The German Stain

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Since World War II, it is been unlawful to show the Swastika in Germany, except for “scientific” purposes, including academic study and analysis. Walking through the Berlin flea markets where artifacts of the Third Reich are nonetheless available for a price, one will frequently see the Nazi logo covered over with either tape or magic marker (as though it were that easy to expunge). Now, a startling new exhibition at Berlin’s German Historical Museum (DHM) (curated by Prof. Dr. Hans-Ulrich Thamer, Dr. Simone Erpel, Klaus-Jürgen Sembach) in Berlin brings these artifacts into the open. It also addresses for the first time in this setting the personality cult of Adolf Hitler.

Hitler and the Germans, on view until February 6, explores how the Nazi leader won power but also how he kept it through the most tragic years of the war.

The exhibition is a curious feast of Nazi propaganda posters, busts of Hitler, a card game helping players to learn the names of top Nazis, SS cufflinks, and a red swastika lampshade to Christmas tree decorations (what has been called “Nazi Kitsch.”)

Also included are a Nazi-themed rug that used to adorn the wall of a town church, poster guides explaining correct usage of the Hitler salute and the Nuremberg race laws, and a record of the SA brownshirts’ marching song greatest hits. For children, there were figures to collect of Wehrmacht troops in action.

“The exhibits are juxtaposed, however, with evidence of the truth behind the propaganda, pictures and items showing the fate of those who had no place in the German ‘Volk,’ like Jews, political opponents, or the mentally ill,” notes the organizers to counter criticisms that their exhibition will attract neo-nazis.

“Piles of bodies, emaciated and broken people … were witness to the violence and destruction that were the real aims of National Socialist leaders, but which they tried to hide,” curator Hans-Ulrich Thamer said. “There have been exhibitions on National Socialism (Nazism) for years in Germany in all different forms. We wanted to explain the rise to power and the operation and exercise of power all the way until the end,” the curator said. “What we wanted to do differently here was to show how the system of domination developed.”

This exhibition would not have been possible in Germany 10 years ago, commentators say, but recent changed attitudes in Germany among the young generation, allow showing Hitler to the general public less odious. The 2004 film “Downfall” portrayed Hitler as a deeply flawed human, not a monster, for example, and Germans have even learned to laugh at the dictator. Critics loved Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

The demonic view of Hitler was dominant for many years, “but in the research world, this has not been the case since the first comprehensive biography by Alan Bullock (in 1952),” Thamer said.

See a short BBC video report here and read about it here.

And go to yesterday’s DH post on violent ultra right anti-gay riot in Belgrade here.

(Thanks to Mirko Ilic and Kim Ablondi)