Germany plans documentation center on Nazi occupation in Europe

7 May

In 2020, the German Bundestag advocated creating a documentation center for the victims of the German war of extermination and the Nazi occupations. 

 

Two years later, the federal government approved a proposal by Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth for the realization of the "German Occupation of Europe in the Second World War" (ZWBE) documentation center, which was designed by the German Historical Museum (DHM).

Chancellor Scholz welcomes timing

The idea is to illustrate the dimension of the Nazis' reign of terror across Europe. With its decision to establish another memorial and documentation site in Berlin, the German government is advancing key remembrance policy projects decided on in the previous legislative period.

Speaking on the sidelines of a special cabinet conference earlier this week in Meseberg, north of Berlin, Chancellor Olaf Scholz underlined the importance of remembering Germany's historical responsibility, the German occupation and the destruction caused by Germans — in particular in view of the current war in Ukraine.

Policy of remembrance

The "reorganization of remembrance policy" is a "key project for the German government," according to Claudia Roth, who said on Wednesday that the new concept deliberately places German remembrance policy in a European context.

The center aims to shed light on how the devastating Nazi dictatorship with its war, destruction and extermination, including the atrocities of the Holocaust, affected all of Europe. Its focus will be placed on victims in Poland, the Baltic States, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Greece.


Author Kevin Tschierse

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'Never Again': Memorials of the Holocaust

 

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

A large sculpture stands in front of Dachau. Located just outside Munich, it was the first concentration camp opened by the Nazi regime. Just a few weeks after Adolf Hitler came to power, it was used by the paramilitary SS Schutzstaffel to imprison, torture and kill political opponents of the regime. Dachau also served as a prototype and model for the other Nazi camps that followed.

 

Wannsee House

The villa on Berlin's Wannsee lake was pivotal in the planning of the Holocaust. Fifteen members of the Nazi government and the SS Schutzstaffel met here on January 20, 1942 to devise what became known as the "Final Solution," the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory. In 1992, the villa where the Wannsee Conference was held was turned into a memorial and museum.

 

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Located next to the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was inaugurated 60 years after the end of World War II on May 10, 2005, and opened to the public two days later. Architect Peter Eisenman created a field with 2,711 concrete slabs. An attached underground "Place of Information" holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.

 

Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals

Not too far from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, another concrete memorial honors the thousands of homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. The 4-meter high (13-foot) monument, which has a window showing alternately a film of two men or two women kissing, was inaugurated in Berlin's Tiergarten on May 27, 2008.

 

Documentation center on Nazi Party rally grounds

Nuremberg hosted the biggest Nazi party propaganda rallies from 1933 until the start of World War II. The annual Nazi Party congress, as well as rallies with as many as 200,000 participants, took place on the 11-square-kilometer (4.25-square-mile) area. Today, the unfinished Congress Hall building serves as a documentation center and a museum.

 

German Resistance Memorial Center

The Bendlerblock building in Berlin was the headquarters of a military resistance group. On July 20, 1944, a group of Wehrmacht officers around Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg carried out an assassination attempt on Hitler that ultimately failed. The leaders of the conspiracy were summarily shot the same night in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock. Today, it's the German Resistance Memorial Center.

 

Bergen-Belsen Memorial

The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Lower Saxony was initially established as a prisoner of war camp before becoming a concentration camp. Prisoners too sick to work were brought here from other concentration camps, and many also died of disease. One of the 50,000 people killed here was Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who gained international fame after her diary was published posthumously.

 

Buchenwald Memorial

Located near the Thuringian town of Weimar, Buchenwald was one of the largest concentration camps in Germany. From 1937 to April 1945, the National Socialists deported about 270,000 people from all over Europe to the camp and murdered 64,000 of them before the camp was liberated by US soldiers in 1945. The site now serves as a memorial to the victims.

 

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims

Opposite the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin, a park inaugurated in 2012 serves as a memorial to the 500,000 Sinti and Roma people killed by the Nazi regime. Around a memorial pool, the poem "Auschwitz" by Roma poet Santino Spinelli is written in English, Germany and Romani. "Gaunt face, dead eyes, cold lips, quiet, a broken heart, out of breath, without words, no tears," it reads.

 

Stolpersteine' — stumbling blocks as memorials

In the 1990s, artist Gunter Demnig began the project to confront Germany's Nazi past. The brass-covered concrete cubes placed in front of the former homes of Nazi victims show their names, details about their deportation, and murder, if known. As of early 2022, some 100,000 "Stolpersteine" have been laid in over 25 countries across Europe. It's the world's largest decentralized Holocaust memorial.

 

Brown House in Munich

Right next to the "Führerbau," where Adolf Hitler had his office in Munich, was the headquarters of the Nazi Party, called the Brown House. A white cube now occupies the place where it once stood. In it, the "Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism" opened on April 30, 2015, 70 years after the defeat of the Nazi regime.

 

Author: Max Zander

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The new documentation center's goal is to contribute to a better understanding of the present. "Above all, this remembrance should be directed toward the future and make clear how important democracy, the rule of law and active diversity are for the European project and for our country in the heart of Europe, how crucial our commitment is in and for Europe," Roth said.

No location yet

Meanwhile, the Bundestag still needs to vote on the concept, and the question of a suitable location in Berlin is also still pending. The World War II Documentation Center is not the only memorial in need of a home — three other memorials are supposed to be built in the German capital: for the victims of communist tyranny, the Polish victims of war and Nazi terror, and Nazi victims among Jehovah's Witnesses.

 

Author Kevin Tschierse

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