Title: JUDENPLATZ HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
Author: Rachel Whiteread
Location: Jews Square at Judenplatz in Vienna
Year complete: 2000 – October 25th
Description: Steel and concrete construction – Base 10 x 7 meters and 3.8 meters
In the late 1980’s, the conception of this memorial began with an initiative of Simon Wiesenthal, who had become the spokesperson for the public offense. His work was concerned with focusing on areas or situations in which Jewish individuals were portrayed in an unjust manner. As a result, Wiesenthal began the commission for a memorial that was to be dedicated to the Jewish victims of Nazi fascism in Austria in particular.
With the commission in hand, Wiesenthal, along with a jury, unanimously chose Rachel Whiteread’s design from a list of competitors. The submissions to the competition had to keep in mind the constraints of the site at Judenplatz, as well as they had to incorporate inscribed text which must have included the names of all of the concentration camps in which these Austrian Jews were killed.
Inscribed on the ground near the “doors” of the memorial reads…
“In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed by the Nazi’s between 1936 and 1945.”
The memorial was originally scheduled to be completed on the 9th of November in 1996, which was the 58th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kristallnacht, also known as the night of broken glass, was a night of pogrom against Jew in and around Nazi Germany. The name itself comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets following the events of that evening. Windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and even synagogues were vandalized and destroyed.
The major setback in the unveiling of the program were due to the site itself. Where the memorial stands now is directly over the archaeological excavations and ruins of an ancient synagogue.
The memorial as a whole can be understood as an application of Judaism as a religion of the “book.” However, it also speaks of a cultural space of memory and loss created by the genocide of the European Jews. Through emphasis of void and negative casting, rather than positive form and material, it acts as a “counter monument” in this way opposite to the production through history of grandiose and triumphal monumental objects.
This piece, which is also known as the Nameless Library was, in a way, in contrast to much of the baroque art and architecture in Vienna due to the words of Wiesenthal…
“This monument shouldn’t be beautiful, it must hurt.”