A Holocaust Museum Might Force Germany to Confront Its History

By Richard Cohen Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 26, 1995 | Go to article overview

A Holocaust Museum Might Force Germany to Confront Its History


Richard Cohen Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Back in 1990, I wrote a column that, in certain circles, did nothing to enhance my reputation. I suggested that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, then under construction, should not be located on the Mall in Washington, but in Berlin.

Since then the Holocaust Museum opened anyway and quickly established itself as one of Washington's most popular - if that word has any meaning in this context - tourist sites. In two years, about 4 million people have visited it.

I stand rebuffed, but not chastened. If anything, the museum itself - which I have toured three times now - has convinced me that it is sorely misplaced. The Holocaust was not an American experience, so why the prized location on the Mall? It was, however, a European experience of German origin. If it belongs anywhere, it is in Berlin.

But Berlin will not have it - or anything like it. The German government instead at one time considered erecting an immense gravestone that would have been inscribed with the names of Holocaust victims - anywhere from 4 million to 6 million of them. Some five prime acres of Berlin have been set aside for a Holocaust memorial and some money already allocated, although the project has become so controversial it may never get off the ground.

In last week's issue of the New Yorker magazine, Jane Kramer examined this controversy - and the proposed memorial itself - with the sort of skepticism it deserves. I have seen the plans for the proposed Denkmal Fur Die Ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial for the Murdered European Jews) and find it wanting. My judgment is not based on aesthetics, but on an objection suggested by the very name of the project: Who, precisely, murdered those European Jews?

The passive voice (crimes were committed; mistakes were made) simply will not do. Berlin and Germany should construct not just a memorial just to victims but a museum devoted to the killers as well. Germans, no less than Americans, should have the chance to walk through a Holocaust museum - not a monument or memorial - and see who did what to whom.

Germans say they have such places. They are the old concentration camps. Never mind that Kramer says the former camps are falling into disrepair. …

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