NEW YORK (Jul. 21)
The Anti-Defamation League has urged the German government to halt construction of a shopping center next to the site of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, some 50 miles north of Berlin in what was formerly East Germany.
Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, appealed directly to Manfred Stolpe, the prime minister of the federal state of Brandenburg, where Ravensbruck is located, to abandon the project, which has already aroused fierce controversy in Germany.
In a letter made public here Friday, he asked the prime minister to “do everything to prevent the implementation of such a plan, so as to preserve the integrity of this site, which should serve as a permanent reminder and warning to the people of Germany and of the world of the horrors of Nazi rule.”
The shopping center is under construction on a cobblestone road in the town of Furstenberg. The road was built by slave laborers from more than 20 countries who were incarcerated at Ravensbruck during World War II. The mall would be located about 1,800 feet from a memorial to them.
Government officials offered as a compromise the planting of foliage to obscure the site of the market from that road.
More than 132,000 inmates, mostly women and children, passed through the camp. At least 90,000 died. The prisoners were mostly Jews, but also Gypsies, nuns, Christian activists and others the Nazis considered opponents of their regime.
Furstenberg, now bereft of Soviet military patronage and anxious for business and jobs, licensed the construction in January on land utilized until recently by Soviet troops. The mall is a project of the Kaiser supermarket chain, a subsidiary of Tengelmann & Co., the German food giant that owns A&P; supermarkets in the United States, according to The New York Times.
But building seems to have been suspended, at least temporarily. Hans Christian Bremme, chairman of Tengelmann’s, said the firm is reconsidering plans to operate the store.
Another tenant, the French automata Renault, pulled out after the controversy generated protest demonstrations and, in one instance, violence. Bombs damaged an unfinished market and a Kaiser store in Berlin. An urban guerrilla group called Revolutionary Cells has claimed responsibility, the Times reported.
But many mainstream Germans are picketing the construction site, too. On July 10, a group of women demonstrated in Berlin against the mall. They were led by Inge Rabe, whose mother was an inmate of Ravensbruck.
The Jewish communities of Germany, Belgium and France have also protested.
Jurgen Dittberner, an official of the Ministry of Culture of Brandenburg said it is not too late to convert the shopping center into a library, removing signs of commerce from a site of human suffering.
But the protests have generated a backlash.
Residents of the former East German town want the center for the jobs it would create and for easy access to consumer goods, which were rare during four decades of Communist rule.