This post will be about the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände in Nuremberg, Germany. Also know as the “Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds” in English. If you are interested in the Third Reich, want to know more about German history, and are interested in how museums portray historical events, this will be an interesting read for you. If not, you still may want to follow along and check out my thoughts as an exchange student in Germany learning about German history. Let’s begin!
Size and Scope:
The museum is umfangreich—with nineteen different exhibits. It told a full story from beginning to end of the Nazi regime. An average of eight different posters—each featuring a paragraph or two—were featured in each of the exhibits. The paragraphs were short and concise, and they were written in German but with audio guides offered in several languages. There were several accompanying images, artifacts and films throughout the museum that brought the story to life. Some of the films featured were: clips of Triumph des Willens, the celebrations during the Party Rallies and the last were interviews with Zeitzeugen (time witnesses).
I got the impression that everything was presented in a neutral manner. There wasn’t necessarily a negative take presented or straightforward critique. I also did not feel like the museum tried to stir emotions and ask for empathy for victims of the Holocaust. The museum presented facts in a well-organized structure. The flow from one exhibit to the next was simple. (In some art museums I have felt a bit lost not knowing how the flow of exhibits worked from beginning to end.) The story and timeline were fluid until the very end: many exhibits were in one large room; they were still labeled numerically but they were a bit scattered compared to the simple flow of exhibits leading up to this one large room. Throughout the museum, the lighting was relatively dark. Blacks, reds and grays dominated. Some rooms also had exposed brick walls. It was intentional to try to preserve as much original architecture as possible.
I had just done some academic readings about the Third Reich, so it was a good opportunity to review all of what I had read for only 1,50 Euro as a student. Overall, I think the museum told a cohesive and informational story about the former use of the facility by the Nazis for the party rallies and the Nazi rise to power. The planning of the grounds was done meticulously by Hitler, who worked hands on with architects and other developers. It was eerie to see how worried Hitler was about the aesthetics of Nazism. On the one hand, it showed how much effort was put into Nazi propaganda. On the other hand, it showed (in my opinion) how mentally unhealthy Hitler was. The combination of the two produced an unheimlich effect– considering how many people identified with the Nazi party, joined in on the celebrations and activities, and discriminated against fellow citizens with different religious, ethnic or political backgrounds.
One exhibit that I found very interesting was about the reception of Hitler around the globe:
In the democratic states of Europe and North America, the militarism expressed in Nuremberg and the unrestrained use of the propaganda machinery were criticized. In dictatorial or authoritarian countries such as Italy, the Soviet Union or Austria, reports usually reflected only the relations of the respective governments to the “Third Reich”.
Another exhibit that I appreciated was at the end—the film with “time witnesses.” As I mentioned before, the information in the museum was presented neutrally without a strong sense of criticism or negative outlook, but different perspectives were presented throughout the timeline of the museum, which strengthened the museum’s authenticity. This was especially true in the last exhibit: In the interviews with the time witnesses, some shared that they were head over heels for Hitler. They were so happy to see him. Apart from that, the interviewees also shared how/why they were susceptible to anti-Jewish propaganda. And how they felt united and proud.
Being in Germany today makes the idea of the Holocaust and Hitler’s regime almost unimaginable so I think keeping the history out in the open in locations like this, is the only way to make sure it’s not simply swept under the rug and will continue to be discussed in order to strive for a better today and tomorrow. That’s it for my reflection. To conclude this post, I have added some additional information from the museum below according to the timeline that was presented in the museum.
The Story—a timeline and additional things I found noteworthy:
Aufstieg der NSDAP: this part of the museum detailed the start of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (an anti-Marxist party which was also opposed to the democracy of the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles), the formation of the SA (“Sturmabteilung”), and the failed Beer Putsch of 1923, which Hitler went to jail for and where he wrote Mein Kampf. It gave insight to Germany after World War I… the war debt, poor living conditions, inflation, and frustration. It also covered Hitler’s hate for the Jews and the early propaganda that they were the ones to blame. It showed too that Hitler wasn’t working alone. There were others in the party and Nazi organizations formed rapidly. He was a talented speaker and could represent the party.
Die „Machtergreifung“: The putsch failed so Hitler realized he had to pursue power through legal means. By 1930, Hitler’s party was in the Reichstag. The SA was fighting communists on the streets. The Great Depression led average citizens to agreeing with Hitler’s anti-Semitic propaganda. The Weimar parties could not stop the Communists or the Nazis. There was traditional campaigning alongside terror tactics. In 1932, the Nazi party was the largest in the Reichstag but without majority. There were some actions taken to outmaneuver Hitler but being the largest party they were able to elect Göring as Reichstag president and started to influence things from inside the government. Chancellor Papen left office and President Hindenburg elected Hitler as chancellor. Other posts were given to members of the NSDAP and the SA & SS marched through the streets of Berlin. Attempts to control the Nazi party failed. And most seemed sure that Hitler would not turn German democracy into a dictatorship. But it wasn’t long before things changed.
