Lew's AUTHOR BLOG

* A personal view of the exhibit “Fascination and Terror” at the Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg … a documentary glorification of the rise of Adolf Hitler … from the “heroic” march in Munich 1923 to “Our Fuhrer would never allow [the gassing of innocent civilians] to happen.”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 15, 2012

photos from Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg

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My wife and I visited the Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg on June 28, 2012, as part of a research trip related to a novel I am currently working on, a novel that will focus on the reasons why German citizens came to support Hitler and the Nazi programs of unprovoked war and the murder of the Jews.

We walked through the exhibit called “Fascination and Terror” independently, each of us listening to the audio guide and viewing the panels. When we were about two-thirds through the exhibit, my wife asked me if I was receiving the same impression as she was. After a short discussion, we agreed that, to our eyes, the exhibit was very much a documentary glorification of the rise of Adolf Hitler, almost always presented without comment or criticism.

LMW: We were horrified.

Our feeling was amplified by the remaining panels in the exhibit and then by the concluding video, where a German woman says she was told by a friend who worked in a hospital about a patient who had a mental breakdown. She went on (paraphrase) … “He said he was the driver of a truck where Jews were gassed in the back of the truck. He said he couldn’t stand it anymore. But I don’t think this could be true. Our Fuhrer would never allow that to happen.

After leaving the exhibit, I wrote a description of what I had seen and heard that prompted our reaction, trying to remember the specific pictures and audio elements which had created the general overriding impression. I shared that description with several people and eventually my comments found their way to Dr. Hans-Christian Täubrich (the Museum Director), who responded to me by email. After an initial exchange of emails, Dr. Täubrich sent me a copy of the exhibit catalog, which I used to refresh my memory and also to read what we might have missed.

I am very impressed by Dr. Täubrich’s willingness to respond to my comments and by the depth and thoroughness of his responses, and as you will see below I have made several revisions to my initial comments based onDr. Täubrich’s comments and the museum catalog.

LMW: I remain, however, convinced that our initial fundamental impression

– that the exhibit glorifies the rise of Hitler

without adequate commentary and criticism –

is unfortunately valid.

It is my hope that historians and others who have seen the “Fascination and Terror” exhibit will comment on the impression it made on them and give their opinion of the impression received by my wife and myself. I think it would also be useful to make some effort to measure the response of the numerous viewers of the exhibit, particularly young German students, to learn what message they received.

What follows below is the dialogue which ensued between Dr. Täubrich and myself over the past several months.

  • What is marked LMW is a combination of my original comments with revisions and additions made after receiving Dr. Täubrich’s comments and the catalog.
  • Comments labeled HC Täubrich or HCT (in blue) are Dr.Täubrich’s comments 

This dialogue is admittedly very detailed and confusing to follow, but I think it is most honest to present Dr. Täubrich’s comments and my subsequent comments and revisions unabridged.

 

The dialogue …

LMW: My wife and I formed our virtually identical impressions while walking separately through the exhibit, carefully looking at most of the panels, reading most of the text, and listening to most of the audio. Some of the texts are a problem, which I will deal with specifically below. But the omissions are, in our judgment, far more serious.

LMW: It is the absence of interpretive comment that is disturbing. 

Hitler’s objectives and accomplishments are repeatedly presented in what we construed to be a positive light, without in the same panels and audios taking explicit note of the lies, violence and murder which made those accomplishments possible, and the horrendous consequences which resulted for Jews, for Germany and for the world. We were struck by the fact that Hitler is almost never directly criticized in the exhibit texts.

A viewer of the exhibit, particularly one of the young students who made up most of the audience the day we were there, might be left with the conclusion that Hitler’s goals and objectives for Germany were appropriate, and if only he had succeeded, Germany would have been just fine. I don’t say that was the intent of those who designed the exhibit, but that is the impression my wife and I very clearly received. 

LMW: The repeated failure to criticize Hitler leaves the impression

that there was nothing to criticize.

We are thus left with what we regard as a glorification of Hitler’s rise. We feel that this important exhibit thus failed to take advantage of a unique opportunity to convey so much more.

HC Täubrich: To be honest, I can hardly believe that you really kept a close view to our information panels. Your remarks are appalling considering the fact that six high ranking German historians and the then president of the Jewish museums in Europe, Dr. Judith Belinfante, formed the advisory board and that the final version of all texts were approved by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte. I wish that you had found the time to enter my office (directly besides the entrance hall and open to everybody at any time) to make your statements to me at first. 

Generally speaking your opinion is nearly unique.

Despite some criticism every now and then (too few informations about the war or the holocaust) most of the annual 200000 visitors from all over the world seem to understand the concept of our house, to be moved by the exhibit and content with the information they get. No one ever, not even a Neo-Nazi, who consequently should be proud then, has shown such a reaction like this. One look into the visitor’s book would have given you a proof for this. Anyway, let me give a short comment on your critics.

LMW: Our overall impression was that the museum glorifies the rise of Hitler without adequately presenting or commenting on either the means or the consequences of his demonic rule. 

HCT: I think the conclusion that the repeated failure to criticize Hitler must lead to the impression that there was nothing to criticize is simply unrealistic. There is no way to understand the presentation as glorification of Hitler as all visitors who come to this place do have already World War II and Auschwitz in mind: This is the unbeatable and omnipresent interpretative comment.

