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Berlin unveils Holocaust memorial

From CNN's Chris Burns

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Remembering six million Jews killed by the Nazis.

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Is Germany's Holocaust memorial a fitting tribute to those who died?
Helmut Kohl
Peter Eisenman
Adolf Hitler

BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- Berlin has unveiled a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, ending 17 years of charged debate over how Germany should remember that grim period of its history.

The tribute to the six million European Jews killed by the Nazi government more than 60 years ago is a stone's throw from the buried ruins of Adolf Hitler's bunker.

In the heart of Berlin, near the Reichstag and Brandenburg gate, Berlin's newest and most powerful reminder of the Final Solution will ensure that no Jews murdered by the Third Reich are forgotten.

From outside, the 2,711 dark gray slabs form a gentle wave, ankle-high in some places, designed to give visitors a sense of groundlessness, of instability, a loss of orientation.

While the memorial will be greeted by many Germans it may attract vandals, said the politician who unveiled it Tuesday.

"I believe it will be accepted by the younger generation, but surely not by everyone," Wolfgang Thierse, speaker of the Bundestag parliament, told German radio.

"There will be opposition, indifference, denial."

But its Jewish American architect Peter Eisenman says even though the memorial will be open around the clock, he is not worried about graffiti.

The architect even opposed an official decision to coat the slabs with a chemical making it easier to remove any tagging.

And that was not because the chemical was made by Degussa, makers of the Zyklon B gas used in the gas chambers during the war, a controversy in itself.

''I didn't want the graffiti coating, because I think vandalism is an expression of the city. We have it in American cities, and I think in a certain way it's positive. It's an outlet," Eisenman says.

Under the memorial are the stories of holocaust victims, like the Haberman family from the polish city of Borislaw.

Like tens of thousands of other Jews, mother Sala died in the Belzec concentration camp.

The father Fischel and their children were sent to a labor camp, most of them murdered. But one child, Sabina, survived.

Critics of the long-debated project say the memorial should be for all victims of the Third Reich, not only Jews. But the designer disagrees.

''They were the only people singled out for extermination. There was a plan to exterminate the race," Eisenman says.

Now, 60 years after Germany's Jewish population was virtually eliminated, their memory has a clear and indelible mark on the country's heart.

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