Berlin's Holocaust Memorial Opens to Public

Visitor to Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

An unidentified youth jumps from one pillar to another at the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin on its opening day, May 12. Reuters hide caption

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Berlin's controversial memorial to the Jews who died in the Holocaust is open to the public after years of controversy over its design. The first visitors Thursday shared their impressions on whether the memorial is too abstract. Some of them said it has the disorienting effect and helpless feeling that its architect tried to achieve.

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Sixty years after the end of World War II, Germany has opened a memorial to Jews who died in the Holocaust. After years of debate over the monument's form and location, the public wandered this week among rows of gray concrete blocks in the heart of Berlin. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS reporting:

In the very center of Germany's new memorial, humans are dwarfed by tall slabs of gray concrete. The blocks are set into the Earth along a grid of narrow paths. They tilt at odd angles. The ground swells and falls unpredictably.

Mr. SMAZ TEER(ph): My name is Smaz Teer. I'm 20 years old. I feel that you are alone and you get no help from anyone else.

Ms. MARGO DELAPO(ph): My name is Margo Delapo, I'm 19. It's close and not enough space. And every moment you can look--where is the way out, but you feel there is no way out.

Mr. NICO VAN COUNT(ph): I'm Nico Van Count, I'm 30 years old. I'm from the Netherlands. It makes you feel weak and small, the fear the Jews must have seen, must have felt.

HARRIS: This is a memorial to the approximately six million Jews killed by Germany's Third Reich during World War II. It's also a memorial for Germany.

Mr. GINTA HOFAYLOR(ph): My name is Ginta Hofaylor. I am 67 years old and I feel this is a memorial, not for Jewish, it is for German--I'm German. Yes. I am not happy that I am German. And when I come here, I want to open my mind that it never come again.

HARRIS: Not everyone here was so moved.

(Soundbite of laughing)

HARRIS: Many young people lounged on the blocks and played hide-and-seek, losing their friends among the columns, then finding them again.

Ms. GOODREN FRYBURGER(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: `It's like a labyrinth,' says 27-year-old Goodren Fryburger. `You want to hide. It's not really proper,' she says, `but it's neat.' George Pultza(ph), a 58-year-old Jewish resident of Berlin, caught a moment among the concrete slabs that convinced him the memorial captured some of the feeling of the Holocaust.

Mr. GEORGE PULTZA: You know, two small kids around 10 years and one, he left the other for 10 second and the other said to him, `You were here but now you are gone. Where are you? Where is suddenly--you disappeared?' And this is what it is, an old Jewish family who lived in a house here in Berlin, and next morning, the neighbors were gone.

HARRIS: From the depths of the shadows in the center of the memorial, straight paths lead directly past increasingly lower blocks back to the lively city of Berlin. Unlike the Holocaust, there's always a way out from here. An underground center gives historical information, but there are no explanations among the slabs; nothing about who killed the Jews, why or how. That's been criticized by some Jewish leaders here. But Dutch visitor Tuan Ji Ulani(ph) says explanations aren't necessary.

Mr. TUAN JI ULANI: I mean, we are not pointing to who did it or trying to answer this question, maybe gives also a reason to think that maybe I could do it, too.

HARRIS: Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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