Historians attack ‘political’ Shoah Wall

Memorial has been controversial from its inception


The Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) has hit back at critics of Vienna’s new Holocaust memorial who have condemned it as exclusionary, historically inaccurate and politically motivated.

Composed of several granite slabs, 7ft 8in high, built around a circular space planted with trees, construction of Vienna’s Wall of Names began in June 2020. When finished, it will contain the names of the 64,000-plus Austrian Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The wall was first proposed by Kurt Tutter, an Austro-Canadian artist and Holocaust survivor, who remains deeply involved with the initiative. The project began in earnest following a February 2018 conference on antisemitism held in Vienna, at which the idea was raised by the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.

The names inscribed on the memorial will be drawn from a database run by the DÖW.

The monument is not only another stage in Austria’s coming to terms with its Nazi past but also recognises the Jewish centrality of the Holocaust and brings attention to its individual victims.

Via anonymous quotes provided to the Austrian state broadcaster ORF, some historians — close to the project — have sought to question its standing, claiming that in only listing Jews, the Wall excludes other victims of Nazi persecution.

Yet memorials for particular victim groups are now common practice. In Berlin, there are separate memorials for Jewish, homosexual, Roma, and disabled victims of National Socialism.

Historians assert the collection of names for the memorial is by definition a flawed, imprecise art, for the Nazis tended to falsify personal information in official records.

Critics also believe establishing the Wall of Names was a politically motivated act on the part of the Austrian government and chancellor Sebastian Kurz designed to distract from his decision to go into coalition with the far-right Freedom Party in December 2017. That coalition was willing “to do anything the Jewish community was comfortable with”, said one historian.

The particular stone being used to construct the memorial has even been a point of contention: Kashmir Gold, a light-toned granite imported from India, instead of something excavated locally.

The DÖW’s Gerhard Baumgartner dismissed these myriad claims as a “completely improper conflation of facts”, some “made up out of thin air”.

Not one person representing another minority group has criticised the Wall of Names, Mr Baumgartner pointed out, and the anonymous attacks and the article itself were an attempt “to paint the entire initiative in a bad light”.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive