Americans are belatedly becoming aware that the long-pending memorial to victims of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe is to be placed near the US national memorials on the Washington Mall. President Carter took the occasion of Israel's 30th anniversary in 1978 to call for a suitable memorial ''to insure that we in the United States never forget.'' The questions being raised now are not whether Americans should remember the victims of genocide but how to do so most suitably.
A symbolic key for the memorial was presented by Vice-President Bush and House Speaker O'Neill during the Holocaust commemoration last month. Buildings already on the site were said to have been transferred to a federal memorial council in 1981. But the public was not informed at the time, reportedly because the council had asked that the matter be considered in closed sessions. Now planning is going ahead with $2.4 million of government money, while efforts are made to raise $75 million from private sources for a memorial museum and research foundation.
Lack of much publicity over the years may explain the belatedness of questions. Only this week syndicated columnist William Raspberry wrote that he was not alone in wondering why the Holocaust memorial should be placed alongside those to American heroes when ''neither the victims nor the perpetrators of that unspeakable horror were Americans.'' He spoke of a Howard University professor wanting an official memorial to the victims of American slavery if there is to be one to the victims of tyranny abroad. He quoted a Jewish friend who would prefer an off-the-beaten path site rather than risking trivialization of Holocaust horrors in the midst of tourist traffic. He quotes another friend who suggests the Mall isn't big enough to accommodate memorials to all the foreign victims of massacres, such as the Armenians, if the Holocaust memorial were to be a precedent.
Indeed, considerable debate has been reported on what should be included in the Holocaust museum itself. The Armenians as well as American slaves and American Indians have been among the victims mentioned for possible inclusion along with Jews.
Since taxpayers' money is involved in the planning, the questioners might now be addressed by congressional and administrative procedures providing public information and inviting public participation at each stage along the way.