National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind opens in Amsterdam

Angular brick walls crowned with reflective steel volumes shape the memorial by Daniel Libeskind, the first to memorialise the 1,02,000 names of the Dutch Holocaust victims.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Sep 30, 2021

Studio Libeskind with local studio Rijnboutt have created a dynamic labyrinth of passages defined by angular steel entities that crown brick walls inscribed with the names of 1,02,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma victims of the Holocaust, for the National Holocaust Memorial of Names in Amsterdam. Dramatic angles and edged geometries bring to life the memorial unveiled on September 19, 2021, by the Dutch Auschwitz Committee and His Majesty the King of The Netherlands.

Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 1,40,000 thousand Jews lived in the Netherlands; 1,02,000 of them did not survive the Second World War. Not all Jews were exterminated in gas chambers - many met their end in mass executions or from illnesses, hunger, exhaustion or slave labour. The National Holocaust Memorial of Names is the first tangible monument to collectively honour and remember these victims with no marked graves, more than 75 years after World War II.

The recently unveiled monument is the first to collectively honor the Dutch Holocaust victims | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
The recently unveiled monument is the first to collectively honor the Dutch Holocaust victims Image: Kees Hummel

Extending along the Weesperstraat, a significant axis within the Jewish Cultural Quarter in the city, the monument occupies a significant position adjacent to the Hermitage Museum, east of the Diaconie’s verdant Hoftuin garden and café, a stone’s throw from the Amstel River, and near important Jewish cultural institutions such as the Jewish Historical Museum and the Portuguese Synagogue.

The memorial is defined as a labyrinth of brick walls crowned with reflective stainless steel volumes | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
The memorial is defined as a labyrinth of brick walls crowned with reflective stainless-steel volumes Image: Kees Hummel
Sharp geometries characteristic of Libeskind’s architectural vocabulary | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
Sharp geometries characteristic of Libeskind’s architectural vocabulary Image: Kees Hummel

"For the bereaved, it is of inestimable value to have a place where they can remember their loved ones. It means that the names of Holocaust victims will not be forgotten. Moreover, the memorial forms a trait d’union between past, present and – importantly – future,” says Jacques Grishaver, chairman of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee.

"Remembrance is not only for those who lived through the war but also for those who did not experience it – the children and grandchildren and following generations. In addition, the memorial raises historical awareness of where wars can lead, while also encouraging people to reflect on and learn from World War II,” he continues.

The memorial is open to all | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
The memorial is open to all Image: Kees Hummel

World renowned, Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind is a child of Holocaust survivors, and is perchance, most known for designing significant edifices and memorials to commemorate countless lives lost to unspeakable crimes against humanity - the Jewish Museum in Berlin was the first museum to tell the story of Jews in Germany after World War II, the design catapulting him to worldwide recognition; the masterplan for the World Trade Center site post 9/11 as well as the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, Canada; the Ohio Statehouse Holocaust Memorial in the United States; the Felix Nussbaum Haus in Germany; and most recently, Libeskind has been tasked to design a new centre and memorial for the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, a site of the worst anti-Semitic attack in the US history.

Visible from above, the steel volumes spell out letters of a Hebrew word that translates to “In Memory of” | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
Visible from above, the steel volumes spell out letters of a Hebrew word that translates to “In Memory of” Image: Kees Hummel

Studio Libeskind incorporates four mirror-finished stainless steel volumes arranged in a rectilinear configuration for the memorial, stretching along 1,700 sqm of space, representing letters of the Hebrew word לזכר that translates to “In Memory of”. This can be read fully when viewed from above, and when seen at an eye level, the strikingly reflective forms hover ever so slightly above the 2.4-metre-high brick walls that carry a message of remembrance. The individually stacked blocks are etched with names of the victims, their age and their birthdays, while 1000 of them have been left blank to tangibly memorialise those whose names are not known.    

