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Germany Delays Holocaust Memorial

August 24, 1998

BERLIN (AP) _ A decision on a long-delayed Holocaust Memorial fell victim to election politics on Monday with Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreeing to postpone a vote on the project amid criticism of the plan by his challenger.

The delay, announced by Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, has raised doubt whether the decade-old project will ever become a reality. Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, who is leading Kohl in the polls, has expressed skepticism about the plan and said he would reopen a nationwide debate if he wins the Sept. 27 national election.

Schroeder spoke after his pick as cultural adviser said he found the memorial idea too cold and grandiose. He suggested the memory of the Holocaust would be better preserved for future generations by spending more on upkeep at decaying concentration camps or on a research center.

Other critics, including Diepgen, echoed the comments and called on Kohl not to rush the project. Kohl had promised to announce the winning design before the election.

The delay announced Monday was criticized by Jewish leaders. Michel Friedman, board member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, blamed Schroeder and Diepgen for ``this undignified drawing out of the decision.″

The Berlin director of the American Jewish Committee, Eugene DuBow, said he hoped the entire project was not endangered. The memorial, he said, is meant to be ``a message from (the Germans) to the world, and to themselves.″

Journalist Lea Rosh, who first proposed the memorial in 1988, attacked critics in an essay published Monday in the Berliner Zeitung.

``I thought until now that we would at least regret the murder of six million people,″ she wrote. ``Does a current politician want, does he dare, to simply slink away from it?″

The Holocaust Memorial project had already gone through two artistic competitions and three symposiums with international experts. The field was narrowed to four finalists last year, but a winner has yet to be announced.

Construction was supposed to begin in Berlin next year, when the federal government starts its move from Bonn back to its historic capital.

Kohl, one of the memorial’s strongest backers, had been pressing Diepgen, a fellow Christian Democrat, to bring the memorial project to a vote at a city government meeting Tuesday.

But after talking Monday, they decided that ``it would be irresponsible to allow the decision over the erection of a Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe to become a campaign issue,″ said city government spokesman Michael-Andreas Butz.

Kohl has already donated a large plot of federal land in the heart of Berlin for the project. The $8.3 million memorial is to be a joint project of the federal and city government and a private initiative.

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