Berlin memorial 'blurs horror of Holocaust'

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IN A ceremony fraught with controversy, Chancellor Helmut Kohl will tomorrow formally unveil Germany's first national memorial to the dead of the Second World War and the victims of Nazism.

The centrepiece of the memorial, contained within the 19th-century neo-classical Neue Wache (New Guard House) in Berlin, will be a dramatic sculpture of a mother clutching her dead son. Its epitaph will read: 'To the victims of war and tyranny'.

In addition to the countless soldiers on all sides who fell in the war, two plaques close by will single out the 'millions of Jews', gypsies, homosexuals and disabled people sent to their deaths by the Nazis, Germans forced out of their homes in Central and Eastern Europe in 1945, and even victims of the oppressive Communist regime set up in the eastern part of Germany after the war.

For the Chancellor, who first suggested the need for such a memorial shortly after Germany re-united in 1990, the Berlin ceremony, timed to coincide with Remembrance Day, will mark an important step in the painful process of coming to terms with the country's past, and trying to ensure that it is never repeated.

For critics, some of whom may even attempt to disrupt tomorrow's proceedings, it will be seen more as an attempt to bury that past, or at the very least, to blur its unique horror.

'It is outrageous to lump together under the same roof the victims of the Holocaust with some of the perpetrators of the crimes against them or victims of Stalinism,' said Christine Fischer-Defoy, head of Berlin's 'Active Museum of Fascism and Resistance', which will be holding an alternative memorial march.

'It will undoubtedly serve to obscure the specifics of German history and help the cause of the many Germans who no longer want to feel that their country was somehow uniquely evil.'

Such criticisms have found a strong echo among Berlin's Jewish contingent, which, in contrast to the Jewish community nationwide, will not be sending a representative to tomorrow's formalities. 'It is unthinkable to honour at the same level those who were exterminated by the Nazi war machine because they were Jews and those who fell in the war,' said Jerzy Kanal, the leader of the Berlin Jewish community, explaining his decision not to attend.

He added: 'Besides, on a monument like this, the fate of millions of Jews and gypsies cannot be evoked in a single sentence.'

In the Chancellery in Bonn, such objections are dismissed as misunderstandings of the true intention of the memorial, which is to provide a symbol dedicated to all those who suffered as a result of the Nazi regime.

'Do not forget, a lot of German soldiers did not go to war voluntarily,' said one adviser to Mr Kohl.

It is pointed out, too, that the government has already agreed to provide land and considerable funds for another memorial in central Berlin to be dedicated specifically to the millions of European Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Although most objectors are expected to protest peacefully tomorrow, there will be a heavy police presence to prevent any repetition of the chaotic scenes at an anti-racism march in Berlin just over a year ago that ended with President Richard von Weizsacker being jeered and pelted with rotten fruit and paint.