Die Anfänge der Diktatur: The time covered here was the turning point. It set the foundation for the horrible things to come. On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire. For the new government, this was the excuse to override important fundamental rights and to create a permanent state of emergency. The Nazis also used the state’s means of power to fight their political opponents without hesitation. In March 1933, the first concentration camps were built. Book burnings, but above all first boycott actions against Jews.
„Führer“ und „Volksgemeinschaft“:
- Gleichschaltung (“forcible coordination”)- organizations that held democratic ideas were destroyed.. communisis were crushed by the police.. the SPD was banned. By June 1933, there was only the NSDAP. The largest mass organization of the Third Reich, the “Deutsche Arbeitsfront” was created. All associations and clubs were connected to and decided by the government. Nazi propaganda dominated popular culture and entertainment.
- Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”)- people of all classes were united to achieve a national purpose. A major focus was the youth and there were a handful of youth organizations (Hilter Jugend; Bund Deutscher Mädel) that preached Nazi propaganda. The intentions were to strengthen and preserve the German Volk and Greater German Reich. There was a strong sense of national and military pride.
- Hitler was considered the greatest German, the greatest statesman, as the first artist and builder of the nation, after the beginning of the war as the greatest general of all time. The myth draws Hitler as a unique genius and at the same time as a simple man of the people.
„Stadt der Reichsparteitage“
- There were both political and practical reasons to make Nuremberg the place of the Rallies of 1927 and 1929. The Nazis had a strong base early on in Nuremberg and in Middle Franconia and they were also supported by the state police director.
- Nuremberg’s past as an imperial city and as a city of medieval imperial diets could easily be reinterpreted in the sense of the “National Socialist Reich idea.”
- In Nuremberg, the Nazi regime used the slogan “from the city of the Reichstag to the city of the Reichsparteitage”. Thus, the National Socialists claimed to “complete German history.”
Baugeschichte des Reichsparteitagesgeländes
- Eternity and monumentality were the principles of the Nazi state & party architecture. The buildings for the Nazi Party Rally Grounds were to impress and at the same time intimidate, demand discipline and convey a sense of community. The architecture was put at the service of propaganda and power demonstration. As a self-styled “supreme builder,” Hitler often dealt in detail with the major construction projects.
Zwangsarbeit für Nurnberg
- Tens of thousands of prisoners of war and forced laborers from all over Europe were brought into forced labor camps on the Nazi Party Rally Grounds between 1939 and 1945 in and around Nuremberg.
Die Reichparteitage- Ablauf eines Rituals & Reichsparteitage als Erlebnis
- The Nazi party rallies served the internal and external self-representation and were intended to stage the “Volksgemeinschaft” and the “Führer-Mythos”. Parades, the omnipresence of uniforms and military demonstrations were directly related to the preparations for war by the Nazi state. Above all, however, the Nuremberg rallies appealed to the feelings of participants and spectators. Politics were not intended to be understood here, but “experienced”.
- Mass rallies, military performances, speeches, meetings of the Nazi organizations, propaganda exhibitions, folk festivals, fireworks, concerts and opera performances made up the ritual of the party rallies. Christian and Germanic customs were presented as well as representation of Italian fascism.
Die Organisation der Rechtsparteitage
- The Nuremberg Rallies were governed by the NSDAP leadership, which gave instructions to the party congress of the city of Nuremberg. The party congress distributed the tasks such as transport, accommodation and meals of the participants, traffic control and so on. The congress was also responsible for decorating Nuremberg and for the reception of Hitler. To finance the Reichsparteitage, the NSDAP members had to give a contribution. Admission was also required to attend the events.
Das Urteil des Auslandes
- I discussed this section previously with the newspapers from abroad. But for the international reputation of the Nazi State, the presence of foreign guests of honor at the party rallies was extremely important. Except for the Soviet Union, all important states (such as the USA, France and England) were represented by diplomats at the party rallies. I still find this shocking how accessible Nazi Germany was and why the global sphere did so little to end the Nazi dictatorship.
