German Holocaust Memorial Gets Snared in New Objections

Within days after a new design for a national Holocaust memorial was hailed as the solution to a decade-long controversy surrounding the project, German officials are now questioning whether there will be enough political consensus to move forward.

Debate is also growing over just who should make the final decision regarding the project.

Last weekend, a compromise was reached to build a combined Holocaust monument and research center in Berlin.

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 1 million books to the monument, which was designed by American architect Peter Eisenman.

The compromise, which was agreed to by Eisenman, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder 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.

German Jewish leaders welcomed the compromise.

“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.

After getting a chance to view the latest model for the project, legislators gave a less than enthusiastic response to the government’s latest attempt to find a compromise between those calling for a monument and those who favor a museum.

The head of the opposition Free Democratic Party, Wolfgang Gerhardt, said he was not convinced by the new approach.

“There should just be a monument on the site, forcing people to confront the past in a different way than when they read a book in the library on the subject.”

Wolfgang Schauble, the head of the conservative Christian Democratic Party, which was voted out of power last fall, called the new design an overly hasty attempt to end the controversy.

He said the new model reopens the entire discussion on the monument, making a rapid parliamentary decision impossible.

Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, also a member of the Christian Democrats, said the new model did not change his previous objections to the project.

He also criticized the government for trying to broker a compromise without involving Berlin government officials.

Under the previous conservative government, the decision on the monument was left to the chancellor. But since the new center-left government took power last fall, the final decision appears to be shifting to the Parliament.

After discussions with members of all parties, the president of Parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, said Wednesday the widely differing opinions on the models under discussion means the issue is not yet ready for parliamentary discussion.

Earlier this week, when it appeared the new model could gain a consensus, Thierse had suggested a debate would be held before the legislators’ summer break.

A major stumbling block to the project may be its cost: Instead of its original $9 million price tag, the latest plan has become a $54 million dollar project.

At a time when the German government is straining under the costs of moving its administration from Bonn to Berlin, the project’s high construction costs could torpedo its chances altogether.

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