Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial

In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed by the Nazis between 1938 and 1945.

The memorial was unveiled on 25 October 2000. Among those who attended the unveiling were the President of Austria Thomas Klestil, Mayor of Vienna Michael Häupl, President of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien Ariel Muzicant, Simon Wiesenthal, and Rachel Whiteread, who designed the memorial.

Beneath the memorial are the foundations of a synagogue that stood on the spot.

Behind me is the Jewish Museum, one of two museums in Vienna dedicated to Austrian Jewry.

As you might imagine, there was some resistance to the establishment of the memorial in the Square. I have to say that if I were Austrian and I was sitting in one of the restaurants that flank the Square, I would feel some pressure.

The outside of the memorial looks like a collection of books, their spines facing inward, making up a building. There are no words on the books. There are inscriptions in German, Hebrew, and English in the plinth with the words of the opening quote of this post.

There is a door but no way in. What is the building? Is it a symbolic building representing Judaism? Is it an entrance to a gas chamber? It is also known as the Nameless Library, so maybe it recalls the names of the dead.

Whatever it is, it seems to me that someone has stamped a giant message in the Square.

One of the strange effects of the memorial is that depending on where you are standing, it can seem tucked in a corner or it can seem that it dominates and fills the Square.

I wonder how much the designer, Rachel Whiteread, envisaged that as she decided on the dimensions? I guess she made scale models and viewed it from different angles to get the size and placement as she wanted.

group of young people at the memorial to the holocaust in the judenplatz in Vienna

5 thoughts on “Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial

  1. I’m glad we went to see this, David, but as we have discussed – it’s a bit of a strange design. I think maybe because it’s so boxy, and all in white. So for example, I didn’t pick up on the books imprinted into it until after we read some commentary about that, as I recall. It was a bit cryptic overall. Still, obviously it’s terrific to have such a memorial and in such a central, airy area with a lot of footfall. No doubt it’s caused a good number of people to pause and think about the city’s victims of the Holocaust atrocities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As far as I know there is no official interpretation, I have heard two possible interpretations (more than ten years ago) though: one is that these books represent the books that could have been written by the people killed, would they have survived; and the other is that they contain the life stories of the people killed in the camps listed on the memorial – you can’t see the names and titles because their life ended so their stories has never been written – it is a library of unwritten books either way. You can’t enter it because it does not exist – the stories perished with the people.

    I have no idea if any of these interpretations are correct or if a correct interpretation even exists, but that’s how I always think of it every time I see it: a symbol of everything good that was prevented from existing.

    Liked by 1 person

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