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Jewish Museum to Open in Berlin - 2001-09-07

More than half a century after the Holocaust, a new Jewish Museum is to open its doors in the German capital, Berlin. The contents of the exhibition are still secret, but the building has proved a sensation.

When the world thinks of Jewish life in Germany, it thinks only of the terrible suffering inflicted by the Nazis before and during World War II.

But architect Daniel Liebeskind's Jewish Museum, which opens with a gala dinner for invited guests only Sunday, was established to renew the memory of two millennia of Jewish life in Germany.

Sited in the heart of the city where the Holocaust was planned and administered, the museum will document not only the community's struggles against hatred and extermination under Adolf Hitler, but also the good and the bad sides of life in an environment, which was often, but not always, unfriendly.

Jews were not just victims in Germany. They also contributed to the society from the time of the Roman Empire, throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era.

The exact contents of the exhibition have been kept under wraps. Only when the museum opens its doors to the public next week, will Jewish and non-Jewish visitors discover how it deals with a history, which included repeated pogroms and persecutions as well as periods of prosperity.

The museum director is Michael Blumenthal, a former United States Treasury Secretary. He has said publicly that the museum will use many of the latest multi-media and audio-visual techniques to present the subject seriously but understandably for a modern audience.

And Mr. Blumenthal has also said he plans to let the building itself do some of the talking, especially about the immensity of the Holocaust.

Mr. Liebeskind's building with its disorientating architecture, its hard concrete pillars, sloping floors and leaning pillars, is intended to reflect the terrifying world of Jews under Hitler.

Whether that works as a backdrop to the exhibition remains to be seen. But for as long as it was empty, the Jewish Museum proved a major attraction to the Berlin public. Before it closed its doors earlier this year to allow work on the exhibition to begin, Mr. Liebeskind's eerie corridors and disorientating walls and gardens attracted no less than 350,000 visitors.

There were times when the challenge of adapting the innovative design to the practicalities of museum life provoked some visitors to suggest the building should instead remain empty forever as a silent memorial to the Holocaust.

How the public reacts to the exhibition will be the museum's answer.