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Culture

Wannsee Museum Presents the Documents of Horror

The Wannsee museum has revamped its exhibit on the notorious 1942 conference which sealed the fate of Europe's Jews. New material from eastern Europe and Russia has made the motives of those involved more transparent.

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This picture tells a story shared by millions of Jews during the Holocaust

The invitation to the Wannsee Conference called by Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi Security Police, said "meeting to be followed with breakfast." There was only one item on the agenda: the Endlösung or "final solution" of the Jewish people in Europe.

It was Jan. 20, 1942. Fifteen high-ranking civil servants and SS officers met in a stately Berlin villa looking out over Wannsee Lake. Just 90 minutes later, they had resolved to deport the Jews of Europe to the East and murder them.

Neue Ausstellung im Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz

A copy of a poster advertising Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" is also in the exhibit

Since 1992, the mansion has been a memorial and an educational center. Its permanent exhibit on "The Wannsee Conference and the Genocide of the European Jews" has now been revamped and opens to the public on Thursday.

"Since the dramatic political changes following the demise of the Soviet Union, historians now have access to previously closed archives," said museum director Norbert Kampe. "This led to significant new insights into the planning and implementation of the genocide of the Jews," he said.

A house of the perpetrators

This previously unavailable information, from the KGB archive in Moscow for example, shed new light on the role of the police battalions and the Gestapo in the extermination of the Jews in eastern Europe, Kampe said.

The documentation also showed that the German civilian administration took part in the mass murder, often on its own initiative and by far more strongly, he said.

Neue Ausstellung im Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz

The Wannsee Conference took place in this room

"We now know much more," Kampe said. The new documents were evidence of the "slow process of brutalization" and the crossing of continuously new limits in the genocide of Europe's Jews, he added.

Kampe said the Wannsee museum was a "house of the perpetrators." Its documentation is focused on the Holocaust's organization, and the center wants to further education about it.

The fates of the victims, on the other hand, are emphasized in the Holocaust Memorial in downtown Berlin, he said.

Biographical access to the Holocaust

Four rooms in the new 15-room exhibition are dedicated to the Wannsee Conference itself, its significance, as well as the institutions and persons involved. The central document is still the conference protocol, which was found in 1947.

Jüdische Gedenkstätte Wannsee-Villa eröffnet

The Wannsee memorial was opened in 1992 -- the first of its kind in Germany

According to the museum's pedagogical director, Wolf Kaiser, the new exhibition aimed to consider the interests and questions of visitors. The thematic presentation no longer just begins in 1933, but earlier.

There is documentation of Jewish life and the history of National Socialism, anti-Semitism and racism, as well as the beginnings of the Nazi persecution of Jews and the subsequent systematic mass murder of the Jewish people.

The systematic exclusion of Jews from German society according to the 1935 Nuremberg racial laws has been given more space. "This is particularly interesting to young people and pupils," said Kaiser.

Visitors can also have "biographical access" to the Holocaust, Kampe said. The "radicalization steps" of the annihilation are exemplified through the presentation of the fates of four Jewish families, which also aims to improve young visitors' access to the topic.

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