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Germany: Decision On Holocaust Memorial Postponed

Munich, 25 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In a move seen as politically-inspired, the German government has postponed a decision on whether to build a memorial in Berlin for the millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

The postponement was announced jointly by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, an ardent supporter of the project, and Mayor of Berlin Eberhard Diepgen, who has publicly opposed it, even though he is a member of Kohl's political party, the CDU.

The announcement said they did not want the proposed Holocaust memorial to become an issue in the campaign for the Federal elections scheduled for September 27. The decision is to be made after the elections.

Some German commentators said today that if Kohl loses the elections the project could be dropped altogether because his challengers, the Social Democrats, are not enthusiastic about it.

The SPD leader, Gerhard Schroeder, and other senior party officials have said the real memorials to the Nazi horror are the former concentration camps at Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and elsewhere. They say the money required for the Berlin memorial should be allocated to restoring and maintaining the camps.

Diepgen appears to share some of these views. He has said several times there should be no new memorial but that existing remnants of the Nazi era should maintained.

Kohl had initially planned to personally choose the winning design and have the foundation stone laid on January 27, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945. Kohl has let it be known that he favors a design which calls for a labyrinth of more than two thousand concrete pillars scattered over a two-hectare site near the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin.

Many of Germany's leading intellectuals believe that a central Holocaust memorial like the one planned for Berlin would be a mistake whatever form it took. They argue that such a memorial will allow Germany to close-off the Holocaust era and allow the murder of millions of Jews and others to be considered just another part of history at the start of a new century.

Earlier this year a group of historians and authors, including the novelist Guenter Grass, issued a statement criticizing Kohl's plans for a pompous and grandiose monument. They said it would discourage the project's purpose of encouraging remembrance about Germany's past.

Other critics have said the proposed Berlin memorial neglects other victims of the Nazis, including the disabled, the gypsies and homosexuals.

Those who argue against a central memorial in Berlin note that Germany has many other memorials which mark the horrors of the Nazi era. They include the former concentration camps, memorial plaques at the site of synagogues destroyed by the Nazis and other symbols. They say a central memorial with, probably, a commemorative service in Berlin on appropriate occasions could lead to these others being passed over and eventually forgotten.