Nazi exhibition Berlin 311 AP.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BERLIN — A major Berlin museum is launching an exhibition that seeks to explore how Adolf Hitler won and held mass support among Germans for his destructive regime.
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"Hitler and the Germans — Nation and Crime," which opens Friday at the German Historical Museum, juxtaposes the Nazis' propaganda images and artifacts such as 1930s Hitler busts with footage and documentation on the regime's brutality and Germans' involvement in it.
Germany has seen many exhibitions exploring the events of the Nazi era, but this one puts Hitler himself more squarely at the forefront. It comes more than 75 years after the Nazis took control, as Germans increasingly look at Hitler not just as a one-dimensional tyrant, but as a man who enjoyed vast popularity before plunging the country into war.
The aim is to explore "how this power and influence, this domination of
Adolf Hitler can be explained, and to make clear that one of the factors
was the readiness to approve and the readiness to go along of large
parts of society," said curator Hans-Ulrich Thamer.
It "tries to explain the functioning, mass support and destructive
strength of the regime," Thamer, a historian and professor at the
University of Muenster, told reporters during a tour of the exhibition.
The collection of some 600 exhibits, along with 400 photos and posters,
takes visitors chronologically through the life of the regime. Nearly
three-quarters of the material comes from the museum's own extensive
It portrays the Nazis' dual approach of making the German masses feel
included in their movement — illustrated by a case full of various Nazi
organizations' uniforms and a Nazi rally flag — while excluding those
whom they had identified as enemies, such as Jews.
The latter is underlined by photos of Jewish deportations and of
hospital patients being taken away for euthanasia — exhibited alongside
an order signed by Hitler for the "incurably ill" to be granted "mercy
death" — along with a note from a German company about equipment being
supplied to the Auschwitz death camp.
Such exhibits underline the fact that "the persecution of political
opponents, the persecution of Jewish fellow citizens, the deportation of
Jewish citizens took place in front of everyone's eyes," Thamer said.
The exhibition shows Hitler's ubiquity in Nazi-era German life in
everything down to playing cards, yet the curator steered clear of
securing any personal belongings of the dictator. He argued that that
would have little explanatory value and said he didn't want to "support
the peculiar fascination" that such items might exert.
Hitler himself had little natural charisma — "all he could do was speak
and agitate, but he (got) his charisma above all from expectations,"
Thamer said. "Other people presumed that he was the one who could bring
salvation and national healing."
That led to growing support as Germans hit by the economic misery of the
1920s looked for a strong leader and sought scapegoats, "and Hitler
offered them that in stigmatizing enemies, above all the Jews and
Marxism," he added.
Thamer said he doesn't expect the exhibition to generate controversy and
isn't worried that fringe far-right groups might try somehow to take
Germany has become increasingly comfortable with confronting the
phenomenon of Hitler's rule directly over time. In recent years, Hitler
has been the subject of one German film portraying his final days,
"Downfall," and another portraying him as a comical idiot — "Mein
Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler." He also has
appeared as a waxwork at the Berlin branch of Madame Tussaud's.
The general secretary of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Stephan
Kramer, said he hadn't yet seen the exhibition and couldn't comment.
The show is open daily through February 6.
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