One of the most impressive and controversial memorial to the Holocaust is located near Brandenburg Gate, in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood of Berlin. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, was designed by New York based architect Peter Eisenmann, and consist of a sea of 2,711 charcoal-colored concrete blocks called "stelae" laid out in a grid pattern over a 4.7 acre site of undulating ground. From a distance, the memorial site looks like a graveyard with the concrete steale resembling tombstones. The concrete blocks are not uniform in size and ranges in height from a mere eight inches to over fifteen feet tall. Visitors can enter from all four sides and lose themselves in the labyrinths of narrow paths between the concrete blocks. In the southeast corner of the site, located underground and accessible via two flights of stairs, is an Information Center that holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims.
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Originally, the Information Center was not present, and the memorial also lacked plaques and inscriptions. The complete absence of any reference to the Holocaust drew criticism from all around. Critics said that the memorial was too abstract and did not present historical information about the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Others were offended that the memorial was too specific to a certain demographic when thousands of people from different communities perished in the Holocaust.
“The failure to mention it at the country’s main memorial for the Jews killed in the Holocaust—separates the victims from their killers and leaches the moral element from the historical event, shunting it to the category of a natural catastrophe,” wrote Richard Brody in The NewYorker. “The reduction of responsibility to an embarrassing, tacit fact that “everybody knows” is the first step on the road to forgetting,” he added.
The Information Center was added as a response to the criticism.
But the biggest controversy arose while the memorial was still being built. Reports came out that the company Degussa, who was supplying the anti-graffiti agent that the concrete blocks were coated with, had once supplied poison gas used by the Nazis to kill the Jews in gas chambers. The Jewish community wanted the company’s involvement in the construction to be terminated, but the board didn’t want to as bringing in another supplier would incur further expense. Later, it emerged that another Degussa subsidiary had already poured the foundation for the blocks. Amidst mounting protest, the board decided to continue working with the company. The board reasoned that it was impossible to exclude all German companies involved in the Nazi crimes, because — as Wolfgang Thierse, a politician and a member of the board put it — "the past intrudes into our society".
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