Germany again is hesitating to build a national memorial to the Holocaust, sending a message to the world that it may be reluctant to confront its Nazi past, Jewish leaders said Friday.

Michel Friedman of the Central Council of Jews said the failure of Berlin's mayor to strongly support the project sends a destructive and false message about the nation's willingness to apologize.After planning the memorial for a decade, Germany cannot suddenly say "we can't make it," Friedman told a Berlin radio station on Friday.

In an interview Thursday, Mayor Eberhard Diepgen was quoted as saying he had doubts about whether "it is possible to deal with this horror artistically."

But Jewish leaders contend the memorial's presence in Berlin - the capital of the Third Reich - is particularly crucial, since the capital is being moved back there next year.

After 10 years of debate, a three-committee review and the rejection of the first design by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a final design for the memorial is expected to be announced next week.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 1999 with federal, civil and private funds. And Kohl, who will again choose the design from among four finalists, is determined to go forward.

But his conviction has done little to stop the debate.

Cultural Senator Peter Radunski urged postponement, saying the decision was too important to be rushed.

Some city officials say the designs being considered have failed to envision a memorial that will speak to visitors 100 years from now about the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II.

A cultural advisor to the opposition Social Democratic Party in Berlin, Nikolaus Sander, said Friday that he is "increasingly coming to the position that it doesn't work."