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Hitler Exhibition Ushers in New Phase for German Museums

November 16, 2010

by Cathy Leekam

Hitler and the Germans Exhibition, Berlin

The first German exhibition since the Second World War to deal exclusively with the subject of Adolf Hitler opened on October 15, 2010 at the German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum) in Berlin.  Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime explores the strategies that were employed to win the loyalty of German citizens. Hans-Ulrich Thamer, one of the exhibition’s three curators, notes that “as a person, Hitler was a very ordinary man. He was nothing without the people.” Hitler and the Germans builds on this observation and places the dictator within the context of the society that embraced and empowered him.

Hitler remains an object of uneasy fascination for international audiences, and Nazi artefacts represent one of the most notorious historical taboos in postwar Germany. Curators have avoided the display of any items that appear to glorify or fetishize the man and his ideology, while public exhibitions dealing exclusively with Nazi memorabilia have never been attempted in the country before now.

Interestingly, this exhibition has sparked controversy by not being controversial enough. David Crossland of Spiegel Online International argues that the displays do not offer any new messages. Instead, they tap into continuing, widespread public interest that has spawned a lucrative “big business” of documentaries, films, news stories and other media about the Nazi era.

A visitor examines one of the artefacts in display during a press preview of Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime on October 13, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. The display of swastikas, photographs of Hitler, and other Nazi symbols are legally forbidden in Germany unless they appear in a scientific context.

While the exhibition may not offer any revolutionary content, the medium by which content is presented is in this case truly groundbreaking. The display of swastikas, photographs of Hitler, and other Nazi symbols is legally forbidden in Germany unless they appear in a scientific context, such as in state run museums. By making authentic Nazi artefacts available in a public forum, within their proper historical context, the exhibition is inviting visitors to confront the real thing and re-examine their own assumptions about Nazi Germany. The display of such notorious artefacts in a major heritage institution represents a new phase in remembrance and discourse about this dark period in history.

Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime will be on display at the German Historical Museum until February 6, 2011.

Further coverage of the exhibition can be found at the following links:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303362404575580281932712418.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/hitler-exhibition-breaks-germanys-last-taboo-2106121.html

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,723784,00.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11547359

http://www.stltoday.com/news/national/article_de011a45-4189-5293-b4d1-13b51e921ec6.html

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