LMW: The use of the word “fascination” in the title of the exhibit

set a tone for us that was particularly troubling.

HC Täubrich: The word fascination in the exhibition title “Fascination and Terror” is, of course, by no means a glorification of Hitler. It simply states the fact, that – at least until 1940 – a majority of the German people were fascinated of what the Nazis achieved.

LMW: It seems to me that the many German people were terrorized into compliance with Nazi policies rather than being “fascinated” with Hitler. The means by which this terror was implemented by the Nazis are among the most important omissions from the exhibit. 

HCT: In the exhibition it is clearly described (The beginnings of the Dictatorship, catalogue pages 30-37) how the political system of the Weimar republic was put out of order and with additional political instruments (Enabling Act and other laws) the basis for the terror of the Nazis was implemented.

LMW: If your characterization that the majority of Germans were “fascinated” and thus implicitly approved of the means Hitler employed (before 1940) is true, that is a greater condemnation of the German people during the Nazi years than I believe is warranted. Unfortunately, the failure of the exhibit to portray the means by which Hitler enforced his rule does make it seem that the German people accepted those means as appropriate, including persecution and murder of Jewish German citizens.

HCT: Now, this is wrong. Why so impatient? Why can’t you try to see the development from the point of view the Germans had in 1933/34 – not knowing about the idea or even being able to anticipate another World War and the later genocide? THIS is what you have try to imagine to understand or, at least, to explain the wide-spread fascination for the new regime. There was terror, yes, but the slogan “Ab nach Dachau” (you come to Dachau) was also commonly used as a threat for children, who did not want to go to bed. It meant no threat to their parents as long as they, OF COURSE, were no socialists, communists, oppositional intellectuals, homosexuals or whatever that did not belong into a proper “Volksgemeinschaft”. (Nearly) all the others were content with the fulfillment of simple Nazi-promises – bread, work, security through a new army, revision of the Versailles treaty, no more political experiments and so on and so on.

HC Täubrich: They were proud to belong to the “Volksgemeinschaft” and did not care for the price this had, the exclusion of others.

LMW: The idea that most Germans were “proud” of what Hitler was doing and “did not care for the price this had, the exclusion of others” is to us a horrible thought.  Among those “others” who were to be excluded were Jews who were, and had been for many decades, German citizens. Is it true that the majority of Germans “did not care” about or even actively approved the treatment of Jews by the Nazis? With all my anger toward the Germans who murdered many members of my grandparents family, I still think it fair to say that many (maybe even most) Germans were afraid to express whatever reservations they had with Hitler, knowing that such expressions might well mean death for themselves and their families. That aspect of the rise of Hitler is not emphasized by the Center’s exhibits.

HCT: And yes, I think I have to disappoint you concerning the human qualities of many, definitively not all, but of too many Germans in the mid-thirties. I do not mean to judge about any other people. But they did hardly realize that the first victims of anti-Jewish laws already from 1933 on were Germans themselves. Propaganda made them – who now were “Aryans” – believe that those were “only” Jews, whose eviction from universities, chambers, offices or other businesses now simply offered themselves the chance for promising careers and – thinking of the so-called aryanisation – many people unscrupulously filled their pockets.

This was not only a matter of a handful of fanatic Nazis but rested on a broad level of acceptance. It went on via 1938 until 1941 when Germans queued before the pawn shops to acquire cheap pieces from former Jewish households – which had become “German property” because their owners had left the country: by being deported to the East into the gas chambers… Now, grudge and greed are of course by no means special German characteristics; but, together with some other bad manners, they were then given a space to unfold which they do not have in ,normal’ societies.

HC Täubrich: The exhibit has at first to explain, where this fascination came from and how it was fed, for example, during the party rallies in Nuremberg.

LMW: Should the exhibit not also simultaneously present and explain, in the same panels, the corrupt political means, the brutal violence, and the lies Hitler and the Nazis used to gain control before and after 1933? Is that not also an important aspect of the rise of Hitler? Would that not put what is shown in better balance?

HC Täubrich: Otherwise there is no way to understand the later developments. We have to acknowledge the fact that it was not Hitler and a small gang who committed the later mass crimes and genocide, but hundreds of thousands of people who believed the message from “Mein Kampf” and all the other madness.

LMW: The exhibit makes no attempt to distinguish Germans who supported Hitler and the murder of the Jews because they agreed with that policy from those who ‘went along’ because they were terrified not to. In this regard the exhibit misses a great opportunity to allow the young people who come to the exhibit to understand and come to grips with the decisions their grandparents made, often under great duress.

HCT: This is not true. For example presents the room “The ,Führer-Myth’” the personal oath which soldiers as well as all state officials had to swear on Hitler himself (catalogue page 36) since 1934, later causing the loyalty problems you are missing.

LMW: The audio describing Hitler’s failed 1923 putsch in Munich

uses the word “HEROIC” to describe the march into the center of Munich,

a march which every other source I have read describes as

incompetent, almost comical, and certainly treasonous.

