The Politics Behind Unbuilt Memory: Memorial to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, New York /“Topography of Terror” Documentation Center, Berlin

  • Abstract:

    As is often the case, many studies on 20th-century collective memory in art and architecture generally tend to consider finished memorials. In some way, the story surrounding the finished memorial can be much more complete than an unbuilt memorial could ever have been, since finished memorials are often analyzed from the very beginning to the very end, when the public finally see them for the first time. However, paraphrasing the American scholar James E. Young, an unbuilt memorial often contains a more instructive – and perhaps even more interesting – story than a finished memorial.(1) Memorials marking an event of inhumanity such as the Holocaust are essentially complex artifacts. In many cases – depending on the memorial’s shape and location – its fulfilment implies a long history preceding its possible realization of public debates and practical attempts. These practical attempts work around the intention to mark the event involving not only remembering the victims (and mentioning the perpetrators), but also preserving the collective identity of a group or country. Practical attempts to preserve memory and collective identity will necessarily include various architectural projects, which have remained unrealized for several reasons. Among the most significant unbuilt architectural projects commemorating the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust are the unrealized Memorial for the Six Million Jews Martyrs in New York City, designed by American architect Louis I. Kahn (1967-1973), and the planned “Topography of Terror” Documentation Center in Berlin, blueprinted by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor (1993-2004). This paper will examine the impact on the formation and preservation of collective identity in the United States and Germany exercised by the two above-mentioned unbuilt masterworks.