HolocaustMemorial_lens - 1 Monument in the Mind The...

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1 Monument in the Mind: The Finished Unfinished Memorial Of all the designs submitted to the competition for the Holocaust memorial in Berlin in the late nineties, scholar James Young seemed to favor Horst Hoheisel‟s idea of blowing up the Brandenburg Gate in order to “mark one destruction [that of the Jewish people] with another destruction” (1). While Young admits in his 1999 article in Harvard Design Magazine , “Memory and Counter-Memory,” that such a “memorial undoing” (1) would never be allowed, he claims that it “seemed an especially uncanny embodiment of the impossible questions at the heart of Germany‟s memorial process” (1). To explain “Germany‟s memorial conundrum” (3), Young argues that by building traditional monuments, “we have to some degree divested ourselves of the obligation to remember” (2). Besides displacing memory, Young claims, traditional monuments would be inappropriate for Germany because they would be the incarnation of the fascist past the country is trying to move on from. To resolve these problems, Young argues in favor of the counter-monument as the best answer to Germany‟s memorial question. Like Hoheisel‟s “memorial undoing” (but of course with more practicality), counter- monuments “challenge the very premise of the monument” (Young 3) by placing the task of memory on the viewer instead of the memorial itself. At the same time, they avoid the historical connotations of traditional monument forms. However, despite his support for the counter- monument, Young reflects that even better than any finished monument would be an ongoing debate over the construction of a memorial, since “the surest engagement with Holocaust memory in Germany may actually lie in its perpetual irresolution” (4). Of course, Young‟s suggestion of a continued debate is purely theoretical; obviously the committee would have to come to a decision. In fact, construction on the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was
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2 completed in 2004 (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). But does the completed memorial achieve the goals that Young had envisioned? Surprisingly, it does. As Young predicted a counter-monument would, the Berlin memorial places the task of memory on the viewer and successfully creates active memory. But this effect is achieved through more than one aspect of the monument. As Young suggested, the goals of a counter-monument, and of this particular monument, are obtained through its abstractness. However, what Young failed to anticipate was the importance of the emotional response of the viewer. The Berlin memorial successfully preserves the ongoing memory process (the goal of enshrining “the debate itself”) not only because it is open to interpretation but because it provokes an emotional tension within the viewer. The Berlin memorial successfully achieves Young‟s goal of placing the responsibility of
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HolocaustMemorial_lens - 1 Monument in the Mind The...

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