HC Täubrich: Wrong. The word “heroic” is on the panel and in the book put in quotation marks, because, this was of course the Nazi point of view. In the audio-guide this is stressed as well.

LMW: Here is what the exhibit book says (p.26) … “In the fall of 1923 Hitler decided that the time was ripe to topple the Reich government. On November 9, in a “heroic” action, he marched into the Munich government district …” The exhibit presents this “Nazi point of view” of the “heroic” 1923 putsch without interpretive comment. That is exactly my point. The putsch was clearly treason. It was also conducted in a thoroughly incompetent manner. These things should have been said, instead of leaving the word “heroic” to stand unchallenged and apparently attributed to the exhibit as well as to the Nazis.

HCT: It is not correct to quote just a part of the text and then complain about omissions. The failing of the putsch and its consequences are clearly described: “They were stopped by the Bavarian State police at the Feldherrnhalle. 15 rabble-rousers, four policemen and one by-stander were killed. The NSDAP was banned throughout the Reich. Later Hitler was to twist this fiasco (!) into a triumph…” This is the short and precise as possible description of an event you easily may write books about. I beg you at his point: Please try yourself to describe any important historic event with a maximum of 550 …

LMW: On p.26 of the exhibit catalog there is a paragraph about the Hitler trial. It says the trial was placed in the wrong jurisdiction, one that was enormously lenient with Hitler. What it does not say is why this happened, and who was responsible. I have read that important Bavarian officials were afraid their own role in the 1923 Nazi putsch attempt would be revealed in a proper trial, and they therefore took pains to assure that Hitler dominated the press throughout the trial, thus allowing them to fade into the background. This is not reported by the exhibit. The exhibit also does not ask why the Reich government in Berlin did not insist on proper jurisdiction for the trial.

HCT: Again you omit already mentioned facts. The description (catalogue page 26) clearly states that the trial was not performed before the Reichsgericht in Leipzig “but rather at the People’s Court in Munich (the birthplace of the movement as mentioned before), where he could reckon with the political sympathy of the judge. It gave Hitler the opportunity to use the trial … as a political platform … and so on.” WHAT exactly are you missing here regarding the demand for utmost brevity of description?

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the 1933 boycott of Jewish stores which began the unprovoked Nazi onslaught against Jewish German citizens

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There is a panel “The Boycott of the Jewish Businesses” in area 3.

LMW: You are correct. I believe the panel you reference is on p.33 of the exhibit catalog. BUT … the boycott is presented as a successful Hitler policy when I have read it was a total failure and was withdrawn after a few days. It was a failure because in 1933 many Christian German citizens did not go along; they continued to shop in Jewish-owned stores. This failure is not mentioned and as in the case of the “heroic” 1923 march, the exhibit presents the boycott as yet another step in Hitler’s glorious rise to total domination, thus leaving the “fascination” message intact and unchallenged.

LMW: There is but PASSING MENTION of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and NO EMPHASIS on their well-known purpose of disenfranchising German Jewish citizens of all of their civil rights previously guaranteed by the German Constitution

HC Täubrich: Wrong: As the “Nuremberg Laws” are one of the main topics there are three panels describing their structure and consequences (Area 10)

LMW: In the exhibit book, there are 39 pages between the 10 line paragraph on the boycott of the Jewish businesses (p.33) and the section on the Nuremberg Laws (p.72). These pages present a generally positive panorama of the manner in which Hitler built his power: the Fuhrer’s idea of national community … the idea of a superior people who would eradicate their opponents, including Jews … the cleverly constructed Fuhrer myth … Hitler’s absolute authority … Nuremberg as the city of party rallies (4 pages) … the history of the building of the party rally grounds (12 pages) … the party rallies as ritual (12 pages) … the inadequate, indeed pitiful response to Hitler abroad (4 pages) … the filming of “Triumph of the Will” (2 pages).

HCT: Now, this seems to me to be an inadequate judgement. Again you quote only those phrases which – indeed – marked the successful steps to erect and cement the Nazi regime. The fact that they were successful does not mean that they were positive – from our point of view. You omit among others the section describing the price those Germans paid for the erection of the “Volksgemeinschaft, who were excluded (page 35): “Those who fell short of the ,racial’, political and moral norms were excluded from the community or even physically ,eradicated’: political opponents, Jews, Sinti and Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, so-called asocial elements, those with severe mental or physical handicaps.” Other sentences describe the dismantling of the federal structure of the Reich and destruction of all institutions/political parties embodying the former pluralistic-democratic order – how does this fit into a ,generally positive panorama’?? 

LMW: The pages describing forced labor in the later 1930s and during the war (50-53) do express the horror of the work camps … “forced labour camps for Jews, where prisoners were exterminated by work” … “owing to the inhuman conditions the death rate was extremely high” … but again fail to criticize Hitler directly for his role in establishing such camps. Hitler’s name, so prominent elsewhere, is never mentioned in these pages.

HCT: It was not Hitler who established the camps, it was the SS with leading figures like Theodor Eicke, who developed the ,master-camp’ Dachau, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Ernst Kaltenbrunner and many, many others.

