Museum Commemorates Germans who Helped Jews in WWII | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 29.10.2008
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Museum Commemorates Germans who Helped Jews in WWII

The first ever exhibition to commemorate Germany's "silent heroes" who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution during the Holocaust has opened in central Berlin.

Visitors look at the table of orientation at the new memorial

Visitors to the new exhibition explored an aspect of WWII often forgotten

Tucked away on the first and second floor of a tenement block on the Rosenthaler Strasse, the new museum lies in the heart of Berlin's pre-war Jewish quarter.

Andre Schmitz, who is responsible for culture in the Berlin city government, said the location in the capital's Mitte district was significant.

"It is just a stone's throw away from a former paintbrush-making factory, where anti-Nazi activist Otto Weidt illegally gave deaf and blind Jews shelter and an opportunity to work during Hitler's reign," he told the daily Berliner Zeitung. "This house is the only authentic location in Germany in which to remember these silent heroes."

A "tiny minority"

Archive photo of bombed-out Hamburg

A small number of Germans hid Jews from the Nazis

The term is used by historians to describe the Germans who opposed Hitler's racist policies and helped Jews escape Nazi persecution. The names of just 3,000 "silent heroes" are officially known, but historians believe more cases remain unrecorded.

According to some estimates, 20,000 people across the country are thought to have offered their Jewish fellow citizens some form of support and refuge during the Nazi years. The German population numbered some 70 million at the time.

By end of World War II, approximately 6 million European Jews were killed as part of the Nazi program of deliberate extermination led by Adolf Hitler.

Compared to the number of people who allowed Nazi atrocities to happen or even took part in them, the people who shielded Jews were "a tiny minority," stressed Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, who attended the opening.

"But it is this minority that gives us direction," he said. "By commemorating these courageous people we are ensuring that attacks on human dignity will not be tolerated."

A sensitive issue

The exhibition rooms

The exhibition is one of a kind

The exhibition consists of photographs, letters and other documents from 250 Germans who risked their lives giving Jews food, shelter or a place to work from 1938 to 1945.

"There are many memorial sites dedicated to those targeted by the Nazis, but there has never been one which is solely dedicated to these heroes," said Johannes Tuchel, director of an umbrella organization for memorials of resistance to the Nazis, which put the exhibition together.

Tuchel said the "Silent Heroes" exhibition had not opened sooner because the issue of resistance to the Nazis was still sensitive in Germany.

"We are still in the early stages of our research," he told the daily Tagesspiegel. He and his organization now plan to begin cooperating with eastern European archivists as well as colleagues at the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel to extend the project.

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