New Berlin Memorial to War Dead Boycotted by Most Jewish Leaders

A controversial new memorial to Germany’s war dead was in augurated here Sunday in the absence of Berlin’s Jewish community leaders and with condemnation by many non-Jewish Germans as well.

The memorial, inscribed “for the victims of war and tyranny,” has been roundly criticized for honoring perpetrators as well as victims of the Holocaust and for not mentioning Jews as victims.

In protest, the culture minister of Berlin stayed away, joining some 50 intellectuals and public figures who signed a statement saying the monument “can never be a place for remembering the victims of German fascism.”

“Should it now be considered in Germany that those who voluntarily wore swastikas were the same as those who were forced to wear yellow stars with the word ‘Jew?’ the statement asked.

The monument, on Unter den Linden, Berlin’s premier thoroughfare, was dedicated by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Richard von Weizsacker.

The memorial, occupying one large room of a pre-existing building, is a statue of a grieving mother holding her son’s lifeless body.

The memorial and its site were chosen by Kohl, who called it “a symbol of reunited Germany.”

During the Nazi era, the site was a prison and monument to World War I victims.

The former East German government used the building, called the New Guardhouse, as a monument “to the victims of fascism and militarism.”

The remains of both an unknown soldier and an unknown concentration camp victim are buried under the building.

Nov. 14 was chosen to inaugurate the memorial because it is Germany’s National Day of Mourning.

At the same time that the memorial was being dedicated, police were arresting some 200 right-wing activists throughout the country who tried to stage rallies.

‘COLLAPSES DISTINCTION BETWEEN VICTIMS’

Although the leader of the Berlin Jewish community pointedly stayed away from the memorial’s dedication, Ignatz Bubis, who is head of the entire German Jewish community, attended, after Kohl agreed to his demands for a plaque naming Nazi victims.

The plaque, which Kohl allowed to be erected outside the monument’s entrance, contains a quotation from a 1985 speech by Weizsacker that named victims of the Nazis.

Weizsacker spoke out at that time when Kohl went ahead with his highly controversial plans to honor S.S. soldiers buried at the Bitburg cemetery.

Bubis, in his negotiations with Kohl over the contentious memorial, also secured the chancellor’s support for the erection of Germany’s first national memorial for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, the Berlin Jewish community voted unanimously to boycott the memorial’s dedication.

The head of the Berlin community, Jerzy Kanal, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “One cannot remember the past without differentiating between the dead. The murder of the (European) Jews was unique.”

Moische Waks, the head of the opposition in the Jewish community, said he had also supported a move to ask Bubis to boycott the event.

“Some of the German victims also exterminated Jews,” Waks said. “Some of the fallen soldiers ran the death camps.”

“This collapses the distinction between the victims of Auschwitz and their Nazi SS perpetrators,” said Rabbi Daniel Landes, director of national education projects for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“It shows that Germany wants to close the book on the painful memory of the Holocaust by normalizing World War II to be a war like all of the other wars. It unleashed terror on its targets, the tens of millions of innocent Jews, Slavs, Russians, Poles, Gypsies and homosexuals,” said Landes, who participated in the protest.

Many non-Jews also criticized the memorial, which they say pays tribute to both murderers and victims. Several hundred protesters greeted Kohl at the dedication with catcalls and whistles.

A preliminary protest of the memorial was held on Nov. 9, the 55th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom. A group of 40 demonstrators chained themselves to the monument that night but were quickly removed by police.

One of those protesters, Jewish artist Gabriel Heinler, said, “It was especially hard to take it on such a date.”

The Israeli consul general in Berlin, Mordechai Lowy, told JTA that once the memorial is included in the protocol for foreign guests to Berlin, Israeli diplomats will find it difficult to avoid.

“They would go there with stomach pains,” he said.

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