LMW: So now, finally, after the mind-numbing 39 pages, we get to the pages (72-75) concerning the Nuremberg Laws. And here we read … “in a perpetual struggle for survival, the weak elements would be eradicated by the strong” … “this body of thought held the Jews to be a parasitic people, seeking to destroy from within the peoples of the greatest value” … “Bolshevism was an instrument of the Jews in their struggle to dominate the world.” … Does the exhibit offer any protest of these vicious Nazi slogans? Does it present moral objections to the legitimacy of a policy of eradicating the weak? Does it mention that Jewish Germans were actually loyal German citizens who had made numerous significant contributions, including army service in WWI? Not a word! … 

LMW: The Nazi condemnations of Jews are left unchallenged,

and thus seem to be endorsed by the exhibit.

Next we read that “the great highlight” of the 1935 “Party Rally of Freedom” was to introduce a “state citizenship law for Jews” and a “Law for the Protection of German Blood.” To justify these new laws, there is mention of “a wave of violent attacks against men and women accused of alleged race-defiling relationships.

HCT: Here you evoke the impression that we mention the racial laws as “the great highlight” of the Party Rally 1935. This is not true: We set the word in quotation marks (The great “highlight” at the end … was the convening of the German Reichstag in Nuremberg.) to underline the bitter reality that the proclamation of racial laws were the central event of this mass meeting. Concerning your valuation of the 39 mind-numbing pages it may be allowed to remind that the main topic of the documentation centre is the history of both the party grounds and the party rallies as one of the main propaganda instruments of the Nazis.

LMW: There is no mention that this violence against Jews did not just happen spontaneously, but was consciously planned and carefully carried out by the Nazis. There is no mention of the fact that German Jews had by 1935 achieved a very high level of assimilation into German life. There is no mention of the significant contribution of Jewish Germans to German cultural, scientific and business advances. There is no mention that the Protocols of the Elders which was used by the Nazis to create fear of Jewish world domination had already been publicly proven to be a total fabrication.

LMW: The impression we took from this blatantly one-sided presentation

was that Hitler moved forward quite logically and correctly

to protect the German nation from the “race-defiling” Jews.

That is surely the message Hitler wanted to convey, but is that the message this exhibit should allow even for one second to be perceived by young Germans in 2012? Should not this message be countered, in the same panels, by the truth? … In our view, the exhibit in this section again fostered the concept of German “fascination” with Hitler, missing the opportunity to present the disgusting nature of Hitler’s lies about the Jews, and not taking up the question of whether the German people believed those lies.

HCT: Again, it is not fair to omit totally the aspects we stressed in our view and to create the aspect that we thus simply transported Hitler’s ideas. The introductory text carefully describes the origins of anti-semitism in Europe as well as in Germany. Just for example, there IS MENTION that this violence against Jews did not just happen spontaneously, but was consciously planned and carefully carried out by the Nazis. Look at the passages on pages 72-77.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the violent 1938 Kristallnacht attacks on German Jewish citizens all over Germany

HC Täubrich: Wrong: It is presented with three big photographs of burnt German synagogues and the text describes the events and the number of victims all over the Reich (Area 15)

LMW: The exhibit catalog has one photograph of a burned out synagogue but I’ll certainly take your word that there were two more photographs in the museum. I must have missed them. The word “Kristallnacht” is not mentioned in the catalog.

HCT: The words “Kristallnacht” or “Reichskristallnacht” stem from the use within Nazi-propaganda, aiming at the belittlement of just some glass being smashed. But: There were thousands of buildings destroyed – synagogues, shops, flats – and several hundred people murdered in that night. It was a bit more than some broken crystal. This is why in Germany one generally speaks of the pogrom night, thus involving the general violence against people.

LMW: Consider this direct quote (p.77) … “The reason for this pogrom during the night of November 9 to 10, 1938 was the assassination by a young Jew of the German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris.” REALLY? One killing, far away in Paris no less, was enough to set loose an immediate Germany-wide coordinated attack on Jews and Jewish property, which the exhibit allows to be called “spontaneous riots” that were then “escalated” by the Nazis. That false impression should have been corrected in the same panel. Rath was shot on November 7 and died on November 9, the night of the supposed countrywide “spontaneous riots,” which were obviously planned in advance by the Nazis.

LMW: It is unfortunately typical of the exhibit

that the Nazi version of Kristallnacht

(“spontaneous riots”) was left unchallenged.

HCT: Of course was the shooting of Rath not the reason in the meaning of “cause”, nobody says this; it was the reason in the sense of “being initiated” by  Goebbels’ orders given to the SA-quarters in that night.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the newspaper and media campaigns against German Jewish citizens in Der Sturmer and other Nazi publications.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: The “Stürmer” and further anti-Semitic material is displayed in a showcase describing “Anti-Semitism in the Daily Life of the Third Reich” (Area 14)

LMW: You are quite correct. The Nazi media campaigns are mentioned. In the catalog there is one paragraph and one photo related to the Nazi propaganda against the Jews (p.75). The issue is proportion, in the catalog as well as in the museum. Why are there 39 pages on the rally grounds and just one paragraph on the unrelenting, untrue and often pornographic campaign against Jews ordered by Hitler (who is not mentioned on page 75), a campaign that set the stage for the systematic murder of 6,000,000 Jews?

