Amsterdam finally to move forward on Holocaust memorial

Dutch Auschwitz Committee obtains site for new monument in the heart of the former Jewish district

Reporter at The Times of Israel

The Memorial of Names designed by Daniel Libeskind  for Amsterdam (courtesy)
The Memorial of Names designed by Daniel Libeskind for Amsterdam (courtesy)

After two years of playing hot potato over a final location, Amsterdam city officials have announced the site for an unprecedented national Holocaust memorial.

Set to include the names of 102,000 Dutch Holocaust victims, the memorial will be built along the city’s Weesperstraat Boulevard, between the world-renowned Hermitage Museum and nearby plush botanical gardens. Across town from the Anne Frank House, Weesperstraat runs through the vanished Jodenbuurt neighborhood, the pre-Holocaust home of most of the city’s Jews.

The location was announced during a gathering of municipal officials on Friday, according to Dutch Auschwitz Committee member Naomi Koster, who has advocated for the memorial’s construction since 2007. On Friday, Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan promised the memorial committee that ground would be broken on the project within one year, Koster told The Times of Israel.

As per architect Daniel Libeskind’s plan, the Memorial of Names will consist of several ascending and descending walls onto which victims’ names will be etched, with maze-like paths to be lit from below at night.

Although posh Wertheim Park had been the preferred location of the memorial committee, opposition from neighbors led the group to suggest 16 alternative sites for its $6.8 million project. According to city officials, the Weesperstraat location is “the best place” for the long-anticipated memorial, close to sites in the city’s 2012-declared Jewish Cultural Quarter and — unlike Wertheim Park — already congested with traffic and tourists.

Daniel Libeskind-designed Memorial of Names for Amsterdam, in commemoration of 102,000 Dutch Jews and others murdered in the Holocaust (courtesy)
Daniel Libeskind-designed Memorial of Names for Amsterdam, in commemoration of 102,000 Dutch Jews and others murdered in the Holocaust (courtesy)

Among the complaints of some Wertheim Park neighbors, the Shoah memorial would have taken up too much space, and a projected flood of 200,000 annual tourists stood to ruin their leafy enclave. Additionally, the dog park was already home to the hard-to-spot Dutch Auschwitz Memorial, composed of mirrors on the ground. “Not in my garden” was heard throughout the neighborhood when the plan was announced two years ago, and the city eventually removed signs announcing the project from the park’s fences.

According to Koster, the memorial’s new location, a five-minute walk from Wertheim Park, is “an excellent runner up,” as the activist told The Times of Israel. Before the groundbreaking, however, a solution must be found for the 1950 Monument of Jewish Gratitude, which, in its present location will block views of the Memorial of Names set to rise behind it.

Nine years after envisioning the memorial, Koster’s committee can now focus on fundraising and construction. On June 22, the city council is set to approve the approved site’s building plan, and there will be one more “public consultation” phase, said Koster. Having custom-designed the memorial for Wertheim Park, Libeskind could be called upon to alter the project in accordance with the second-choice site’s requirements.

New location for the Daniel Libeskind-designed Memorial of Names for Shoah victims (red star), imposed on a map prepared for the Nazis with black dots showing concentrations of Jews on each street (Matt Lebovic)
New location for the Daniel Libeskind-designed Memorial of Names for Shoah victims (red star), imposed on a map prepared for the Nazis with black dots showing concentrations of Jews on each street (Matt Lebovic)

 

Despite these formalities, Mayor van der Laan is confident the project will be realized in the year ahead.

“I do not expect any obstacles,” van der Laan told the Dutch newspaper NRC on Friday. “We overlooked in Wertheim Park that the monument radically changed the atmosphere of the park,” said the mayor. “That is not the case here. I think the neighborhood will say welcome,” he said.

Less than grateful for Monument of Jewish Gratitude

In the view of Amsterdam’s Jewish leaders, removing the postwar Monument of Jewish Gratitude is also quite welcome, according to media reports. Built by Holocaust survivors in 1950 as a thank-you to Dutch resisters of Nazism, the altar-like limestone monument is poised to block the street view of Libeskind’s memorial, set to rise behind the edifice’s reliefs of people in mournful poses. The monument has already been moved once, to make room for the metro.

Constructed by Amsterdam's postwar remnant Jewish community in 1950, the limestone Monument of Gratitude will likely be removed to make way for the Memorial of Names (Wikimedia Commons)
Constructed by Amsterdam’s postwar remnant Jewish community in 1950, the limestone Monument of Gratitude will likely be removed to make way for the Memorial of Names (Wikimedia Commons)

Since the Monument of Gratitude’s construction after the war, scholars have determined that Dutch citizens collaborated extensively in the Nazis’ round-up of Jews for deportation, including the role of “bounty hunters” among the police and civilians. Much has also come to light about the harrowing treatment received by survivors who dared return to Holland, some of whom had their children stolen from them, along with everything else.

According to Koster, Amsterdam’s Jewish leaders are not opposed to moving the controversial Monument of Gratitude. The 66-year-old structure needs preservation, in any case, with parts of its foundation crumbling.

History-packed structures and a new Holocaust museum

This week, Amsterdam’s newly inaugurated National Holocaust Museum will hold its first public exhibition. In the former teacher training college where 600 Jewish children were saved from deportation, the museum will host actor and painter Jeroen Krabbe’s “The Demise of Abraham Reiss,” based on the Shoah experiences of Krabbe’s grandfather.

The Dutch Auschwitz Memorial in Wertheim Park in Amsterdam, November 2015 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)
The Dutch Auschwitz Memorial in Wertheim Park in Amsterdam, November 2015 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

 

The college is across the street from the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a Yiddish theater into which Jews were herded by the Nazis and collaborators prior to being deported. Together, the history-packed structures will house the new Holocaust museum, an evolving project of the sweeping Jewish Historical Museum.

“The two [buildings] together represent the story of the Holocaust,” according to a museum statement. “The National Holocaust Memorial is a place of deportation, collaboration and remembrance of the dead, [and] the college is a place where authentic human courage and selflessness were reflected,” said the statement.

Seven decades after their deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor and elsewhere, murdered Dutch Jews will become part of Amsterdam’s fabric with their own yad vashem — memorial and name — in the canal-filled refuge. As the genocide recedes from living memory, the city joins other European hubs in erecting monuments to “their” country’s Shoah victims.

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