Latin America’s first Holocaust monument is delayed, yet again

Latin America’s first Holocaust monument is delayed, yet again

More than 15 years after the Buenos Aires project's conception, everything is in place -- except for who will foot the bill

A sketch of the proposed monument. (photo credit: courtesy)
A sketch of the proposed monument. (photo credit: courtesy)

BUENOS AIRES — If finished, a proposed memorial in Buenos Aires would become the first public monument in Latin America to honor victims of the Holocaust. More than 15 years after the idea’s conception, though, project details continue to be haggled over and construction is still not under way

“We are meeting with the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
to see when we can set a date,” Aldo Donzis, president of the Delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations (DAIA), told The Times of Israel. Currently, there is no anticipated timeline for groundbreaking or completion.

Throughout the past decade, the project’s largest hurdle proved to be the labyrinthine overlapping laws and regulations at the national and local level.

A proposal that originated in the halls of the Argentine Congress planned for the monument to be built in Buenos Aires, an autonomous district within Argentina. The initial delay, however, occurred when the national legislative body mandated the monument be located in front of Congress, even though a longstanding municipal law prohibited the installation of any structure on the congressional plaza.

Years passed before the city government of Buenos Aires enacted a new law that approved an outdoor area for the monument and the national congress of Argentina authorized the memorial’s construction at a different site.

“Navigating two legislatures and two governments slowed the process significantly,” said Donzis.

If securing a location took the project one step forward, procuring funds is bringing it two steps back

But if securing a location took the project one step forward, procuring funds is bringing it two steps back.

The monument comes with a $3 million peso ($667,000) price tag and as of now, it remains unclear who will pay.

Although the Argentine Congress supported the monument’s construction and commenced an international contest to design it in 2007, the national government no longer seems willing to cover the entire cost.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Culture to The Times of Israel this week read: “Gathering the funds needed to carry out the commemorative monument is the responsibility of authorities of the Jewish community, in coordination with the Ministry of Culture.”

In response to the suggestion that the government may be shirking its financial responsibility, the ministry asserted that the initial law had long since put forth the possibility that the project might be partially paid for by “the contributions of institutions and individuals.”

While the monument is not that expensive, in the opinion of Donzis, the parties involved seem to agree other priorities demand the attention of a debt-ridden government whose economy is teetering on the brink of recession.

“Once the contest was under way, the government should have devoted economic resources to the project,” Donzis said. “But in the very least, we would be pleased to see the government pay for a part.”

As political drama delays progress, two architects await their cue

As political drama delays progress, two architects await their cue. Gustavo Nielsen and Sebastián Marsiglia, who were commissioned to work on the monument after taking first prize in the design competition, have spent three years in limbo. When the project was even put on hold for a year, they doubted it would come to fruition.

“At various points we were told that the project was happening and then later told that it wasn’t happening,” said Nielsen.

The architects themselves paid for many expenses out of pocket and contracted companies to do preliminary analyses of the monument plans and evaluate the land.

Despite the delay, construction finally seems imminent. On May 3, the governor of the city of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, inaugurated Shoá Plaza, a grassy area punctuated by seven trees that correspond to the seven branches of the menora.

‘The people and the plaza are waiting for this memorial’

“We’re no longer the only ones interested,” said Marsiglia. “The people and the plaza are waiting for this memorial.”

Echoing the architect’s sentiments, Donzis confirmed that “we have the word of the national government that it will be happen.”

The envisioned monument allows the collective memory of all victims to become a part of the individual memory of visitors, and emphasizes the connections between the past and the present.

Each stone in the wall contains a tangible reminder of the lives that were lost in the Holocaust. The architects noted the way that other Holocaust memorials failed to engage the visitor in a dialogue — for example, glass cases that exhibit personal items taken from victims. In the Buenos Aires monument, everyday objects like shoes and clothes will be imprinted into the stones through concrete castings. The casting ruins the object itself but leaves an impression, symbolic of the mark that man leaves as he passes through the world. It is the object’s negative that is left behind, and this notable absence symbolizes the transference of memory from the dead memory of the object to the living memory of the visitors. The emphasis on such everyday objects shows how such a catastrophe can occur again at any time and in any society.

The number of stones that comprise the wall are symbolic of the two other bombings.

On a macro level, the monument will be fragmented into two parts, each symbolic of two recent local attacks. The first section will contain 29 such stones, one for each fatality in a 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and the second will consist of 86, in commemoration of the number of victims killed in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA.

The monument is especially significant in Argentina, where approximately 30,000 people were killed or disappeared in a period of state terrorism that lasted from 1976 to 1983. As such, the monument memorializes victims of the Holocaust, but will have no religious symbols so that it symbolically speaks against all genocides.

“The monument will be a sign of hope for the city, the country, and the entire world,” said Marsiglia.

The winning proposed monument sketch. (photo credit: courtesy)
The winning proposed monument sketch. (photo credit: Courtesy)
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