HCT: There are 39 pages on the rally grounds as this is the main topic of the documentation centre and its exhibition, which is the key to the understanding of the remnants still lying outside. Streichers unrelenting, untrue and often pornographic campaigns against Jews were NOT ordered by Hitler though certainly welcomed. Streicher published his ,paper’ on his own and to his own profit. Coarse and rude as it was one can doubt whether ,cold’ intellectual functionaries like Heydrich oder officials like Eichmann really took their time to read it. The stage for the systematic murder of 6,000,000 Jews was set up by them, not by Streicher, who was deprived of his power already in 1939 due to his greedy attitude in connection with the ,aryansiation’.

LMW: The exhibit here misses the opportunity to discuss the impact of this propaganda on Christian Germans. Did they believe what they were being told? Were they pleased to see the Jews demeaned? Were they “proud” of the way Hitler was purifying their country? These questions, critical for today’s Germans seeking to understand how their grandparents committed such atrocities, are not raised by the exhibit. Hitler is not criticized for propagating lies about the Jews.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of the complicit role

of the hierarchies of the Catholic and Protestant churches

in supporting Hitler’s rise to power.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: It is, though short, but very well described how and with whose’ support Hitler came to power in the chapters “The Seizure of Power” and “The Beginnings of Dictatorship” (Area 1, 3)

LMW: … NOT WRONG! … I have read catalog pages 28, 29 & 30 very carefully. There is not a single mention of the Catholic and Protestant churches. Not a single word! The role of the German churches, in allowing Hitler to seize and exercise power, is, in my mind, an essential element of the Hitler years that needs to be emphasized today. The churches represented, or should have represented, the moral fiber of the German people, and yet church leaders stood by and never objected. Of course there are many examples of priests and nuns and religious Christians risking their lives to save Jewish lives. But where were the institutions, the leaders, the bishops and cardinals … and the pope? It is troubling to me that an exhibit which purports to show the rise of Hitler makes no mention of the complicity of the Catholic and Protestant hierarchies in permitting that rise. The exhibit also fails to mention the extent to which centuries of church-sponsored antisemitism laid the groundwork for hatred of the Jews without which many historians believe Hitler could not have succeeded. This is important for young Germans to understand, and the exhibit has again missed an opportunity to educate them.

HCT: Now, what do you want – the description of the German churches in allowing Hitler to seize and exercise power or mentioning the extent to which centuries of church-sponsored antisemitism laid the groundwork for hatred of the Jews without which many historians believe Hitler could not have succeeded. The last point is declared in the section “Racism and Anti-Semitism” (catalogue page 72), but I admit that the role of several social powers – churches, industry – are not entirely stressed.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the many brave Christian German citizens, including many Catholic and Protestant clergy, who tried to resist Hitler’s madness and were often executed for their actions

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There are three panels describing the three phases of German resistance (“Worker’s resistance”, “The Interims Phase” and “Resistance during the War” (Area 17).

LMW: We missed these panels, but I see pages 84-85 in the exhibit book, so I do not doubt they were also on the exhibit walls. Looking at the pages now, however, they do not seem so impressive. There is a dominating picture of Hitler with a beard takes 1/3 of the space on the two pages … a focus on communists as the major source of resistance … one sentence about a failed assassination attempt in 1939 … a failed military putsch in 1944 which was directed at “ending a now senseless war.” 

Was there no resistance by ordinary Germans because they knew what Hitler was doing was wrong? Was there no opposition by the military because they had been made into murderers of civilians instead of soldiers? Was there no effort by religious leaders to stop the mechanized murder of millions of Jews? If there was no such opposition, the exhibit should have taken note and tried to explain why. If there was such opposition, the exhibit should have shown it and applauded the courage of those who dared to express it, even secretly. That is what deserves to be glorified. Another missed opportunity.

HCT: It is clearly stated in the exhibit as well as in the catalogue (P. 84): “The German resistance was represented by the total political spectrum. It ran the gamut from far left to far right, included the young and the old, women and men, Christians and atheists. Yet it was a tiny minority. According to estimates by the Gestapo only two out of a thousand people were opponents of the German regime. (Text to be continued)” You can’t say it shorter as well as precise like this. In the exhibition the three phases (Worker’s resistance 1933-36, Interims Phase 1936-41 and Resistance during the war 1941-45 are precisely explained; the catalogue here brings only a choice of the first two items.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of Hitler’s unprovoked and brutal attacks on Poland, Belgium, France, England and Russia, including unprecedented attacks on innocent civilians (including Jews and non-Jews) in those countries.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: The war is, though not described in detail, clearly presented, beginning with “NS Foreign Policy 1933-39,” “Blitzkriege’ 1939-1941,” and “The war of annihilation and Genocide” (Area 15/16).

LMW: This is very interesting. Here are some of the words on those pages (p.78 and after) … “the Wehrmacht marched into Austria” … “the German territories of Czechoslavakia were taken over” … “German nationalism appeared in 1938 on the way to fulfillment (of the old dream of) a common Reich for all Germans” … “powerful German units marched into Poland” … “with rapid mobile armoured formations and fighter bombers, the Army advanced” … “the Germans occupied Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium and France in a series of rapid campaign” … “In only three months they ruled over almost all of Western Europe” … “Only Great Britain continued the war against the German Reich” … “Hitler hastened to the aid of his ally Italy” … “the Wehrmacht occupied Yugoslavia and Greece” … and then (p.79) … “Hitler’s popularity with the Germans rose to unparalleled levels.” 

