Memorials of shame

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Posted by Richard Rawlinson

The world is full of memorials to those who have left it, from the Pyramids of Egypt and India’s Taj Mahal to benches on the Promenade in Brighton and central Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

The latter, by architect Peter Eisenman, has been criticised for being too abstract and for not presenting historical information in the form of plaques or religious symbols. It’s also, of course, been dismissed by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier who continues to threaten the destruction of Israel.

But many find it beautiful and moving. Consisting of 2,711 large, plain, rectangular stones of varying heights over five acres of undulating land, some visitors compare the slabs to coffins, others to concentration camp huts. They can walk through the labyrinth of pathways between the slabs, which aims to evoke feelings of loss and disorientation.

Modern Germany should be applauded as one of the few nations brave and humble enough to erect memorials to immortalise its own shame.

Near the Holocaust memorial, Berlin authorities have also unveiled a Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. It consists of a stone cuboid, on the front of which is a window through which visitors can see a short film of two kissing men. The window has been smashed by vandals on at least two occasions, and there have also been complaints by lesbians over the absence of women kissing. Lesbians victimised under Nazism have not been documented, though there are instances recorded of lesbian pubs being forced to close.

Berlin’s eagerness to make amends for Germany’s 20th century crimes continues with long-delayed plans for a memorial commemorating some 500,000 murdered gypsies (Sinti and Roma). The design is a small pool of water with a triangular island in the middle displaying a Roma rose.

This time, bickering is holding up completion, with disagreements between installation artist Dani Karavan and the council client over issues of construction materials and expenses.

Pity those who sit on memorial committees. Maybe Berlin should have built one memorial for all Nazi victims. Or perhaps not.


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