  • Each brick is etched with the names of the victims | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
    Each brick is etched with the names of the victims Image: Kees Hummel
  • Detail of the engraved bricks | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
    Detail of the engraved bricks Image: Kees Hummel

The narrow void created between the intersection of the brick architecture and metallic elements elicits this illusion that the steel letters levitate overhead, to represent "an interruption in the history and culture of the Dutch people. This suspended emptiness, or 'Breath of Air', detaches the neighbourhood from a future in which Dutch-Jewish families went missing,” observes the architectural firm headquartered in New York City.

Conceptual sketches in charcoal | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
Conceptual sketches in charcoal Image: Daniel Libeskind, Courtesy of Studio Libeskind

Pairing brick, a ubiquitous material of The Netherlands and throughout the cities of Western Europe, with the highly reflective and geometric essence of the steel letters, is emblematic of the connection between The Netherlands’ past and present. The memorial architecture is open to all, and also possesses an interactive element, allowing visitors to place stones by the names on the bricks, like how one honours the dead at a grave.

Visitors at the National Holocaust Memorial of Names placing stones by the brick walls to honour lost lives | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
Visitors at the National Holocaust Memorial of Names placing stones by the brick walls to honour lost lives Image: Daniel Libeskind, Courtesy of Studio Libeskind

Located next to a subway station to the north and a roadway to the east, the floating polished steel entities will be visible to commuters perpetually, creating a powerful dialogue with its surroundings and making them part of the dynamic structure. This element elevates and embodies light and reflection - self-reflection as well as reflection from the street and the city that surrounds it – to instil necessary comprehension and contemplation on the consequences of one of the darkest episodes in history.

The angular, reflective steel volumes seem to hover above the walls | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
The angular, reflective steel volumes seem to hover above the walls Image: Kees Hummel

Simple stone blocks placed in the open spaces and walkways also provide a resting place for rumination and relaxation, while lightly stabilised gravel create a subtle route through the four volumes, around the floors below street level. Bronze cladding as surrounding walls, hedges that contour the area, new trees to locate the more intimate squares and natural stone, monolithic benches also accompany the memorial, complementing the sharpness of the space.

Natural stone monolith benches provide space for relaxation and contemplation at the memorial | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
Natural stone monolith benches provide space for relaxation and contemplation at the memorial Image: Kees Hummel

“The Dutch lost the largest percentage of their Jewish population in the Holocaust. The National Holocaust Memorial of Names is the first Holocaust memorial to commemorate the Dutch victims and the first of its kind in Amsterdam,” said Daniel Libeskind. “My personal connection as a child of Holocaust survivors has made it increasingly important to be a part of this significant project. I hope it will become a place for contemplation, hope, and an important reminder to fight hate in all its forms for the people of the Netherlands and beyond,” he concludes.

Entrance to the memorial in Amsterdam, The Netherlands | National Holocaust Memorial of Names by Studio Libeskind | STIRworld
Entrance to the memorial in Amsterdam, The Netherlands Image: Kees Hummel

Project Details

Name: National Holocaust Memorial of Names
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Area: 1,550 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Dutch Auschwitz Committee (Nederlands Auschwitz Comité)
Architect: Studio Libeskind (New York), Daniel Libeskind (Design Architect), Stefan Blach (Partner-in-Charge), Johan van Lierop (Principal), Alex Tahinos (Designer)
Architect Of Record: Rijnboutt Bv
Landscaping: Studio Libeskind in cooperation with Rijnboutt
Lighting Designer: Ulrike Brandi Licht
General Contractor: Koninklijke Woudenberg (NL)
Project Management: Paul Rohlfs
Construction Management: Aumento bv
Construction: IMd Raadgevend Ingenieurs
Brick Manufacturer: Rodruza
Masonry: Metselwerk Adviesbureau Vekemans
Stainless Steel: AIP partners BV, ABT
Engravings: Reijnders Engraving and Laser Engineering B.V.
Installations: Swart installatietechniek

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