Nazi Past in Nuremberg (Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände)

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March 18, 2018 at the entrance of the museum/grounds

Dear readers,

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).

Presentation:

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.

Reflection:

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.

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a photo from another exhibit that reflects well what the time witnesses had to say about the Third Reich
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anti-Jewish propaganda
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“Jewish business” “don’t buy from the Jews”
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“Jews- enter this place at your own risk”

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.

Der Führermythos

  • 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“ [1934]

  • 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.

Zweiter Weltkrieg:

  • 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.

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The Kongresshalle (“congress hall”) planned for 50,000 people is the largest remaining testimony to Nazi reign architecture.

First Time Visiting a Concentration Camp (August 2017)

Dachau

September 1, 2017: I saw a concentration camp for the first time this week. I was in Munich before I traveled to Erlangen. I went on a tour to Dachau. Even though I was physically at the place, it was still hard for me to picture the terror that occurred there. Because something so terrible, yet so controlled is simply unthinkable. The tour guide really knew a lot about the history of the concentration camp and I learned a lot of details that I previously did not know. For example, that Dachau was used as a safe place for refugees in the 1950s.

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Memorial artwork to commemorate the lost lives during the years 1933-1945

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On the grounds of Dachau near the maintenance building and entrance
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a multifunctional unit that was used for registering new inmates; the quote on the roof of the building is translated as: “There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Honesty, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Hard Work, Discipline, Sacrifice, Truthfulness, Love of thy Fatherland.”

 

Dachau was the model for other camps. It was first. The quote on the front gate of the camp reads “Arbeit macht frei.” Working was supposed to “rehabilitate criminals and other wrong-doers.” There were some German speaking victims who lived in the camp, but many came from different countries and could not speak German. The largest group of prisoners came from Poland, followed by Germany and then citizens of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, some of them could not even understand these quotes, which were supposed to guide their every-day thinking. As soon as they arrived at Dachau, prisoners were stripped of their individuality and basic human dignity. It did not matter if they had a uniform that fit or shoes that matched. Their entire body was shaved. They were placed into a category according to “the crime that they committed.”  (See below.)

marking system

Arbeit macht frei
front gates
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liberation by the Americans

 

Apart from having to work 12-hour shifts after only eating a thin soup, the victims were subjected to various types of torture by the guards. The fear and discipline there was so intense that guards barely had to supervise when prisoners admitted new prisoners or had a role as a leader among fellow prisoners. Many prisoners died from starvation and diseases since hygiene was so poor and quarters were so close. Although the Nazis tried to keep it hidden, many prisoners committed suicide by jumping onto the electric fence surrounding the grounds.

The first crematorium was too small to keep up will all the deaths and a second had to be built. (The second featured disinfection “showers” in one part of the building.) Apart from the physical abuse from guards (some really awful forms of torture were used) and lack of nutrition and individuality, prisoners also lived in extremely crowded conditions. Where 200 men should be living according to the size of the housing, 2,000 men were living there. The beds were not divided but rather a huge wooden bunk bed.

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The barracks
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Each of the 32 former barracks are no longer standing, but they are indicated by the foundations you see here.
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The perimeter fence
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“Remember how we died here”

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gas chamber disguised as a shower room “Brausebad” ; reported to have never been used
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the first crematorium

 

The true situation of the camp was not portrayed in newspapers as such. Work camps were supposed to be something good for the country. The Nazis didn’t build murder camps in their back yard in order to hide what was happening in a neighboring country like Poland. There were numerous concentration camps in Germany and a few death camps as well, but Dachau is not considered to be one of them. It is still estimated that there were 200,000 prisoners at Dachau and deaths as high as 30,000.

If someone tried to escape the camp, they would have most likely failed due to the ditches and large electric fences around the grounds. There was also an SS academy (SS: “Schutzstaffel”- a Nazi security group) nearby as a final threat. Prisoners also saw the academy when they were walking by foot to the camp during arrival–a threatening introduction to Dachau. Sick were kept separately until they got better (if they got better). Even some experiments were held there such as tests with air pressure to see what humans could withstand as well as hypothermia experiments. Hundreds of prisoners suffered, died or were executed in the medical experiments.

Political prisoners, who had attempted to murder Hitler or who had committed similar crimes, had larger quarters in special facilities. For example, Georg Else, a Swabian carpenter who attempted to kill Hitler on a lone mission, lived under relatively favored conditions until he was shot dead in front of a wall in Dachau. Else had installed a time-bomb in the Munich Beer Hall, where Hitler commemorated the anniversary of the failed Nazi 1923 putsch. Due to foggy weather, Hitler changed his travel plans to an earlier train ride and the bomb went off after Hitler was already gone. Such political prisoners were killed before the camp was liberated by Americans under Hitler’s orders. If seeing all these horrible facilities as an informational museum wasn’t heart-breaking enough, they also played a film that told the story of the Holocaust and of Dachau with original footage.

There are also numerous artistic and religious memorials throughout the grounds that commemorate the victims and urge us to never forget. WWII and the Holocaust are discussed to great extent in American schools. What isn’t discussed enough is the 150 years leading up to the Nazi siege of power, which teaches us how such horror developed due to political instability and poor living and working conditions. The horrible crimes that were committed were not based on a single decision, but were part of a long process of terror, propaganda and total control by the Nazi government. We might be aware of fascist aesthetics and hate among others, but would we be willing to stand up to it? Would we be passive and live off the struggle of others? Or would we too become a victimizer when our governmental authority tells us that it is okay? (A video series about social psychology– to help us understand how such horrible things could happen anywhere)

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“Never Again”
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The colors and symbols represent the marking system used to label inmates. However, on this memorial piece there is no pink represented (for homosexuals)
Memorial Artwork
“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men”

 

The following photos are of the various religious memorials at Dachau.

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Jewish memorial

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more than 6 million Jews fell victim to Nazi tyranny
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The Mortal Agony of Church Chapel
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Protestant Church for Reconciliation
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Russian Orthodox Chapel

 

That’s it for this entry! I shared what I learned about the camp during the tour. I introduced the camp and some of what happened during the Third Reich. The Third Reich is a very extensive topic in German History. Too much has been destroyed and lost to even paint a full picture of every atrocity that happened at Dachau. But, we know enough to hopefully never allow something like the Holocaust to happen again. And I hope that you are feeling grateful rather than depressed after reading this. I strongly recommend Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The book is a response to the question: “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Frankl was a psychologist and Auschwitz concentration camp inmate.  It is a book that very well may change your perspective about the purpose of life.

Currently, German students take day trips to such camps to learn about the Holocaust. Learning about history is just as important as being aware of what is happening in the moment all around the globe. Remember, not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German. We should never forget, be informed of today’s news and self-reflect. Thanks for reading about my experience at Dachau!

 

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.