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Plan emerges for Berlin memorial, but Parliament must give final okay

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FRANKFURT, Jan. 19 (JTA) — German Jewish leaders are welcoming a compromise decision reached over the weekend to build a combined Holocaust monument and research center in Berlin. But the details of the plan remain sketchy, and the new plan still has to be approved by the German Parliament. The plan, which was negotiated by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, the head of the soon-to-be-opened Jewish museum in Berlin, adds the research center and a giant wall of books to the monument, which was designed by American architect Peter Eisenman. The compromise, which was agreed to by Eisenman, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and his cultural minister, Michael Naumann, both of whom originally opposed the monument, would also reduce the size of Eisenman’s memorial from 2,700 to about 1,800 stone slabs. “The current model is much better than the previous design,” German Jewish leader Ignatz Bubis told JTA. Bubis and other Jewish leaders had been upset with plans by Germany’s center-left government, which took office in October, to drop construction of a monument in favor of a combination research center, library, and exhibition space. But they have generally stayed out of the recent debate over the memorial, saying it was a matter for Germans to decide. While the compromise appears to end a decade of dickering over the proposed memorial, it does not end all questions. The agreement appears to pave the way for an arrangement between Blumenthal’s museum and the memorial, although exactly what that relationship will be remains unclear. For example, one proposal would bring Steven Spielberg’s video archive of interviews with Holocaust survivors to Germany. Bubis has suggested the monument’s research center as the site, but Blumenthal wants the archives at the museum. Spielberg, who has said he is interested in placing his archive in Berlin, is scheduled to discuss the matter when he comes to Germany next month for Berlin’s annual film festival. Whether the proposal will be approved by Germany’s Parliament is also unclear. The latest concept was scheduled to be presented to members of Germany’s Parliament this week. The leader of the Social Democrats, Peter Struck, said there are still major differences of opinion among legislators on the project. The Parliament is not expected to discuss the project until this summer. One problem might be the higher costs of the combined monument and museum complex, which has jumped from $18 million for a monument to an estimated $54 million. Critics say the money would be better spent on restoration and maintenance costs at existing memorials at former Nazi concentration camps such as Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Dachau. Some of the memorials have drastically reduced their opening times because of a lack of funds. They also have little money for needed renovation work and research projects.

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