LMW: The exhibit presents Hitler’s military triumphs as if intending

to quicken the heart of any patriotic German!

Germany, under Hitler’s guidance, marched on, conquering everyone. 

LMW: The word “unprovoked” is not to be found. The exhibit presents the Nazi view, without critical interpretive comment, and thus seems to endorse it. But are Germans in 2012 supposed to be proud of what the Nazis accomplished on the battlefield? Is that the bottom line of the exhibit’s “glorification” of Hitler’s conquests?

Are young Germans of today supposed to feel good that “Hitler’s popularity with the Germans rose to unparalleled levels?” We believe young Germans of today know better. We have spoken to some of them. They are very conscious that still, today, the German people are hated. And they know why. They don’t fly the German flag. That’s why a man who was a young boy in 1945 and took no part in Nazi affairs told me he feels guilt every day of his life for what his parents and their Nazi colleagues did. 

None of these issues is raised in an exhibit which states that one of its prime objectives is to present the consequences of Hitler’s rise. These were huge consequences, which are still felt by Germans today. Omission of these consequences is a huge lost opportunity of the exhibit.

HCT: Now, I think this goes a bit too far to assume that we here simply do blow into the trumpets for Hitler’s Blitzkriege to “quicken the heart of any patriotic German”. And it is not enough to stress just “some of the words on those pages”. Your quotation again is short cut and thus falsifying the content of the whole text (pages 78/79). For the first phase of foreign policy it is here clearly stated that it “was bent on war from the very outset. After the Wehrmacht marched into Austria and the Sudeten German territories were taken over, the latter with the approval of England, France and Italy, an old dream of German nationalism appeared in 1938 to be on the way to fulfillment: a common Reich for all Germans. The invasion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 (this WAS a provocation!) meant the change to an open policy of expansion.” And for the next phase of the “Blitzkriege” it is clearly stated that the Germans “marched into Poland without a declaration of war on September 1939.”

Concerning the “success” of the following military campaigns until 1940/early 1941 we cannot close our eyes before the fact that they led to the peak of Hitler’s popularity in the German people. You have to mention this because otherwise you fail to explain why the Germans now were bound to fulfill any further military action of Hitler and his gang of loyal generals.

LMW: there is NO MENTION of Hitler’s distortion and corruption of Germany’s once proud army and air forces into performing the tasks of Nazi murder and genocide

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There are two panels describing “The Role of the Wehrmacht” and “The Task Forces” (Area 16).

LMW: You are correct. I missed that panel, and it tells the story well.

LMW: There is but one small panel devoted to the Holocaust … there is NO MENTION of the death camps where millions of Jews (and others) were methodically murdered

HC Täubrich: Wrong: There is one panel devoted to the holocaust and there are two very large photographs showing the massacres of Babi Jar and Libau. A slideshow besides shows some 50 pictures of the deportation of German Jews. The Holocaust panel uses the icon picture for the holocaust, the Auschwitz-Birkenau gate. It restricts to this as – by full intention, the exhibit concentrates on the history of the rally grounds and the purpose of the rallies, the racial laws and the Nuremberg trials. This core story is embedded into a frame narration, describing shortly (!) where the Nazis came from and what the consequences of their message were.

LMW: You are correct that the death camps are mentioned. But this is a good example of what bothered us about the exhibit as a whole. Hitler’s wartime accomplishments are portrayed in the glowing terms quoted above, but the fact that Hitler directly ordered the death camps is not mentioned. Instead, the exhibit states: “Plans for the systematic murder of all European Jews were being hatched … the SS set up three single-purpose extermination camps.” No mention of Hitler.

LMW: Why does the exhibit refrain, again and again,

from directly criticizing Hitler and calling him the monster he was?

HCT: Now this is one of the opinions where you are definitively mistaken. There was no  “monster” named Hitler who did it all on his own and was responsible alone for it. This is the most dangerous attitude to have as it leads to the excuse of the countless people who were loyal to him and his plans throughout all the 12 years. He did NOT directly order the death camps; yes, he spoke of the extinction of the Jewish-bolshevist evil in the world every now and then. But when it came to terms during the war it was Göring (he had received Hitler’s request for a ,general solution’ – whatever this meant – of the Jewish question in 1938) who gave Heydrich in 1941 the order to work out a “final solution”; many, many more orders were developed and given by lower ranks, often in an anticipatory way. No one, for example, of the leading figures took part in the Wannsee conference planning and organizing the extermination of Europe’s 11 million Jews. And – it needed millions of obedient people to turn orders into reality – public servants and  officials for the organisation, policemen for the deportation,, train drivers and railway personal for transport, soldiers for mass shootings etc. etc. THIS is what the exhibition tries to explain: that there was no monster hovering above all, but a bit (more or less) of Hitler, i.e. of his ideas, in many, many Germans of that time.

