Holocaust memorial opponent says government is appeasing ‘Jewish donors’

Barbara Weiss described the memorial as a “Tory vanity project”


A Jewish architect has attacked the government’s decision to construct a Holocaust memorial next to Parliament, labelling the move a “vanity project” designed to appease “Jewish donors”.

Plans for a £100 million national Holocaust memorial in Millbank’s Victoria Tower Gardens were approved today by Housing Minister Christopher Pincher.   

The decision came in the wake of a public inquiry into the controversial project, which was chaired by a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government planning inspector.

The Holocaust Educational Trust, Board of Deputies, Association of Jewish Refugees and numerous MPs and peers have warmly welcomed the decision. 

But Barbara Weiss, director of Barabra Weiss Architects and co-founder of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens Campaign, described the move as a “Tory vanity project”.  

Ms Weiss has been campaigning against a Westminster memorial since the idea was first floated by the Cameron government in 2016. 

Alongside other opponents, the architect now plans to fight the government on its decision through potential legal channels, including judicial reviews. 

Ms Weiss told the JC: “The memorial is a way of appeasing a huge number of Jewish donors to the Tory party. 

“This is no small project. It’s over £100 million, which is an absolutely enormous amount of money, particularly at a time when there is no money.

“Private Jewish donors have had to contribute and we still think that the finances are very muddled and there’s been zero transparency about how this is going to be built and run.

“It’s a vanity project building something that’s right next door to Parliament. The government is saying by being next to Parliament the message of the memorial will be stronger. Well, that’s pretty pathetic.... A building won’t make a difference.”

Ms Weiss added that her main objection was its green-field location. Her preference was a structure close to London’s Imperial War Museum. 

“Our particular angle is that it’s just the wrong location. As most opponents feel, it should be going to the Imperial War Museum. 

“The campaign feels that London’s parks should be off bounds for any kind of construction.”

Agreeing with Ms Weiss, Helen Monger, Director of the London Gardens Trust described the decision as "an appalling precedent for the desecration of parks and heritage". 

Ms Monger added: "It also ignores the vital importance of green spaces to Londoners' wellbeing, as demonstrated during the pandemic, and the effects of climate change, plus the manifest problems of flooding, energy consumption and air pollution in our cities."

Elsewhere, leading community figures and Shoah educators have welcomed the decision on the memorial’s location.  

Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive Karen Pollock said: "As the Holocaust moves from living memory to history, there could not be a more important time to build this memorial, in the shadow of Parliament, as a reminder for generations to come of what happened when antisemitism and hatred were able to flourish.

“This memorial and learning centre will be an important addition to the excellent foundations of Holocaust education and remembrance already established in this country and will help to ensure the legacy of the Holocaust for generations to come.”

Shoah survivor and HET patron Sir Ben Helfgott said: “Holocaust survivors like me came to the UK after liberation and we made Britain our home. British forces liberated my sister at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Holocaust is part of British history.

"I am proud that the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre is being built in the heart of our country so it can be visited by millions. I know that long after I, and the other survivors, are gone, the UK will continue to remember the Holocaust and learn what happens when hatred reigned.”

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