Germany has 60 memorials of the Holocaust. At last, Vienna has one

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The Independent Online

Vienna has come late to commemorating the Holocaust. Germany has at least 60 memorials and museums dedicated to the Nazis' Final Solution, six of them in Berlin alone, although work has yet to begin on the planned national memorial in the reborn capital. The United States has dozens. The Queen opened a permanent Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in June.

Vienna has come late to commemorating the Holocaust. Germany has at least 60 memorials and museums dedicated to the Nazis' Final Solution, six of them in Berlin alone, although work has yet to begin on the planned national memorial in the reborn capital. The United States has dozens. The Queen opened a permanent Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in June.

Japan has a Holocaust education centre at Fukuyama, 45 minutes' drive from Hiroshima. Amsterdam has the Anne Frank house. Israel has the Yad Vashem national memorial and archive in Jerusalem, as well as the ghetto fighters' memorial on a kibbutz north of Haifa. In Western Europe - and increasingly in the east - almost all the sites associated with the deportation and slaughter of six million Jews have their monuments.

Most of the American memorials have opened over the past 15 years, usually at the initiative of local Jewish communities. Many of them, such as the lavish Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, are privately funded. Others, like the three-storey United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, are financed by federal or local governments.

As the Second World War receded into history, American and British Jews were anxious that the atrocity committed against their people should not be forgotten. They wanted the lessons to be learnt and digested. "This is what happened," they were saying. "Here are the pictures, here are the documents, here are the survivors' testimonies."

The American-born Israeli Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff suggests a more cynical reason for the explosion of interest in the Holocaust. "This is the last thing American Jews can agree on," he said yesterday. "It's also relevant to the non-Jews. That makes it a perfect issue for Jews to be involved with."

Each country, the Israeli historian Tom Segev argues, puts its own spin on the Holocaust. "In Poland and East Germany," he wrote in the Jerusalem Report magazine, "it was used to justify the imposition of communism by the Russians, in West Germany to justify the imposition of democracy by the Americans. For Israel, the Holocaust is an overriding justification for Zionism."

This led each nation to tone down certain parts of the story and play up others, he said. Poland commemorated the victims as if they were all Poles. Germany and Israel stressed the anti-Nazi resistance. "The Germans," Mr Segev argued, "need the myth of opposition in order to diminish their crimes; the Israelis to lessen their embarrassment at Jewish impotence in the face of the Holocaust."

The Imperial War Museum's exhibition, largely funded by a £12.6m lottery grant, lets the story tell itself, powerfully, but without preaching and without polemic. As Roman Halter, a Holocaust survivor and artist, reflected: "The story is so horrendous, one doesn't want to overblow it."

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