A visitor walks between the concrete slabs at the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin
Germany has inaugurated a haunting new memorial in Berlin to the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis during Adolf Hitler's rule.  The memorial is the culmination of 17 years of debate over how Germany should remember the darkest chapter in its history.

It is called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It is bigger than two football fields and is only steps away from Berlin's two major landmarks - the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag parliament building, and a stone's throw from the site where Hitler's bunker was located during World War II.

It looks like a huge graveyard, but there are no names on its 2,711 concrete pillars, which tilt at odd angles and rise from uneven, sloping ground to heights of nearly five meters. 

American architect Peter Eisenman, who designed the memorial, says he wants visitors to feel disoriented and isolated, just like many Jews did when they arrived at Nazi concentration camps.

"It is excessive.  It is claustrophobic.  It is tight.  The sound is different.  The light is different.  And the experience is different.  And all of those things were things we were looking to try and do to try and give a sense of what it might be like to be lost in space, perhaps to be lost at Auschwitz with your mother gone," he explained.

Mr. Eisenman hopes the feelings of unease and loneliness that visitors will experience as they stroll through the maze of gray slabs will encourage discussion and reflection on the plight of the Nazis' Jewish victims.

The memorial project has been embroiled in controversy since it was first proposed in 1988.  Its detractors say it is too big and too impersonal.  And even some prominent Jewish leaders like writer Rafael Seligmann think it should have been dedicated not just to Jews, but to all of the Nazis' victims.

"Why was it only built and named for the Jews?  Why not for the Gypsies?  Why not for the handicapped?  For the communists?  And, at this point, you can change, you can name it after all the victims of the Nazis," he said.

Supporters of the memorial say it is a powerful symbol of Germany's readiness to face up to its past.  They say no other country has erected a memorial to its misdeeds.

But, in a nation where half of the citizens say they are tired of being constantly reminded about the Holocaust, Wolfgang Thierse, the speaker of the Bundestag, warned at the inaugural ceremony that the memorial, for all of its symbolism, may attract vandals in the future.

Architect Eisenman says he wants the memorial to be part of Berliners' daily life.  Asked whether the project's significance would be demeaned if someone were to scrawl Nazi graffiti on the pillars, Mr. Eisenman says, "Maybe it would.  Maybe it would not.  Maybe it would add to it."