British sculptor to commemorate Austria's Holocaust
Friday 26 January 1996
Rachel Whiteread, the controversial British sculptor, has been chosen to create a memorial to Austria's 65,000 Holocaust victims. Her design, an enormous cement library, will be the first monument erected in the centre of Vienna in memory of those who died.
Whiteread's sculpture will consist of a giant cast of a real library room measuring 4 metres by 7 by 10. The work, which will be paid for by the City of Vienna, will be erected in Judenplatz, the heart of the old Jewish quarter and the home of many families who did not escape the Holocaust.
In Austria alone, 65 synagogues were torched and endless homes and shops owned by Jews were destroyed on the Reichkristallnacht, the night the Nazis launched their violent persecution of the Jews. The monument will be unveiled on the anniversary in November.
Whiteread, an enfant terrible of the British art world most famous for her provocative life-size sculpture of a house which won the Turner prize, was chosen from 10 artists invited to submit a proposal in a closed competition.
Hans Holbein, an Austrian architect who headed the jury which selected the design, said: "It symbolises that Judaism has survived through thousands of years of persecution, especially through books and writing."
The Jewish community has welcomed the pounds 600,000 sculpture, which many say is symbolic of a change in attitude in Austria. "This is the city that was the capital of anti-Semitism, and it has taken a long time to come to terms with it," said George Clare, a writer and an Austrian- born Jew.
"There is a shift and Austrians' attitudes have definitely changed. There is hope now, because people have changed. If she is a good artist and she does something sensible, I fully support this."
According to art experts in Britain, Whiteread, who is not Jewish, is an ideal choice for the honour.
Simon Wilson, curator at the Tate Gallery in London said: "She is a deeply admired artist who uses these everyday objects, but makes them very redolent of human life. She is an utterly brilliant choice for a Holocaust memorial in that a lot of her work is about death."
The monument will be the first in the city that is dedicated specifically to the Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The international competition to find an artist was set up by Simon Wiesenthal, 87, who has dedicated his life to exposing war crimes. He was joined on the jury by prominent Jews including Lord Weidenfeld, Robert Storr, curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Amnon Barzel, of the Jewish Museum, Berlin.
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