Friday, October 15, 2010

Germany's first Hitler exhibition opens

The first ever German exhibition about Adolf Hitler opens in Berlin today. Under the title Hitler and the Germans, Nation and Crime the show is being hosted by the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin.

The exhibition is divided into sections dealing with the relationship between Hitler and German society, the Nazi state and the dictator's rise to power. In an article published in the magazine Der Spiegel the curators describe the great caution they have taken to ensure that the exhibition does not present any opportunities for perverse "hero worship". They have aimed to achieve "critical distance" to their subject and none of the items on display are thought to ever have been touched by Hitler.

Nevertheless, the exhibition marks a new milestone in the historical treatment of the genocidal dictator. With the passing of time, the proportion of the German - and European - population with first-hand experience of Nazism is below ten percent. Germany has become a "post-memory" society; at least as far as the Third Reich and World War II are concerned. People today only "know" Hitler and his regime from history books, films, family recollections, site visits and the education system - including museums. At the same time the Nazis have moved into the realm of popular culture and there is a risk that the full horror of Hitler's regime will slowly be lost on future generations for whom Hitler is little more than a mythical symbol of evil. To some extent that is an unavoidable result of the march of history. But it is also something that well-curated exhibitions can help prevent.

Image: Ruins of buildings and vehicles lie in Berlin's Mohrenstrasse after the Anglo-American air attacks on the 3rd of February, 1945, (source: German Federal Archive)

1 comment:

  1. I think well-written, visceral and thoughtful films like Downfall (which I know I always go on about) can also be important in combating the "mythicisation" of Hitler and Nazism.

    I know there was some concern when Downfall was released that it was problematic to humanise Hitler, but I feel that the problem lies in seeing him as not-human. If we categorise the Nazi horrors as utterly alien, as monstrous or mythical (and hence not truly relevant today), we're less likely to acknowledge, admit and resist such evil if/when it surfaces afresh.