Once not so long ago Germany had what it called a "Jewish Problem". Then it had a paralyzing Holocaust memorial problem, a double-edged conundrum: How would a nation of former perpetrators mourn its victims? How would a divided nation reunite itself on the bedrock memory of its crimes? In June 1999, after ten years of tortured debate, the German Bundestag voted to build a national "Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe" on a prime, five-acre piece of real estate between the Brandenburger Tor and Potsdamer Platz, a stone's throw from Hitler's bunker. In their vote, the Bundestag also accepted the design——an undulating field of pillars——by American architect, Peter Eisenman, which had been recommended by a five-member Findungskommission, for which I served as spokesman.
Like many others, I had been quite satisfied with the insolubility of Germany's memorial dilemma. Better a thousand years of Holocaust memorial competitions in Germany than any single "final solution" to Germany's memorial problem. But then I began to suspect that the neverending debate over Holocaust memory in Germany was itself becoming a substitute for taking any kind of action on behalf of such memory.
In this report, I tell the story of Germany's national Holocaust memorial and my own role in it, my evolution from a highly skeptical critic on the outside of the process to one of the arbiters on the inside. I find that as the line between my role as critic and arbiter began to collapse, the issues at the heart of Germany's memorial conundrum came into ever sharper, more painful relief.