The well-known Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman, has been provoking discussion ever since it was inaugurated in 2005. Approved by the German Bundestag in 1999, the design boldly confirmed the popular incline in contemporary memorials towards the inversion, destabilization and fixation on trauma. Against many concerns such as that the memorial would produce a ‘great burial slab for the twentieth century, a hermetically-sealed vault for the ghosts of Germany’s past’,[1] Eisenman’s gigantic field of pillars landed in the midst of Berlin’s public space. Since then, the memorial has been criticized by many, attacked by vandals and weather conditions (for example, concrete stelae are cracking), but also embraced as a popular play-ground.[2]

596In the meantime, new memorials have been added in a close proximity: The Memorial to the Homosexual Victims persecuted under Nazis (2008) by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, and the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism (2012) by Dani Karavan. While the first is a single impenetrable structure and aesthetically relates to Eisenman’s memorial discussed in the previous chapter, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism takes a different approach and offers a secluded realm for memory. The memorial, designed by Dani Karavan, is separated from the rest of the park by a milk-glass fence on which a historical timeline is inscribed. The entrance also serves as a transitional passageway towards the other side, where a circular basin is inserted into the ground.[3] In the centre of the basin is a small, moveable, triangular platform that, when elevated, causes the water to flow over the basin’s edge. Unlike the adjacent field of pillars, this memorial is precise in its address since the textual content serves an introductory purpose. The memorial hints at the currently resurfacing need for ‘healing’ spaces to replace the aggressive revoking of traumatic experiences. The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (2010), by Belzberg Architects, confirms this trend. The museum was designed along organic principles and embedded into the city’s landscape, diverging from the popular narrative approach.[4] It was placed underground, so that it becomes an organic part of the park. In this particular case however, the undermining of the outer appearance can be related to the museum’s curatorial orientation towards a wider thematic inclusion. Next to exhibiting and documenting the Holocaust, the museum considers other genocides and human rights violations in the world. Even though this is a common practice in Holocaust museums, this particular museum was criticized for departing from the main topic towards more general and, consequently, more schematic representations.[5]


[1] J. Young, At Memory’s Edge, After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000, p. 194.

[2] Q. Stevens, Quentin, ‘Waarom het Holocaustmonument in Berlijn zo’n geliefd speelterrein is’, in: Oase: Into the Open, 2008, No. 77,  pp. 71-79

[3] Karavan’s first models of the memorial show only the circular basin without any surrounding fence. Jacobi Fritz, Mordechai Omer and Jule Reuter (Eds.), Dani Karavan Retrospective, Ernst Wasmuth Verlag Tübingen, Berlin, 2008, pp. 240-241

[4] For instance the Holocaust Memorial Center of Michigan (2004) by Neumann/Smith and Associates, or the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center (2009) by Stanley Tigerman. The latter displays an overtly religious underlining, again deploying the notion of zimzum together with a distinct use of dark gray and white color. The grey is used to represent the moment of shevirat ha-kelim, when the light produced as a consequence of the zimzum act destroyed the vessels containing it and gave rise to the evil in the world, whereas the white part represents the task of tikkun olam as a reference to repairing the damage through education and remembrance. See: Rosenfeld, Gavriel D., Building after Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2011, p. 279.

[5] For instance Edward Rothstein criticizes the memorial’s general approach, which de-emphasizes the story of the Holocaust instead of getting more particular stories and information that would make the memory more tangible for future generations. See: Edward Rothstein, ‘Museum Review: Bearing Witness Beyond Witnesses’, in: The New York Times, March 24, 2011 (www.query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D03E0DD1231F937A15750C0A9679D8B63&ref=edwardrothstein&pagewanted=2, accessed 01.06.2014)