Lew's AUTHOR BLOG

* proposed OP-ED regarding … The “Fascination and Terror” exhibit in Nuremberg needs to be reviewed and re-designed

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 14, 2014

glorification of Hitler (2)

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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’s programs of unprovoked war and 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 glorification of the rise and accomplishments of Adolf Hitler, almost always presented without comment or criticism.

We were horrified.

Our feeling was amplified by the remaining panels in the exhibit and then we were truly shaken 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.”

It is my hope that historians and others who have seen the “Fascination and Terror” exhibit will offer 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.

Director Täubrich’s comments … I have reviewed my comments with the Director of the exhibit, Dr. Hans-Christian Täubrich, and I applaud Dr. Täubrich for his willingness to engage in dialogue with me. In several instances, he pointed out errors that I had made or parts of the exhibit I had not seen or remembered. There were many other objections by Dr. Täubrich which I did not find convincing.

After adjusting for those of Dr. Täubrich’s comments which I felt were valid, I am left with the following 14 specific examples of commission and omission …

1. The Heroic Putsch march … The audio describing Hitler’s failed 1923 putsch in Munich uses the word “heroic” to characterize the march into the center of Munich, an event which every other source I have read describes as incompetent, calamitous, and certainly treasonous. 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 distorted view of the 1923 putsch without interpretive comment.

2. How Hitler built his power … In the exhibit book, there are many pages presenting a 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.

3. Forced labor camps … The pages describing forced labor in the later 1930s and during the war (p. 50-53) do express the horror of the work camps … “forced labour camps for Jews, where prisoners were exterminated by workowing 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.

4. The Nuremberg Laws … There is but passing mention of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and no emphasis on their clear purpose of disenfranchising German Jewish citizens of civil rights previously guaranteed by the German Constitution. In the catalog (72-75) we read: “in a perpetual struggle for survival, the weak elements would be eradicated by the strongthis body of thought held the Jews to be a parasitic people, seeking to destroy from within the peoples of the greatest valueBolshevism 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! The Nazi condemnations of Jews are left unchallenged, and thus seem to be endorsed by the exhibit.

5. Kristallnacht … Consider this direct quote dealing with Kristallnacht (p.77) … “The reason for this pogrom … 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 outrageous lie should have been corrected in the same panel. It is unfortunately typical of the exhibit that the Nazi version of Kristallnacht (“spontaneous riots”) was left unchallenged.

6. Media campaigns against Jews … There is inadequate mention of the newspaper campaigns against German Jewish citizens in Der Sturmer and other Nazi publications. 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?

7. Impact on Christian Germans … 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 and ultimately murdered? Were they “proud” of the way Hitler was purifying their country? Whatever the answers, these questions are critical for today’s Germans seeking to understand how their grandparents committed or allowed such atrocities. They are not raised by the exhibit. Hitler is not criticized for propagating lies about the Jews.

8. Complicity of Catholic and Protestant churches … There is no mention of the complicit role of the hierarchies of the Catholic and Protestant churches in supporting Hitler’s rise to power. The role of the German churches in allowing Hitler to seize and exercise power is an essential element of the Hitler years that needs to be dealt with honestly today. The churches represented, or should have represented, the moral fiber of the German people, and yet the highest church leaders stood by and never objected, going out of their way in some instances to instruct their flocks to support Hitler. It is troubling 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, including their role in passing the Enabling Act.

9. Centuries of church-sponsored antisemitism … 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.

10. Positive portrayal of Hitler’s unprovoked attacks … Catalogue 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 campaigns … 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.”  One glorious triumph after another, unprovoked, over-reaching, and ultimately unsustainable (i.e., stupid). The exhibit fails to mention these results and consequences of Hitler’s actions, leaving to him the moments of triumph.

11. Hitler’s popularity … 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. The word “unprovoked” is not to be found. The words “ultimate failure” are missing. The exhibit presents the Nazi view, without critical interpretive comment, and thus seems to endorse it. On (p.79): “Hitler’s popularity with the Germans rose to unparalleled levels.” Are Germans 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?

12. Death camps … 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. Why does the exhibit refrain, again and again, from directly criticizing Hitler and calling him the monster he was? 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.

13. Final exhibit (1)we thought it would be nice for the Jews … 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 (sic), 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.” 

14. Final exhibit (2)Our Fuhrer would never allow that to happen … 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.”  

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 Author Photo 2012

Mr. Weinstein is a graduate of Princeton University and the Harvard Business School. His management career included the direction of for-profit, government, and not-for-profit entities. More recently, he is the author of four published novels, and is currently working on a novel set in Germany and Poland during the Nazi years.

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One Response to “* proposed OP-ED regarding … The “Fascination and Terror” exhibit in Nuremberg needs to be reviewed and re-designed”

  1. hmarcuse said

    While I agree with you and can confirm that many of the historical exhibitions on Nazism that I have seen in Germany often leave much to be desired (some even more egregiously than the examples you give), I don’t agree that Hitler needs to be or even should be named in all cases. Historians have gone to great lengths to establish his role vs. the role of his minions in implementing the Holocaust, without clear resolution between the interpretations “intentionalism” “functionalism” and “structuralism.” In any case naming or blaming Hitler personally can serve to exonerate all those below him who “worked toward the Fuhrer”–including the many professing ignorance or unwarranted optimism about the fate of Jewish Germans, whom you also quote from the exhibition. No single exhibition can cover all bases.
    I have not yet seen this exhibition, but will be sure to keep your comments in mind when I do, so that I can make my own assessment.
    Thank you for your efforts in bringing this tendency to light, and to the attention of the memorial site’s director.
    Harold Marcuse
    Professor of German history at the University of California, lSanta Barbara

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