Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich

By Bill Niven | Go to book overview

6

The crimes of theWehrmacht

'Endless queues outside an exhibition in Munich's Town Hall. Picasso? The death mask of Tut'ankhamun? King Ludwig's collection of chamois-beard hat decorations? Nothing of the sort. Instead, a sober, depressing chronicle of horrors called 'War of Annihilation-Crimes of the Wehrmacht between 1941 and 1944'. Seldom has a contemporary-history exhibition made such an impact on so many people […].'

(Benedikt Erenz, Zeit, 11 April 1997)


Interest and controversy

Early in 1995, the privately run Hamburg Institute for Social Research (HIS) launched an exhibition in Hamburg entitled '200 Days and 1 Century: Violence and Destructiveness as reflected in the Year 1945'. It drew attention to the Janus face of 1945, not only focusing on the liberation of Auschwitz, the extensions to the Soviet GULAG system and the bombing of Hiroshima, but also pointing to revolutionary developments in international law and politics, notably the Nuremberg trials and the establishment of the United Nations (HIS 1995). By way of an adjunct to this exhibition, the HIS presented a separate exhibition as of March 1995 in the Kampnagel Factory. Called 'War of Annihilation-Crimes of the Wehrmacht between 1941 and 1944', it explored the theme of Wehrmacht involvement in acts of killing in eastern Europe which did not fall within the framework of regular warfare. The Hamburg Institute was totally surprised by the impact of this spin-off exhibition, which was far greater than that of the '200 Days' exhibition. About 5,000 people saw the 'Crimes of the Wehrmacht' exhibition in Hamburg, 6,000 when it was shown in Regensburg in 1996, and 4,200 when it travelled to Nuremberg in the same year. Showings in Austria in Linz and Klagenfurt (1996) attracted some 25,600 visitors. But the real breakthrough came in Munich in 1997, where 90,000 people streamed into the exhibition. In Frankfurt, numbers reached 100,000. By the time the exhibition had to be withdrawn from circulation in late 1999 to enable the HIS to correct inaccuracies, 900,000 people had seen it in 32 towns and cities in Germany and Austria. If one adds to this the hundreds of thousands who attended events organized as part of the various accompanying programmes, and considers the intense media coverage, it would not be inaccurate to talk of mass interest and of a nationally significant exhibition.

-143-

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Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Chronology 1933-2000 x
  • Why Now? - The Inclusive Picture 1
  • 1 - Concentration Camp Memorial Sites 10
  • 2 - The 'Double Past' 41
  • 3 - Resistance 62
  • 4 - 8 May 1945 in Political Discourse 95
  • 5 - Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Victor Klemperer 119
  • 6 - The Crimes of the Wehrmacht 143
  • 7 - The Walser-Bubis Debate 175
  • 8 - The Holocaust Memorial 194
  • 9 - The Past in the Presen 233
  • Abbreviations 245
  • Bibliography 246
  • Index 257
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