate the [21] Among other changes, the initial Eisenman-Serra project was soon scaled down to a monument of some 2,000 pillars.[20]

By 1999, as other empty stretches of land nearby were filled with new buildings, the 4.9-acre vacant lot began to resemble a hole in the city's center.[22]

In a breakthrough mediated by W. Michael Blumenthal and negotiated between Eisenman and Michael Naumann in January 1999, the essence of the huge field of stone pillars – to which the incoming German government led by Gerhard Schröder had earlier objected – was preserved.[23] The number of pillars was reduced from about 2,800 to somewhere between 1,800 and 2,100, and a building to be called The House of Remembrance – consisting of an atrium and three sandstone blocks – was to be added. This building – an archive, information center and exhibition space – was to be flanked by a thick, 100-yard-long Wall of Books that would have housed a million books between an exterior made of patterned black steel and a glass interior side. The Wall of Books, containing works that scholars would have been able to consult, was intended to symbolize the concern of the Schröder government that the memorial not be merely backward-looking and symbolic but also educational and useful.[23] Agreement was also reached that the memorial would be administered by the Jewish Museum.[23]

On June 25, 1999, a large majority of the Bundestag – 314 to 209, with 14 abstentions – decided in favor of Eisenman's plan,[22] which was eventually modified by attaching a museum, or "place of information," designed by Berlin-based exhibition designer Dagmar von Wilcken. Across the street from the northern boundary of the memorial is the new Embassy of the United States in Berlin, which opened July 4, 2008. For a while, issues over setback for U.S. embassy construction impacted the memorial. It also emerged in late 1999 that a small corner of the site was still owned by a municipal housing company, and the status of that piece of land had to be resolved before any progress on the construction could be made.[24]

In July 2001, the provocative slogan The Holocaust never happened appeared in newspaper advertisements and on billboards seeking donations of $2 million for the memorial. Under the slogan and a picture of a serene mountain lake and snow-capped mountain, a smaller type said: "There are still many people who make this claim. In 20 years there could be even more."[25]


On January 27, 2000 a celebration was held marking the symbolic beginning of construction on the memorial site. The first provisional stelae were erected in May 2001. An international symposium on the Memorial and the Information Centre together with historians, museum experts, art historians and experts on architectural theory was held by the Foundation in November 2001. In the spring of 2003, work began on the construction of the Memorial. At the same time, an information point was erected at the fence surrounding the construction site. On December 15, 2004 there was a public ceremony to put the last of the 2,711 stelae in place. The official ceremony opening of the memorial was on May 10, and the Memorial and the Information Centre was opened to the public on May 12, 2005. By the end of 2005 around 350,000 people had visited the Information Centre. [7]

Completion and opening

On December 15, 2004, the memorial was finished. It was dedicated on May 10, 2005, as part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of V-E Day and opened to the public two days later.[26] It was originally to be finished by January 27, 2004 the 59th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.[27]

The inauguration ceremony, attended by all the senior members of Germany's government, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, took place in a large white tent set up on the edge of the memorial field itself, only yards from the place where Hitler's underground bunker was.[17] Holocaust survivor Sabina Wolanski was chosen to speak on behalf of the six million dead. In her speech she noted that although the Holocaust had taken everything she valued, it had also taught her that hatred and discrimination are doomed to fail. She also emphasized that the children of the perpetrators of the Holocaust are not responsible for the actions of their parents.[28] The medley of Hebrew and Yiddish songs that followed the speeches was sung by Joseph Malovany, cantor of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York, accompanied by the choir of the White Stork Synagogue in Wrocław, Poland, and by the Lower Silesian German-Polish Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.[17]

In the first year after it opened in May 2005, the monument attracted over 3.5 million visitors. [29] It is estimated that some 5 million visitors have visited the Information Centre between its opening in May 2005 and December 2015. Over the past 10 years (2006 - 2015), an average of 460,000 people have visited, or over 1,000 per day. [30] The foundation operating the memorial considered this a success; its head, Uwe Neumärker, called the memorial a "tourist magnet".[29]

