Holocaust memorial proceeds, over Kohls objections

BONN — Initiators of a planned Holocaust monument in Berlin say they will go ahead with the project despite objections from German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The "Memorial Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe" has ignited a controversy across Germany.

With a surprise veto by Kohl, the federal government decided last weekend to halt existing plans for the monument, which would commemorate European Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Kohl took exception to the "gigantic size" of the proposed monument, a tombstone 330 feet long and 330 feet high, displaying the engraved names of the 4.2 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust whose identities are known.

"The past, too, was gigantic and monumental," said media magnate Lea Rosh, an initiator of the project. "To murder 6 million Jews, this is the past."

Despite protests, Kohl is reportedly sticking to his position that the monument does not enjoy the "necessary consensus."

Eberhardt Diepgen, mayor of Berlin, also called for "reconsideration" of the project.

The Central Council of German Jews has expressed concern that wrangling over the planned monument would freeze the project altogether.

Ignatz Bubis, the influential chairman of the Central Council, said that even though he had his own reservations over the plans, the project should be started "soon." At a meeting in Frankfurt last week, the council decided that the project is indispensable.

After years of deliberations, a Council committee recently selected the plan, prepared by a group of artists headed by German painter Christine Jackob-Marks. The planners want to build the memorial in the heart of Berlin, between the Brandenburg Gate and the Potsdamerplatz, capturing the skyline of the German capital.

Construction was originally scheduled to begin next year and to be completed in two years.

In addition to the proposed monument's size, a number of financial and emotional concerns are heightening the controversy.

Original estimates put the project's cost at $11 million. Now it turns out that engraving the names of the Holocaust victims would double the cost. The federal government has agreed in principle to provide the grounds for the monument and $3.5 million, but it is not clear where the rest of the money will come from.

Rosh suggested that the public be asked to "adopt" names of Holocaust victims in exchange for a contribution, but Bubis objected, saying that amounted to commercial trading in Holocaust memories.

A cut in funds for memorial sites at former concentration camps has generated more debate over the new monument. Many ask why tens of millions of German marks should be spent for the project while other monuments can barely be maintained.

Others have expressed concern that after the monument for Jewish victims, others would follow in memory of Gypsies, homosexuals and others, until the area became congested with memorials.

Meanwhile, architects have raised doubts about whether a giant tombstone is the right way to commemorate the Holocaust. Writer Ernst Cramer suggested in the German publication Die Welt that a smaller, more modest memorial would be more fitting.