War memorials have failed – we have forgotten the chaos of fascism

[From The Guardian]

“ I believe my Holocaust memorial in Berlin could no longer be built today,” the architect Peter Eisenman has told Die Zeit. Eisenman says that Europe is now “afraid of strangers”, and he fears that the rise of xenophobia and antisemitism in Europe would make it impossible to build monuments like the vast field of grey sepulchres that he designed as Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, inaugurated in 2005 close to the site of Adolf Hitler’s bunker.

He may well be right – yet surely this is the wrong end of the book to start at. The real question is why Holocaust memorials have done so little to prevent the return of Europe’s far-right demons.

In Vienna, as in Berlin, the victims of the Holocaust are remembered by public art. Rachel Whiteread’s Judenplatz Holocaust memorial is a sealed library of closed books, each book suggesting a whole life we cannot recover.

Since its unveiling in 2000, it has become, like Eisenman’s Berlin memorial, a sombre tourist attraction and civic symbol. Yet Austria has just come perilously close to electing a president whose extreme-right Freedom party has Nazi roots and espouses xenophobia. Norbert Hofer was defeated – good – but how can anyone at all be drawn to far-right politics in a Europe that remembers its history? If memorials like those created by Whiteread and Eisenman have any value, it should surely be to make race hate an utterly marginal force, and far-right extremism the smallest of minorities. Instead, in its new guise of “populism”, the anti-liberal right is running rampant.

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