Public reception and criticisms

The memorial covered in snow, February 2009

The monument has been criticized for only commemorating the Jewish victims of the Holocaust,[31] however, other memorials have subsequently opened which commemorate other identifiable groups that were also victims of the Nazis, for example, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism (in 2008) and the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism (in 2012). Many critics argued that the design should include names of victims, as well as the numbers of people killed and the places where the killings occurred.[21][3] Meanwhile, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff claimed the memorial "is able to convey the scope of the Holocaust's horrors without stooping to sentimentality showing how abstraction can be the most powerful tool for conveying the complexities of human emotion."[14]

In early 1998, a group of leading German intellectuals, including Germany's best-known writer, Günter Grass, argued that the monument should be abandoned.[21] Several months later, when accepting the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade,[32] German novelist Martin Walser cited the Holocaust Memorial. Walser decried "the exploitation of our disgrace for present purposes." He criticized the "monumentalization", and "ceaseless presentation of our shame." And said: "Auschwitz is not suitable for becoming a routine-of-threat, an always available intimidation or a moral club [Moralkeule] or also just an obligation. What is produced by ritualisation, has the quality of a lip service".

Eberhard Diepgen, mayor of Berlin 1991-2001, had publicly opposed the memorial and did not attend the groundbreaking ceremony in 2000. Diepgen had previously argued that the memorial is too big and impossible to protect. [24]

Reflecting the continuing disagreements, Paul Spiegel, then the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a speaker at the opening non-Jewish victims, the memorial suggests that there was a "hierarchy of suffering," when, he said, "pain and mourning are great in all afflicted families." In addition, Spiegel criticized the memorial for providing no information on the Nazi perpetrators themselves and therefore blunting the visitors' "confrontation with the crime."[17]

In 2005, Lea Rosh proposed her plan to insert a victim's tooth which she had found at the Bełżec extermination camp in the late 1980s into one of the concrete blocks at the memorial. In response, Berlin's Jewish community threatened to boycott the memorial, forcing Rosh to withdraw her proposal. According to Jewish tradition, the bodies of Jews and any of their body parts can be buried only in a Jewish cemetery.[33]

In January 2013, a controversy was sparked after the blog Totem and Taboo posted a collection of profile pictures from the gay dating app Grindr, taken at the memorial.[34][35] The emerging trend met with mixed responses - while Grindr's CEO Joel Simkhai was "deeply moved" by how app members "take part in the memory of the holocaust", others found using the memorial as a backdrop for hook up profiles to be disrespectful.[36][37]


In the past, there have been various incidents of vandalism. Despite Eisenman's objections, for example, the pillars were protected by a graffiti-resistant coating because the government worried that neo-Nazis would try to spray paint them with swastikas.[14] Indeed, swastikas were drawn on the stelae on five different occasions in this first year.[38] In 2009, swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were found on 12 of the 2,700 gray stone slabs.[39] In 2014, the German government promised to strengthen security at the memorial after a video published on the Internet showed a man urinating and people launching fireworks from its grey concrete structure on New Year's Eve.[40]

Construction defects

Original worries about the memorial's construction focused on the possible effects of weathering, fading and graffiti.[41] Already by 2007, the memorial was said to be in urgent need of repair after hairline cracks were found in some 400 of its concrete slabs. Suggestions that the material used was mediocre have been repeatedly dismissed by Peter Eisenman.[42][43] In 2012, German authorities started reinforcing hundreds of concrete blocks with steel collars after a study revealed they were at risk of crumbling.[44]

