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Amsterdam revolts against Libeskind Holocaust memorial

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Amsterdam residents fearing the loss of a popular park have rejected a multi-million-euro Holocaust memorial by famed US architect Daniel Libeskind, forcing officials to rethink the plan.

A district council in the city voted on Tuesday to send the project back to the drawing board after residents complained that the city had backed the project without having properly consulted them.

"We're not opposed to the idea of building a monument, it's a good idea in itself, but it makes no sense building it here. The park's just too small," local resident Marja Ham told AFP.

The five-million-euro (6.8-million-dollar) monument is a project of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee, which hopes to display the names of 102,000 Jews and 220 members of the Sinti community deported to Nazi death camps during World War II.

Funded through donations, the "Path of Light" maze-like memorial is designed by Libeskind, master-planner of the new World Trade Centre's reconstruction in New York's Lower Manhattan and the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

Libeskind and the Committee had hoped for the 1,000-square-metre (11,000-square-foot) monument to be completed in 2015, built in Amsterdam's central 7,500-square metre Wertheim Park, in an old Jewish neighbourhood near the Jewish Museum and the Portuguese synagogue.

But residents have complained that the monument will take up too much space in the popular park, which already has a monument to the victims of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, and they are worried about the impact of the expected 200,000 annual visitors.

They are also concerned about the number of trees that will need to be cut down.

"We're happy that the council has now decided to send the project back," resident Florine Boucher told AFP.

"That's much better than just pushing the project through and imposing it," she said. "We hope that the project will change."

The Auschwitz memorial already in the park, designed by Dutch artist Jan Wolkers, was put there in 1993 and is made up of broken pieces of mirror covering around 10 square metres of the ground, a depiction of how the heavens were broken by what happened at Auschwitz.

The Auschwitz Committee says that the new monument complements the old one, but Wolkers' widow disagrees.

"This is an idiotic idea that completely denatures my husband's work," Karina Wolkers told AFP.

"The idea is that the surrounding trees reflect in the broken mirrors, if you take the trees away to make a new monument, it no longer makes sense," she said, adding that she was ready to go to court to stop the plan.

The head of the Auschwitz Committee, Jacques Grishaver, said he regretted that the project might now not be completed in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, but that he respected the decision.

"It's important that the democratic process is respected," Grishaver told AFP.

"If residents feel they haven't been involved in the project, then we have to give them that."

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