LMW: There is also no mention of what Germans knew or did not know

about the death camps, a topic of vital importance

to Germany’s current generation struggling to make judgments

about the actions of their parents and grandparents.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the horrendous beating Germany’s armed forces ultimately took at the hands of the Allied forces, including the total destruction of the German air force and the bombing of many German cities

HC Täubrich: Wrong: One panel describes “The result of the war”, three enlarged photographs show the ruins of Stalingrad and Berlin and, impossible not see this, the flattened medieval town of Nuremberg (Area 18).

LMW: I saw the photos, although why Stalingrad is shown as a price paid by Germany is not clear.

HCT: Stalingrad is a metaphor for the first massive defeat of the Germans as well as for the beginning of the end and the many high prices the Germans then still had to pay for their loyalty to the often dilettantish strategies of Hitler and his gang of loyal generals.   

LMW: But look at the language. The paragraph on the catalog page headed “The Result of the War” (p.83) says … “the Soviet Union was to be overrun in a lightning campaign” … “huge initial successes” … “German forces were not sufficient to complete Hitler’s programme of conquest” … “the allied invasion of Normandy opened a third front against the German Reich” … “Despite all Adolf Hitler continued the battle” … “all told the total loss of human life in this war is estimated at more than 50 million.” And not a word about Hitler’s personal responsibility for the Nazi program of mass murder, for the incompetent direction of the military, for the deaths of 50 million people. Despite all Adolf Hitler continued the battle.” The exhibit thus seems to present Adolf Hitler as a true German hero.

HCT: Honestly, I do fail to understand why – after the conclusion that “the total loss of human life in this war is estimated at more than 50 million” should mean to present Adolf Hitler as a true German hero. And once more: Hitler certainly was an incompetent leader of the military, but was surrounded and helped by a sheer mass of incompetent, but loyal military leaders himself.

LMW: There is NO MENTION of the help provided after the war (Marshall Plan, etc) which allowed Germany to become the proud, successful and democratic country it is today.

HC Täubrich: Correct: The exhibit ends with the Nuremberg trials and a short outlook on the later use of the former Nazi party rally grounds. This is the story of the “Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds”. Museums cannot in each place tell the whole story, they have to be understood as a network. If you are interested in the country’s post-war history you may visit the “House of the history of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.”

LMW: What Hitler brought to Germany was destruction and the hatred of the German people which continues (unfairly as regards current Germans) to this day. The exhibit might have emphasized these consequences of Hitler’s rise.

LMW: At the end of the exhibit, there is a video showing interviews with Germans who lived through the Nazi years. One woman says (paraphrase), “We had no idea what was happening to the Jews. We thought they were being taken away to Israel, where it would be nice for them since they would all be together. They would have everything they needed, all the doctors, tailors, etc. But I guess if there were only Jews, some of them would have to be street cleaners.” 

Another woman says she was told by a friend who worked in a hospital about a patient who had a mental breakdown. She said (paraphrase) … “He said he was the driver of a truck where Jews were gassed in the back of the truck. He said he couldn’t stand it anymore. I don’t think this could be true. Our Fuhrer would never allow that to happen.”  The exhibit presents these statements with no commentary, leaving the impression that what the ladies say is true: we knew nothing … we were not complicit. I find that very hard to take.

HC Täubrich: Wrong: These statements are at the end of a one and a half hours walk through the history of Nazi horror which is, at least, one of the commentaries. The witnesses’ statements are necessary to get an impression of how the people felt and thought in those days. And there are, of course, remarks of a commentator in this concluding film.

LMW: It is terrifying to us that the exhibit’s portrayal

of the rise of Hitler and the consequences of Nazi rule

would end with an uncontested statement that

“Our Fuhrer would never allow [the gassing of innocent civilians] to happen.”

HC Täubrich: Dear Sir, going through these remarks I am shattered and disappointed; not about the fact that seem you hardly to have noticed these crucial points, but that you concluded from your not-seeing that this might have been done by intent. Do you really think, that the citizens of a city like Nuremberg – which is once and for all brandmarked in the rest of the world firstly as “City of the Nazi Party Rallies”, the infamous “Nuremberg Laws” and finally the “Nuremberg Trials” after all would be able to open an institution glorifying Hitler?

LMW: I drew no conclusion as to intent. What I have tried to describe is the impression the “Fascination and Terror” exhibit made on my wife and I as we went through it. It does seem unbelievable to us that Nuremberg, of all places, would organize an exhibit that does far more to glorify Hitler’s rise to power and his military victories than to expose the brutal means and ultimate consequences of his madness. When these repeated omissions were followed by an uncontested statement denying that the German people even knew what Hitler was doing – “Our Fuhrer would never allow that”- the exhibit itself became terrifying to us.

HCT: This seems to be a bit short-sighted to me, short-sighted against/before the facts. The brutal means and ultimate consequences you mention – they are well known. As mentioned before: Everybody who comes here to the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds knows about the effects and consequences of World War II and the genocides. What we have to do is to understand how and why people behaved like the way they did – on whatever side they stood. 

