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Tuesday, July 17, 2001

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'Holocaust Never Happened' ad prompts lawsuit and controversy

By Toby Axelrod

BERLIN, Aug. 1 (JTA) - A German Holocaust survivor is suing to stop a controversial fund-raising campaign for a planned national Holocaust memorial in Berlin.

He says the ad campaign - which is appearing across Germany and features the phrase, "The Holocaust Never Happened" - fuels Holocaust denial.

Jewish leaders have been divided about the ad, in which smaller text underneath the headline reads: "There are still many people who make this claim. In 20 years, there could be even more."

The plaintiff, a Berliner who lost family members in Auschwitz, said the clarifying statement does not stand out enough to counteract the negative effect of the opening line.

The man, whose name has not been released, filed his suit with the Berlin police on July 18 - one day before the campaign was officially unveiled.

According to a German law in effect since the early 1990s, Holocaust denial is punishable by a fine or jail sentence of up to five years.

The head of the foundation responsible for the fund-raising campaign, Lea Rosh, rejected the claim as "laughable" and said the campaign, launched in July, has already brought in more than some $500,000 in donations for the memorial.

Designed by American architect Peter Eisenman, the memorial will include some 2,700 cement columns resembling giant gravestones, to be erected on an area as large as a football stadium in the heart of Berlin.

The foundation hopes to raise $2.5 million to fund a document center that will lie beneath the monument. The entire project is expected to cost about $25 million.

While the new president of Berlin's Jewish community, Alexander Brenner, took part in the unveiling of the fund-raising campaign on July 19, others in the Jewish community have not been as supportive.

Michel Friedman, a vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, expressed doubts about the campaign, calling it a "public relations gag."

Moische Waks, a vice president of Berlin's Jewish community, told Berlin's daily newspaper Tagesspiegel on Wednesday that the lawsuit is an overreaction.

Though he called the campaign questionable, it is not defamatory, he said.

Artur Susskind, head of the board of representatives of Berlin's Jewish community, said he understood one might have mixed feelings about the campaign.

"But I find it good," he added.

At the campaign's unveiling in Berlin, the city's new mayor, Klaus Wowereit, defended the ad.

"Provocation leads to discussion," he said.

© 2001 JTA. All rights reserved.

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