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Culture

Remembering the Holocaust

An exhibition in Berlin marks the Wannsee Conference, a meeting of Nazi leaders during which the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews was planned and implemented.

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The sculpture "Inferno" made for the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial by artist Fritz Koelle

A new exhibition concerning the darkest chapter of German and European history has opened at the German Historical Museum in Berlin.

The exhibition "Holocaust - Nazi Genocide and Motifs of its Remembrance", which opened on Wednesday, is dedicated to the sytematic murder and the attempted extermination of Germany’s Jews. It commerates the planning, organisation and technical implementation of the so-called "Endlösung", the "final solution to the Jewish question", which took place at the Wannsee villa in Berlin 60 years ago.

Photos, books and film footage in the exhibition document the growing anti-semitism in Germany after the First World War, the persecution of the Jews, and the attempted extermination of European Jewry in the death camps.

But the exhibition also takes a closer look at how Germans have tried to come to terms with -or tried to deny - the anti-semitic atrocities, analysing how other countries such as Poland, the USA and Israel have tried to remember and commemorate the millions who were murdered.

A trip through time

The exhibition is a trip through a dark era in German history. It begins with the first steps taken by the Nazis in the Third Reich to initiate state-organised discrimination, segregation and persecution of Jews and describes the effects these measures had on the Jewish population.

Both the invasion of Poland and the Nazis' plans to exterminate millions of people in eastern Europe through famine are also covered in the exhibition. The existential threat to Jewish - and non-Jewish - populations after the outbreak of World War II, the setting up of ghettos for the Jewish population, and their efforts to survive under these almost unimaginable conditions form the thematic focus of this section.

Visitors to the exhibition are then confronted with the tragedy of the implementation of the "final solution of the Jewish question" and its consequences for the Jews of Europe. The uninhibited murder after the invasion of the Soviet Union, followed by the first gassings and mass shootings of Jews by the Nazi’s mobile killing units demonstrated a hitherto almost unimaginable will to exterminate a people.

Haunting images of deportations of countless people from Germany and the German-occupied territories portray the suffering of those who, as Jew or Sinti and Roma, fell victim to the Nazis' racial madness. Their suffering was the consequence of the decisions made at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, during which the central authorities of the Reich planned the logistics of implementing the genocide of European Jews.

Cultural diversity

The current Holocaust exhibition does not only cover the fate of Jews under the Nazi regime. It also depicts the cultural diversity of Jewish life in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and demonstrates the emancipation and assimilation of Jews living in Germany, emphasising their importance to society despite the radicalisation of anti-Semitism during the Weimar Republic.

And it takes a look beyond World War II. The exhibition shows how Germans have attempted to come to terms with the Nazi past, the so-called "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" - politically, judicially and socially, both in West and East Germany.

While displaced Jews and those who survived the Nazi persecution in hiding or abroad made their first attempts to re-establish destroyed livelihoods in Germany, denazification programmes and criminal trials haunted those who had suffered of an unforgettable tragedy. The difficulties in dealing with the genocide are reflected to this day in controversial discussions and political debate.

The issue of how to deal with the past in post-war Germany has been reflected in the visual arts, literature, theatre and film. And reappears as well in the ong-going discussion about "Wiedergutmachungen", or financial reparations, through to the current issue of compensation for former forced labourers.

A further interesting aspect is how the holocaust is dealt with in countries whose history is intertwined with the Nazi genocide. In close cooperation with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, theYad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the exhibition explains the origin and development of these institutions and shows their significance for the populations of the respective countries - Jewish and non-Jewish.

Never to forget

The exhibition "Holocaust - Nazi Genocide and Motifs of its Remembrance" reflects on the gruesome consequences of the Nazi regime’s attempted extermination of a people. It is a dark era in German history – traces of which, however, can still be detected in societies today.

Half a century after the "Endlösung", the reappearance of anti-Semitism is still not to be ignored.

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