The German authorities were preparing for criticism from the Jewish community after it was revealed that a Holocaust memorial in Berlin was being used as a public bathroom by tourists and by neo-Nazi sympathizers.

The revelation in a Berlin newspaper is likely to trigger a new debate about how the Holocaust should be remembered in Germany.

One argument against building the monument, which consists of 2,700 concrete slabs resembling Jewish gravestones, was that it would become a target of anti-Semitic vandals. The managers of the memorial, which attracts 3.5 million visitors a year, have tried to play down the scandal.

"This just belongs to the teething problems of any new monument," Uwe Neumaerker, of the Memorial Foundation, said.

The German government has been aware of the problem since the monument was completed in May 2005 but has tried to maintain a silence for fear of encouraging more vandalism.

The defacing of Jewish memorial areas in Germany by right-wing hard-liners has become a widespread problem that is acknowledged rarely.

On the eve of Holocaust Day at the weekend a group of youths set fire to a restored railway carriage — symbolizing the deportation of the Jews — in Lower Saxony. In the eastern German port of Stralsund, concrete was poured over a memorial for a Jewish family.

A court in Frankfurt an der Oder, on the Polish border, sentenced three youths to between nine and 14 months jail this month for urinating on a Jewish memorial.