Reactor

An Uplifting Holocaust Memorial?

by Hrag Vartanian on May 26, 2010

Some people don’t like the idea that some people may be having a less than solemn time at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial (via flickr.com/heatheronhertravels)

Milwaukee has a Holocaust memorial but now some members of the city’s Jewish community want another one. Critic Robin Cembalest has written a well-researched and interesting article for Tablet Magazine about the tides of the Holocaust memorial world:

Recently, Milwaukee’s Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC) decided the city needs another Holocaust memorial. So, this spring, it announced a competition for a sculpture on a prominent public site outside a Jewish community center. The monument has to be weather-durable and low-maintenance; it must include landscaping, seating areas, and space for ceremonies. The winner has to fabricate the piece, at a cost of around $100,000 at most. One more thing: It should not be about the Holocaust.

Am I the only one who thinks that a low-maintenance Holocaust memorial not about the Holocaust and with seating for under 100 K sounds a tad absurd? As someone who is of Armenian descent, I know first hand how issues of genocide can dominate community conversations but really, what’s the point with this one?

An astute observer, Cembalest points out there is a growing trend — who knew — in recent Holocaust memorials, “Increasingly … memorials derived from the iconography of the oppressor are on the way out.” The new memorial in Athens is an example.

I’m personally a bigger fan of memorials that unify the suffering of many peoples and doesn’t prioritize one over the other — so in theory the Milwaukee memorial sounds like a good idea. Only by understanding how all suffering is related can we work to educate people about it. Sure, generalizations about catastrophic events are often not useful, specifics are needed, but the Milwaukee proposal sounds like it might fall into the sinkhole of generalities as it states its very ambitious purpose is to:

reach out and touch the generally impassive and silent majority, to inspire awareness among both Jewish and non-Jewish society, and to encourage deep reflection on the consequences of denying fundamental rights, human hope, and common humanity to any group or individual, particularly so when mass silence and indifference allows this to happen.

Cembalest points out there’s another big issue (which some see as a problem) for “successful” Holocaust memorials like the one in Berlin by architect Peter Eisenman, which has attracted sunbathers and children, who enjoy playing in its columns. One of the people who helped bring the Berlin memorial doesn’t being doesn’t like the non-solemn attitude of what I assume are unexpected visitors. Cembalest writes, “Berlin has a new Holocaust memorial problem—it makes people feel good. Go figure.”

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