Degussa controversy

On October 14, 2003, the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger published a few articles presenting as a scandal the fact that the Degussa company was involved in the construction of the memorial producing the anti-graffiti substance Protectosil used to cover the stelae, because the company had been involved in various ways in the National-Socialist persecution of the Jews. A subsidiary company of Degussa, Degesch, had even produced the Zyklon B gas used to poison people in the gas chambers. At first these articles did not receive much attention, until the board of trustees managing the construction discussed this situation on October 23 and, after turbulent and controversial discussions, decided to stop construction immediately until a decision was made. Primarily it was representatives of the Jewish community who had called for an end to Degussa's involvement, while the politicians on the board, including Wolfgang Thierse, did not want to stop construction and incur further expense. They also said it would be impossible to exclude all German companies involved in the Nazi crimes, because — as Thierse put it — "the past intrudes into our society".[45] Lea Rosh, who also advocated excluding Degussa, replied that "Zyklon B is obviously the limit."[46]

In the discussions that followed, several facts emerged. For one, it transpired that it was not by coincidence that the involvement of Degussa had been publicized in Switzerland, because another company that had bid to produce the anti-graffiti substance was located there. Further, the foundation managing the construction, as well as Lea Rosh, had known about Degussa's involvement for at least a year but had not done anything to stop it. Rosh then claimed she had not known about the connections between Degussa and Degesch. It also transpired that another Degussa subsidiary, Woermann Bauchemie GmbH, had already poured the foundation for the stelae. A problem with excluding Degussa from the project was that many of the stelae had already been covered with Degussa's product. These would have to be destroyed if another company were to be used instead. The resulting cost would be about €2.34 million. In the course of the discussions about what to do, which lasted until November 13, most of the Jewish organizations including the Central Council of Jews in Germany spoke out against working with Degussa, while the architect Peter Eisenman, for one, supported it.[47]

On November 13, the decision was made to continue working with the company, and was subsequently heavily criticized.[48] German-Jewish journalist, author, and TV personality Henryk M. Broder said that "the Jews don't need this memorial, and they are not prepared to declare a pig sty kosher."[49][50]

