Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, lovers of the 20th century history that visit the city of Munich have at their disposal a new documentation center about National Socialism (NS)
If Germany is known for something special, and I am not talking about beer or Wurst, it is for the treatment of its recent past. Although it started late (at the end of the conflict many preferred silence and forced oblivion) and it has still some flaws (the Nuremberg trials were unprecedented and exemplary considering the time, however many Nazis and collaborators were never tried), we must recognize the effort that both public institutions and civil associations have done to document the period and honor the victims of the NS.
As Germans usually say, it is their way to come to terms with their past, a process that continues nowadays, especially in the educational plan of high schools (all the historical facts and their consequences are thoroughly studied in a three year period together with a mandatory visit to a concentration camp).
With the inauguration of this documentation center, the second in the country after the one located in the city of Cologne, Munich is enriched with a unique space where its relation with the NS movement is studied deeply. And it is no coincidence that it was in this beautiful city in southern Germany where authorities decided to locate the new building. If Berlin was the city of agony and fragmentation, Munich was the birthplace and capital of the movement (the latter title was officially awarded by Adolf Hitler in 1935).
But what role did the Bavarian capital really played in the foundation, the rise and the imperialist military race of the Nazi party (NSDAP)?
To answer this and other questions, the building consists of four floors (three permanent exhibition floors and one dedicated to temporary exhibitions) with the information ordered in chronological order. Different material is presented (press publications, propaganda posters, legal documents, photographs, videos,…) to establish a cause-effect relation between the facts, however as with all historical events, the end is an amalgam of many situations that coincide in space and time, most of times randomly.
The tour starts on the fourth floor, dedicated to the consequences that the Great War (1914-1918) had on the city of Munich and Bavaria in general. It situates the visitors in the historical context and allows them to understand which where the main forces and interests present at that time. The fall of the monarchy and the declaration of the Free State of Bavaria (1918), together with the proclamation of the Weimar Republic in Germany (1919) and the Treaty of Versailles (1919) were all already sufficient events to create a powder keg. If also the effects of the Russian revolution (1917) are added, it is easy to picture a high political uncertainty situation of great instability. Many sudden changes in a short time for a population of rather conservative tendencies.
Continuing the tour, the next floor (1919-1932) explores the evolution of the German Workers Party (DAP: Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) and the causes that led to the proclamation of Adolf Hitler as its leader. He also rebuilt the party in 1921 in what would become the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). A small racist and anti-Semitic local party that with Hitler’s rhetoric became known not only in Munich but also in the rest of the country. The highlight of this period was the so-called Putsch of Munich or attempted coup (1923) perpetuated by Hitler himself, which failed miserably and caused his arrest.
Ten years later the NSDAP obtained 37.3% of the vote in federal elections with Hitler as a candidate. He would later be proclaimed chancellor of Germany. The exhibition contextualizes this ascent and provides graphic and written materials among which the continued support to Hitlers politics, morally and economically, of the middle-class is shown. The global economic crisis also played a decisive role in causing high inflation and inducing more and more working people seek desperate solutions, one of which resulted in the deposition of their confidence in the figure of a savior personalized in Hitler.
The permanent exhibition ends with the last stage of NS in which Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany and the terror begins (1933-1945). It is intended to describe the daily life of the general population, totally immersed in the nazi propaganda. The Nazi regime tried to enter the private life of citizens by creating social organizations for leisure time and rewarding some of them with goods seized from Jews. This dichotomy of the society in which a privileged part of the population was favored by the NS while the other lived in fear and horrors (political prisoners, homosexuals, gypsies, Jews,…) shows the gray that every historical period has and how the perspective on the same event can be totally different depending on whom lives it.
Apart from the widespread repression and constant violence of the moment, it is important to stress the role of political resistance, which never disappeared even after accumulating continuous failures over the years. Among all documented resistance in the exhibition, it is remarkable the figure of the Scholl brothers, two college students with enough courage to distribute antifascist leaflets, for which they were finally executed, Communists who continued publishing newspapers and local writers such as Thomas Mann, always openly critical with the regime.
This documentation center is a step forward in the maintenance of the historical memory and an act of universal justice, a place to learn with truthful documents and personal stories (for more information there is a learning center on the floor -1 of the building). Munich has inherited a hard and tragic past but forgetting is not the solution and it is really a satisfaction that both the municipal, regional and state governments have agreed to realize a project of this magnitude, not only by the knowledge that provides but also for what this place means for a country such as Germany and other countries that would need to follow in his footsteps.
Photos and post by Rosa Mª Torrademé email@example.com