The Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial also known as the Nameless Library stands in Judenplatz in the first district of Vienna. It is the central memorial for the Austrian victims of the Holocaust and was designed by the British artist Rachel Whiteread.
The memorial is a steel and concrete construction with a base measuring 10 x 7 meters and a height of 3.8 meters. The outside surfaces of the volume are cast library shelves turned inside out. The spines of the books are facing inwards and are not visible, therefore the titles of the volumes are unknown and the content of the books remains unrevealed. The shelves of the memorial appear to hold endless copies of the same edition, which stand for the vast number of the victims, as well as the concept of Jews as “People of the Book.” The double doors are cast with the panels inside out, and have no doorknobs or handles. They suggest the possibility of coming and going, but do not open.
The memorial represents, in the style of Whiteread’s “empty spaces”, a library whose books are shown on the outside but are unreadable. The memorial can be understood as an appreciation of Judaism as a religion of the “book”; however, it also speaks of a cultural space of memory and loss created by the genocide of the European Jews. Through the emphasis of void and negative casting rather than positive form and material, it acts as a “counter monument” in this way opposite to the production through history of grandiose and triumphal monumental objects.
As a work of art, the memorial was not intended to be beautiful and as such it contrasts with much of the Baroque art and architecture of Vienna. A member of the design jury had noticed a resemblance to a bunker and the military fortifications of the Atlantic wall were later confirmed by the artist as a source of inspiration for the project. There is an aspect of discomfort in the monument that was meant to provoke thought in the viewer through the memorial’s severe presence. It was intended to evoke the tragedy and brutality of the Holocaust and in the words of Simon Wiesenthal at the unveiling, “This monument shouldn’t be beautiful, It must hurt.”
Diana Ringo, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT