German History Museum Tells Story of Hitler's Life

The exhibition's items of Hitler memorabilia are rather hidden in a small display case. There's a photo book called "The Hitler No One Knows," by Hitler's favorite photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, and a deck of F├╝hrer playing cards that also includes resplendent pictures of Rudolf Hess and other Nazi leaders. These objects are treated almost like pornography, obscene material meant to lose its potential to excite in this solemn museum setting. A chest of drawers from Hitler's New Reich Chancellery is hung crooked, instead of simply being placed on the floor, and an oil painting glamorizing the nation at war likewise hangs askew.

The central insight and most important message for visitors to the exhibition is that "we won't be finished with Hitler for a long time yet," says Simone Erpel, who prepared the show together with Thamer. "Every generation has to find its own answers."

"Hitler and the Germans" Exhibit

The show's last room presents 46 SPIEGEL covers on Hitler and National Socialism -- along with the fake Hitler diaries published by Stern magazine. From the earliest title ("Anatomy of a Dictator" from 1964) to the most recent ("The Accomplices" in 2009), these articles also reflect changing perceptions of history.

The one aspect that remains oddly underrepresented in all this is information about the museum's own location in the historical Zeughaus, a former arsenal on Unter den Linden in Berlin. Diagonally opposite the building, on a square next to the State Opera, is the site of the infamous May 1933 book burning. The nearby Lustgarten was decked out with swastika flags during ceremonial occasions.

"Hitler and the Germans" makes no mention of these connections, not even of the day when the Zeughaus itself made history. Hitler had come to view an exhibition of captured Soviet weapons in the building on "Heroes' Commemoration Day," a Nazi holiday, on March 21, 1943. An officer named Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff attended as well, carrying two explosive devices and intending to assassinate Hitler.

Gersdorff had already triggered the time-delayed fuses when Hitler sped through the exhibition and left the building earlier than expected. Escaping notice but dripping with sweat, the officer ducked into a bathroom and was just able to defuse the devices before they detonated.

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