„Triumph des Willens“ 
- the official Parteitagsfilm directed by Leni Riefenstahl
- the film was much more than a documentary–it was propaganda, that conveyed the most important political message of the party rallies: the connection between the Führer and his Volk
- In a third of the film, Hitler was featured. Other scenes featured shots of people waiting in anticipation to see him
- therefore, the film not only shaped the image of the Reichsparteitage but also Hitler’s image
Die „Nürnberger Gesetze“
- In 1935 many versions of new laws about citizenship and racial separation were discussed until two new laws were established that received Hitler’s approval. The two laws are grouped together as “die Nürnberger Gesetze” (the Nuremberg laws) and consisted of: 1) a Reichsbürgergesetz, which de facto created a two-class society- with one group having all rights and a second group receiving only minor rights. 2) “Gesetz zum Schutz des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre” (a law to protect “German blood and honor”)- making it illegal to have “interracial” relations. Attached to that law were several propaganda concepts such as “Rassenschande” and “Blutschande” to shame Germans into following the laws. The Nazis even recognized “full” and “half” Jews according to how many of the grandparents were Jewish. Terror only worsened after these laws and the social isolation of the Jews was accelerated. The Gestapo had a new target–racial violations of the law. The laws were an intermediate step along Hitler’s plan, which was followed by complete loss of rights for Jews and their deportation to the east.
Der Weg in den Krieg: The German Reich attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. Two years later the war expanded into a world war. The Nazis had been preparing for war since the very beginning. Germany’s recovery began and Hitler achieved great foreign policy successes. The first victims of race and biological “measures” were the sick and weak. Between 1933 and 1945 approximately 350,000 people were sterilized due to alleged sickness. During the start of the war, the sterilization turned to euthanasia. At least 200,000 people were killed at the hands of the Aktion T-4/Euthanasie by the end of the war. Such measures only led Germans to being more susceptible to anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik propaganda, when they too lost family members and friends at the hands of the Nazis.
Have you heard of Martin Niemöller? He wasn’t mentioned at the museum but he had something important to say:
„Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.”
(First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.)
Vernichtungskrieg in der sowjetischen Union
- Under the name “case Barbarossa” Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941. This started the war, which was Hitler’s main concern–his goals of: permanent appropriation of “living space” in the East, annihilation of Bolshevism, “solution of the Jewish question”, exploitation of raw materials and labor.
- The Jewish population living in occupied Soviet territories was killed by mass shootings at the same time that plans were made in Berlin for the systematic murder of all European Jews. That was in fall of 1941.
- In order to kill the large number of Polish Jews, the SS erected three pure extermination camps near the former Soviet border: Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Polish Jews were also murdered in the extermination camps Chelmno, Lublin-Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Between July and October 1942, more than 800,000 Jews were killed in Treblinka alone. Finally, the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, also called “Auschwitz II”, becomes the central location of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe”.
- In February and March 1943, 23,000 Sinti and Roma were deported mainly from the German Reich to Auschwitz and isolated there in the so-called Gypsy camp. Most died of hunger and disease. The last 3,000 survivors were sent to the gas chambers in August 1944.
- In total, at least six million of the Jews who fell into German hands lost their lives – through manslaughter, forced labor, malnutrition and illness. Just over half died in extermination camps. The total number of murdered Sinti and Roma is still unclear, estimates vary between 100,000 and 500,000.
- The Soviet Union was to be defeated in a rapid campaign like other state of Western and Northern Europe. There were initial successes but winter of 1942/1943 in Stalingrad (Saint Petersburg) proved that German forces could not complete Hitler’s conquest program. During the same period, British and American troops were displacing the Wehrmacht from the south–from North Africa, Sicily, southern and central Italy. The Allied invasion of northern France in June 1944 opened a third front against the German Reich, whose situation was becoming increasingly hopeless.
- Nevertheless, Hitler continued the fight. It was not until the Red Army occupied the Berlin government district that Hitler gave up and took his own life in the bunker of the Reich Chancellery. The German Wehrmacht finally surrendered on the night of 8 to 9 May 1945. Overall, the human losses in this war are estimated at more than 50 million.
Der deutsche Widerstand- Although few in number there were priests, workers, and students who tried to resist the Nazi regime. According to the Gestapo, only 2 out of every 1,000 were against the regime. The first wave of resistance was immediately after 1933 by underground organizations of the workers’ movement. But they underestimated Hitler and were not prepared to resist the dictatorship. Communists were forced to establish illegal associations due to the massive police persecution. The final wave of resistance was after the attack on the Soviet Union. Resistance had gained strength by this time and it ends with a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944.
Die Nürnberger Prozesse: On November 11, 1945 the trial of the “main war criminals” began in the jury courtroom of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. 21 leading representatives of the National Socialist regime were tried at an international court for their crimes against peace and humanity. In the Palace itself is a museum about the trials.
Let’s finish this post with a few photos of the grounds. Since it was snowing, I didn’t explore the grounds outside of the museum. There are also bus tours that you can do to learn about the different areas and usages of the grounds. However, I did get to see the unfinished Kongresshalle, which you will see below.