See also


  1. Title as given in the official website: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Information Centre
  2. 1 2 3 "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe - Field of Stelae". Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  3. 1 2 Brody, Richard (12 July 2012). "The Inadequacy of Berlin's "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe"". The New Yorker.
  4. Willard Spiegelman (July 16, 2011), The Facelessness of Mass Destruction Wall Street Journal.
  5. Tom L. Freudenheim (June 15, 2005), Monument to Ambiguity Wall Street Journal.
  6. "Information Centre ·Yad Vashem Portal". Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe -History". Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  8. "Peter Eisenman – Architect of the Field of Stelae". Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  9. Chin, Sharon; Franke, Fabian; Halpern, Sheri. "A Self-Serving Admission of Guilt: An Examination of the Intentions and Effects of Germany's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe". Humanity In Action. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  10. "Editorial - A Holocaust memorial". Japan Times. May 14, 2005. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  11. "Germany's Memorial - Germany's National Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe | A Jew Among The Germans | Frontline". PBS. 2012-07-12. Retrieved 2013-02-27. The plan also gives the impression of a massive cemetery.
  12. Brody, Richard. "The Inadequacy of Berlin's "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2013-02-27. The memorial also evokes a graveyard for those who were unburied or thrown into unmarked pits, and several uneasily tilting stelae suggest an old, untended, or even desecrated cemetery.
  13. "Lost and found in European wanderings". Seattle Times. 2012-11-25. Retrieved 2013-02-27. [...] memorial to the Holocaust by Peter Eisenman, the stones at odd angles like the cemetery in Prague.
  14. 1 2 3 Nicolai Ouroussoff (May 9, 2005), "A Forest of Pillars, Recalling the Unimaginable" New York Times.
  15. Karen Leland (March 13, 2011), Amid bustling Berlin, stillness in the Holocaust Memorial Los Angeles Times.
  16. Willard Spiegelman (July 16, 2011), The Facelessness of Mass Destruction Wall Street Journal.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 Richard Bernstein (May 11, 2005), Holocaust Memorial Opens in Berlin New York Times
  18. Hugh Williamson (May 4, 2005), Painful birth for memorial to Holocaust Financial Times.
  19. Leggewie/Meyer 2005 pg. 91-94
  20. 1 2 Alan Cowell (July 26, 1998), An Opponent Of Kohl Puts Taboo Topic Into Election New York Times.
  21. 1 2 3 4 Edmund L. Andrews (June 4, 1998), Serra Quits Berlin's Holocaust Memorial Project New York Times.
  22. 1 2 Cohen, Roger. "Berlin Holocaust Memorial Approved". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  23. 1 2 3 Roger Cohen (January 18, 1999), Schroder Backs Design for a Vast Berlin Holocaust Memorial New York Times.
  24. 1 2 Roger Cohen (2000-01-18). "Berlin Mayor to Shun Holocaust Memorial Event". New York Times. Retrieved 2003-08-12.
  25. Victor Homola (July 18, 2001), Germany: Holocaust Memorial Campaign New York Times.
  26. Bertrand Benoit (May 11, 2005), Vast Holocaust memorial opens in central Berlin Financial Times.
  27. Luke Harding (October 27, 2003), Berlin's Jewish memorial halted after firm linked with supply of Nazi gas The Guardian.
  28. "The Girl From Boryslaw: Australian Story with Sabina Wolanski". ABC. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  29. 1 2 Sion, Brigitte (2014). Memorials in Berlin and Buenos Aires: Balancing Memory, Architecture, and Tourism. Lexington Books. p. 81. ISBN 978-0739176306. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  30. "Numbers of visitors in the Information Centre". Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  31. "Press cool on Berlin memorial". BBC News. 2005-05-10. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  32. Full text in German Archived February 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. Connelly, Kate (13 May 2005). "Jews angry over memorial plan for death camp tooth". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  34. Beth Stebner (2013-01-31). "Outrage as Grindr users post revealing pictures of themselves in front of Berlin Holocaust memorial". Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  35. "Totem and Taboo: Grindr remembers the holocaust". Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  36. Daniel D'Addario (2013-01-30). "Grindr's odd Holocaust fetish". Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  37. "Grindr Users Post 'Sexy' Pictures From Holocaust Memorial In Bizarre, Ironic Trend". 2013-01-31. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  38. (German) Wefing, Heinrich. "Sehr populär und knapp bei Kasse" in FAZ. May 9, 2006. Retrieved May 17, 2006.
  39. Michelle Fay Cortez (January 3, 2009), Swastikas Are Found on Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, AP Reports Bloomberg.
  40. Thomas Seythal (January 9, 2014), Berlin to protect Holocaust memorial after vandalism Reuters.
  41. Josh Ward (August 8, 2007), Monument in Danger? Widespread Cracking Found in Berlin's Holocaust Memorial Der Spiegel.
  42. Kate Connolly (August 9, 2007), Cracks appear in Berlin's Holocaust memorial The Guardian.
  43. Josh Ward (August 8, 2007), Monument in Danger? Widespread Cracking Found in Berlin's Holocaust Memorial Der Spiegel.
  44. Alice Baghdjian (March 15, 2012), Berlin's Holocaust memorial at risk of crumbling Reuters.
  45. Original quote: "Die Vergangenheit ragt in unsere Gesellschaft hinein". Quoted in Leggewie/Meyer 2005 p. 294.
  46. Original quote: "Die Grenze ist ganz klar Zyklon B". Quoted in Leggewie/Meyer 2005 p. 294.
  47. (German) Eisenman, Peter. "Geisel der Geschichte" in Die Zeit. October 30, 2003. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  48. Jeffrey Fleishman (November 14, 2003), Nazi-Era Firm Finds Forgiveness Los Angeles Times.
  49. Original quote: "Die Juden brauchen dieses Mahnmal nicht, und sind nicht bereit, eine Schweinerei als koscher zu erklären." Quoted in Leggewie/Meyer 2005 p. 296.
  50. Leggewie/Meyer 2005 p. 287-300


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