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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 04:02 GMT 05:02 UK
Austria's delayed Holocaust memorial
Display cabinets
The memorial went ahead despite initial opposition
By Bethany Bell in Vienna

A disputed memorial to Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust is being unveiled in Vienna on Wednesday, almost four years later than planned.

Judenplatz
Judenplatz: Pogrom site
The Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, initiated the project because Austria had no Holocaust memorial of its own.

But construction work on the "Nameless Library" by the British artist Rachel Whiteread was halted in 1996 because of a row over the site in Judenplatz, or Jews Square, in the centre of Vienna.

Excavation work on the baroque square revealed the remains of a medieval synagogue where dozens of Jews committed suicide in a pogrom in 1421.

Opposition

Members of the Jewish community objected to the monument being erected over the site. Leon Zelman, a Holocaust survivor and head of the Jewish Welcome Service in Vienna, said the ruins of the synagogue should be allowed to speak for themselves.


A few daubed swastikas on it would really make people think about what is happening in their society

Artist Rachel Whiteread
Other local residents criticised the appearance of the concrete monument as well as plans to make the square a pedestrianised zone.

The Vienna branch of the far-right Freedom Party claimed that too much money was being spent on the project - which includes the archaeological remains and a museum on medieval Jewish life.

Eventually a compromise was reached - with the monument being shifted slightly away from its original site over the synagogue.

For the mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl, the whole square now stands as a place of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust. He said it also bears witness to the fact that anti-Semitism in the city goes back further than the Nazi era.

Right opposite the memorial stands a medieval house with a 15th century anti-Semitic plaque referring to "the flames which atoned for the terrible crimes of the Hebrew dogs".

Symbol of history

Rachel Whiteread's sculpture is a concrete cast of a library, with books with their spines turned to the inside.

Book cast
Simon Wiesenthal: "Our monuments were books"

Around the base of the memorial are the names of the concentration camps in which 65,000 Austrian Jews died.

Simon Wiesenthal said the symbol of the book was very important for Jews: "We are a people of books. We didn't build our monuments out of stone and metal. Our monuments were books."

Rachel Whiteread says the sculpture has been given an anti-graffiti treatment to prevent it from becoming the target of anti-Semitic defacement.

But she said: "A few daubed swastikas on it would really make people think about what is happening in their society, their culture. I certainly don't want to encourage it, but if it happens, it happens."

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