Austria Opens First Holocaust Memorial

ByABC News
October 25, 2000, 8:21 AM

V I E N N A, Oct. 25 -- Austrias first memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust was unveiled today in a short, dignified ceremony, more than 55 years after the end of World War II revealed the full horror of the Nazi concentration camps.

The concrete memorial, the brainchild of veteran Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, opened almost four years later than planned because of a dispute over the site in the heart of the Austrian capital: Judenplatz, a central Vienna square, with a bloody and controversial history.

The Judenplatz is the ancient location of an early Jewish ghetto where 300 Jews committed suicide in the Or Sarua synagogue in a pogrom in 1421. Some 200 others were killed.

Medieval Temple Ruins Found

The temple, one of the biggest in medieval Europe, was demolished, then forgotten until work on the memorial began, when the ruins were discovered. Community leaders protested that the archeological findings made the sculpture redundant, as they were eloquent enough on their own.

Some residents of the square, living on property once confiscated from the Jews, wanted the memorial moved to the suburbs.

But instead of canceling or moving the memorial, the plans were simply changed. The remains of the temple now accessible underground have been carefully preserved as part of a complex of Holocaust-related museums and displays around the square.

A small three-room museum in the complex features a multimedia presentation of the life of Viennas Jews in the Middle Ages until the destruction of the community in the pogrom.

A separate installation shows the names of the Austrian Jews slaughtered by the Nazis over half a millennium later.

Nameless Library, Forever Closed

The monument itself, designed by British sculptress Rachel Whiteread, is called the Nameless Library, a concrete block that stands 32 feet by 23 feet and 12 feet high. The external surface shows shelves of books with their spines turned to the inside, enclosing an area made forever inaccessible by a permanently locked door.