Supporters of the planned £100 million Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre near Parliament cleared a major hurdle this week, after the Imperial War Museum dropped its objections.
Imperial War Museum (IWM) bosses, who are planning to open their Holocaust Galleries in 2021, said last year that they were worried about duplication with the new memorial and learning centre at Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Palace of Westminster, less than a mile away.
In October 2017, IWM said that they were “concerned about the potential to replicate IWM’s plans for a new digitally-enabled learning and events suite through both narrative and programming”.
At the time, IWM “urged reconsideration” of the whole Victoria Tower Gardens plan, arguing that it “will very much divide the public offer on learning about the Holocaust”.
However, in a dramatic change of heart, this week the IWM said it now “welcomed” the proposed new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which will cost £100 million in total, half of which will be given by the government and the other half raised from private donors.
“We are grateful to the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s (UKHMF) for generously sharing its plans for the Memorial and Learning Centre located less than a mile from IWM London at Victoria Tower Gardens,” said an IWM spokeswoman.
“We are now working closely with them on the thematic exhibition within the Learning Centre to ensure that the curation and narrative does not replicate IWM’s plans.”
Supporters of the new Memorial and Learning Centre, which was the centrepiece recommendation of David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission, said this week that it would stand as a reminder to politicians that their decisions have long-term consequences.
The foundation’s new mission statement, released as MPs pondered how to vote over Brexit, was accompanied by final design images, as backers said the park location was the right one.
In October this year, eight Jewish peers who lost family in the Shoah called for the £100 million project to be dropped, citing the IWM’s new Holocaust Galleries. They said the money should instead go on Holocaust education.
Residents and MPs have also raised concerns about the plans for 23 giant bronze fins protruding from one of London’s Royal Parks, but the foundation’s co-chairs – former Labour minister Ed Balls and former Tory minister Lord Pickles – doubled down on the location choice.
“There is no better place than Victoria Tower Gardens, just metres from our own Parliament, to remind ourselves of the value of democracy and the need to keep the lessons of history at the heart of our institutions and the decisions our elected politicians make every day,” said Balls on Tuesday.
Pickles said it the foundation would “work with” the Imperial War Museum and suggested that while the UK could be proud of such efforts as the Kindertransport, the proposed new learning centre would confront inaction in other areas.
“It is important to ensure that our examination of the past is honest and unblinking. We will properly explore aspects of the Holocaust that are less flattering to the UK.”
Their comments came as a second design exhibition opened, detailing changes made after the first consultation. The children’s play area is to be kept, a café kiosk is to open, and entry for the first two year will be by pre-booked ticket, to alleviate concerns about traffic flow.
The foundation also described “plans to improve the setting of the Buxton Memorial to the abolition of slavery while maintaining views of this important memorial, in addition to the landscape design that will link together the garden’s existing memorials commemorating the efforts and effects of social injustice”.
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman said she was “pleased to see a clear mission to ‘mourn, remember and act,’” adding: “The Memorial will both honour the millions murdered by the Nazis and encourage visitors to consider complex lessons from this unparalleled period of history in a world where hatred, persecution and genocide persist.”
Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive Karen Pollock MBE agreed, saying the new site’s location “in the shadow of our Parliamentary democracy… will remind politicians of the important place that the Holocaust has in our nation’s history, and our duty to defend the truth”.
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