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Another delay looming for German Holocaust memorial

FRANKFURT, March 26 (JTA) — The process of selecting a design for Germany’s national Holocaust memorial may come to a grinding halt. Opposition by several leading German politicians to the construction of the Berlin memorial could halt the selection process for a winning design. As it is, the decision, which was expected this month, will probably be postponed, according to a spokesman for the Culture Ministry of Berlin. No date has been set for a final decision. Meanwhile, meetings between government officials and private groups who are co-sponsoring planning for the memorial continue, according to the spokesman. In past months, opposition to the memorial’s location and design from German intellectuals and politicians has grown. Some have even questioned the wisdom of creating a memorial. Last week, Berlin’s mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, publicized his long-held reservations about the construction of a Holocaust monument. “None of the winning designs demonstrates a clear enough concept to have meaning for future generations,” he told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Diepgen has in the past voiced opposition to a “monument mile,” warning that Berlin must not be a “capital of regrets.” He also told the newspaper that the design currently favored to win the competition — a field of 4,000 stone pillars designed by Americans Richard Serra and Peter Eisenman — bears no clear relationship to the Holocaust. The design was entered as part of a second competition in which 25 invited artists and architects submitted their conceptions. In 1996, German chancellor Helmut Kohl rejected the winning design in the first round of the competition. The design envisioned a slanted block of stone covering an area the size of two football fields that would be engraved with the names of all the millions of Holocaust victims. Diepgen’s opposition could again halt the process of selecting a winning design. The city of Berlin, together with the federal government and the private groups backing the monument, must agree on a winning design. Diepgen’s reservations were echoed last week by leading members of his party. “I have come to the increasing realization that it won’t work,” said Nikolaus Sander, cultural spokesman for the Social Democrats. He said the enormity of the crime could not properly be reflected by a monument of massive dimensions. German Jewish leaders generally agree that a monument should be built, but they are divided in their support of the current concept. Ignatz Bubis, leader of Germany’s Jewish community, says Kohl promised him that a Holocaust monument would be built in Berlin. In the past, he has expressed concern that the monument would never be built if discussions about a design continued too long. The head of Berlin’s Jewish community, Andreas Nachama, has called for a suspension in negotiations because of the current controversy. Nachama, a museum curator, says the opposition must be taken seriously. During the recent ceremonies marking the opening of an American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, the group’s executive director, David Harris, said the AJCommittee supported the construction of a monument in Berlin in order to keep memories of the past alive. In February, a group of prominent German writers, including Gunter Grass and Walter Jens, said they no longer favored building a monument. They felt that all designs so far submitted had failed because of the near impossibility of finding an artistic form to reflect such a monstrous event as the Holocaust. Instead, they urged that the money be spent on research on the history of German Jewry and on the maintenance of existing memorial sites at former concentration camps.