The Germans committed a substantial break of civilization – not only with the erection of the gas chambers, but already years before by declaring members of the ,German race’ more worthy than other human beings, even of their own nationality. This is clearly emphasized throughout the exhibition “Fascination and Terror”. Its message is: Without the understanding of the fascination which the power and its nourishment for grudge and greed had for many people we will not be able to understand the signs of any other human catastrophe lying before us – and which will certainly not be caused by another “monster”.

******

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11 Responses to “* A personal view of the exhibit “Fascination and Terror” at the Nazi Documentation Center in Nuremberg … a documentary glorification of the rise of Adolf Hitler … from the “heroic” march in Munich 1923 to “Our Fuhrer would never allow [the gassing of innocent civilians] to happen.””

  1. Jon said

    This was a fascinating exchange.

    I think an interesting contrast to the exhibit in Nuremburg is that presented by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC on Nazi propaganda. Here’s the link: http://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/ It also seems to focus on the “fascination” of the German people with Hitler and the Nazi party, but clearly emphasizes the deceitful and intentionally inciting (not insightful) language, images and initiatives of the Nazi Party.

  2. Lew Weinstein said

    The comparison you point out demonstrates clearly where the Nuremberg exhibit fails.

  3. Jon said

    Also, I just completed the 2nd book (Winter of the World) in Ken Follett’s new Century Trilogy. It presents a historical fictional account of WWII and its run-up through the eyes of American, British, Russian and German characters. There are German characters, including in the same family, who represent both those Germans who bought into Nazi propaganda and those who worked clandestinely to oppose it. I recommend the book, and the 1st in the trilogy (Fall of Giants), about WWI.

  4. Cathy DuPont said

    Lew: Very interesting the word “Fascination” in the title of the exhibit. I looked the word up in my on-line dictionary, not Webster’s but rather doubt Webster would say much different. Here is a definition of the word:

    1. The capability of eliciting intense interest or of being very attractive.
    2. The state of being intensely interested or attracted: listened in fascination.
    3. An intensely interesting, attractive quality or trait.

    Sounds to me like the title itself was ill-conceived. So if the title is ill-conceived, how much of the content can we trust?

    Enjoyed, very much, your comments on your blog.

    Cathy

    • Lew Weinstein said

      One of my comments, deep in the post somewhere, matches your thought exactly. The word “Fascination” is a strong clue as to what is going on. Perhaps the word “Delusion” would have been a better choice.

  5. Lewis – so powerful. I’m not sure where to begin but then I feel that way often about Germans and the Holocaust. But I think you touched on something here. There is subtle and less than subtle movement toward positioning Nazi Germany as just another country at war, Hitler just another military leader, the war against the Jews and all the millions of others (Roma, communists, gays, disabled…dissenters from the official church of Nazism… the list is so long) as just casualties of war, and that’s what I find so fascinating — and terrifying.

    • Lew Weinstein said

      Thank you. My wife and I were horrified. So far, nobody in Germany seems to share that horror. One reason is that there has been no professional scrutiny of that museum. No articles. No reviews. No press. Maybe I can change that.

  6. Lilo Huhle-Poelzl said

    I fully agree with Mr. Weinstein and his wife.

    The exhibit seems to enhance Hitler’s successes and the German people’s “fascination”. It seems to omit crucial issues. It seems to downplay other crucial issues.

    As to those panels (and parts of the catalogue) that Mr. Weinstein admits to have overlooked: If a highly interested Jew and his equally highly interested wife would overlook these panels (and parts of the catalogue), wouldn’t an ordinary German visitor be likely to overlook them, too? I bet that Mr. Weinstein and his wife spent more time in this exhibit and looked and listened more carefully than the average visitor. And to the catalogue: Most visitors don’t buy catalogues, and only few of those who do, read them carefully.

    Before I even read Mr. Weinstein’s take on the title, I found the word “fascination” rather ill chosen, misleading, and disturbing.

    And Mr. Weinstein is right: Not all members of the NSDAP and not all members of the Wehrmacht who followed orders were “fascinated” with Hitler. Wehrmacht-soldiers had little choice. (And while some may have gladly followed orders or even committed atrocities they didn’t have to, some only followed orders because they had to, unless they were ready to be shot or hanged.) Many “not fascinated” civil servants joined the NSDAP, so not to lose their jobs (or only so not to damage their careers).

    All in all, I consider this exhibit outrageous. I am a German living in the U.S. Seeing how Hitler gets portrayed in Germany, these days,
    makes me glad, once again, that my husband and I have emigrated.

  7. Jordan Lee Smith said

    Lew wants to play historian, but he doesn’t have a point to argue, so he squeezes one out regardless. As a History graduate I admit to having been forced to write essays where I had no interest in the subject matter but was forced to choose an angle.

    Anyone with enough interest in the exhibit to actually visit it should know of the atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazis, or why bother?

  8. Tim Day said

    Having just returned from Nuremburg and visited the town and rally grounds I find myself puzzled by Lew’s views. I am not Jewish and therefore my perspective may be different. I thought it explained well how Hitler rose to power despite opposition both from the moderate parties and the hard left.
    It also explained the function of the rally grounds as part of the personality cult that Hitler built around himself. But as the exhibition points out this was at huge cost to the people of Europe.
    I did not leave with the impression this glorified the Nazi’s quite the opposite. I would encourage others to go and form their own opinions.

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