The Holocaust Exhibition

Article excerpt

'Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people'.

THIS comment by the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) serves as a perfect preface to the long overdue Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum which was officially opened recently by HM The Queen. Four years in preparation, the exhibition forms the largest element of the new five-storey extension to the museum -- the third and final stage of the redevelopment of its historic building, the former Bethlem Royal Hospital. The [pound]17 million project was supported by a [pound]12.6 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and is an example of, for a change, public money well spent.

Under the cover of the Second World War for the sake of their 'New Order', the Nazis sought to destroy all the Jews of Europe. For the first time in history industrial methods were used for the mass extermination of a whole people. Six million Jews were murdered including 1,500,000 children. But the Nazis enslaved and murdered millions of others as well in the Holocaust. Gypsies, people with physical and mental disabilities, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, trade unionists, political opponents, prisoners of conscience, homosexuals and others were killed in vast numbers. The historical display covers two floors and uses audio visual material of Nazi rallies and Hitler speeches projected on big screens, original artefacts, documents and photographs, presented in a distinctive architectural framework, to tell the story of the Nazis' genocidal programme. It brings to Britain for the first time rare and important historical material, some of it from former concentration and extermination camps in Germany, Poland a nd the Ukraine.

This journey into the heart of darkness begins deceptively enough with photographs and interviews with members of the once flourishing Jewish community that thrived in Eastern Europe prior to the war and covers the political situation that led to the rise of Hitler. 'Before the war Europe was home to ten million Jews', we are informed, 'who belonged to a faith that existed for 3,000 years'. Among the eminent Jewish figures of the time was one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century -- Albert Einstein.

The Nazis built on ancient traditions of an anti-Semitism that was already widespread and they had no difficulty in finding supporters throughout Europe.

Once in power they began to pass laws to isolate the Jews: Jews were expelled from the army and the civil service, professional associations, the press and sports and social clubs. Throughout Germany signs were put up forbidding Jews to enter inns, restaurants, parks and even entire villages, as are graphically shown here. Jews and 'Aryans' who associated with them were often humiliated in public. Anti-Jewish and racial propaganda was ceaselessly driven home, through rallies, radio broadcasts, newspapers, films, books, in schools, and by means of travelling exhibitions.

The Nazis censored and then gained control of the media so that no dissenting voices could be heard. Prominently on view at the exhibition are front covers of the party organ Der Sturmer, the weekly newspaper founded in 1923 by Julius Streicher which preached hated of the Jews through crude cartoons and features. …