Jewish peers who lost family in the Shoah have said the proposed new national Holocaust Memorial outside Parliament “evokes neither the Holocaust nor Jewish history,” in a stinging blow to the £50 million project.
Eight community grandees, including Lord Grade and Baroness Deech, penned their stern rebuke in a letter to The Times on Tuesday, two years after the memorial and learning centre formed the key recommendation of David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission, which was chaired by Conservative Party chief executive Sir Mick Davis.
Taking aim at the winning design from architect Sir David Adjaye and Anglo-Israeli sculptor Ron Arad, the peers urged plans for the monument in Victoria Tower Gardens to be dropped and for the money to be used for education instead. Their criticism comes despite the fact the the plans for Westminster include a learning centre as well as memorial.
“As peers who lost close family members in the Holocaust or were deeply affected by it, we write in support of the letter objecting to the location and design of the planned Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens,” they said.
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“The design evokes neither the Holocaust nor Jewish history. The risk is that its purpose will not be obvious to passers-by and it will not be treated with appropriate respect.” They added that while they supported Cameron’s aim to fund a new memorial, objections to the current proposal were “well-founded”.
While local residents and environmentalists have previously raised concerns, Jewish community representatives have whole-heartedly backed the plans which will see part of the small park next to Parliament dug up to build the partially subterranean memorial.
However, the peers’ intervention this week is a blow to representatives’ united front and will provide a boost to critics arguing that the Conservative Government railroaded the plans through, despite objections.
Signatories include TV executive Lord (Michael) Grade, former P&O chairman Lord (Jeffrey) Sterling, former Lib Dem QC Lord Carlile, bioethicist and law professor Baroness (Ruth) Deech, textiles magnate Lord (Simon) Haskel, Hampstead businessman Lord (Parry) Mitchell, gastroenterologist Lord (Leslie) Turnberg and Lib Dem peer Lord (Monroe) Palmer.
In their letter, they warned that “the intentions will be undermined if it is erected despite the well-founded protests from neighbours, or if it is seen, quite wrongly, as conveying an impression of national guilt”.
They added: “The aims need to be thought through. There are other memorials and learning centres in this country, such as in Hyde Park, the Imperial War Museum and Newark; and yet antisemitism and disproportionate hatred of Israel are rising, most shockingly among the young, who have had Holocaust education at school.
“It would be far better to redeploy the £50 million allocated to the new scheme to a smaller, simpler memorial in Westminster, enhancement of the Imperial Museum project and to further study of the impact of Holocaust learning and memorials.”
A spokesman for the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation said:“The Holocaust Memorial will remind us all that a central role of democracy is to encourage tolerance of ethnic, religious and racial differences.
“And no location in Britain is more suitable for the Memorial than Victoria Tower Gardens, alongside Parliament and amidst prominent memorials commemorating the struggle against slavery, inequality and injustice.
“The plans we exhibited to local residents in September retain 93% of the open space. We will enhance the park through improved, more accessible pathways and drainage as well as clearer views of the river Thames.”