Germany opens new military museum in Dresden

Germany, WehrmachtA new military museum has opened in Dresden, Germany.

The Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr opened today and is sure to court controversy. With the shadow of the Third Reich always looming over the German historical consciousness, the design of the displays was a delicate matter. The museum’s director says that the focus is on individuals, both as perpetrators and victims, as well as the many who stood aside and did nothing.

The museum covers the entire history of armed conflict, not just World War Two, and features many graphic images of death. German war atrocities are shown with an unflinching eye. Other countries don’t get off lightly either. The American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 185,000 people (mostly civilians), are memorialized with an artwork showing the victims’ shadows left by the bombs’ blasts.

[Photo courtesy Bundesarchiv]

Remains of forgotten genocide victims returned by Berlin museum

genocide, Herero genocide, NamibiaIt’s the genocide most people have forgotten, a ruthless extermination of men, women, and children while an uncaring world focused on other things.

From 1904 to 1908, German colonial rulers in what is now Namibia systematically exterminated the Herero and Nama people. They had rebelled against the colonizers and the German army quickly defeated them. Not satisfied with a only a military victory, the Germans pushed both tribes into the desert, where they starved and died of thirst. Nobody knows how many perished but it may have been as many as 100,000.

A grim relic of this genocide are twenty Herero and Nama skulls kept in the Berlin Medical Historical Museum. One skull is from a three-year-old boy. Originally they had been preserved with the skin and hair intact and used for “studies” to prove the superiority of the white race.

This week the skulls were returned to tribal leaders after an apology and a ceremony. This is the latest in a series of repatriations of human remains to native peoples from museums. Many nations, the United States included, have passed laws requiring human remains to be returned. Identification and legal technicalities slow down the process, however. Berlin collections still include about 7,000 skulls. Then there’s the question of shrunken heads, which were often sold by tribal peoples to collectors, and of very ancient remains that cannot be traced to an existing tribe.

We forget genocides at our peril. Hitler felt he could get away with the Holocaust because nobody cared about the genocide of the Herero and Nama, or the genocide of the Armenians during World War One. Even many of the Holocaust’s victims are forgotten. While everyone knows six million Jews died, many are unaware of the millions of Slavs, Gypsies, political activists, homosexuals, Born-Again Christians, and disabled who were also killed.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

British tour company criticized for offering ‘Hitler tour’ around Germany

germanyWould you spend $3100 to tour sites only associated with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler? One British tour group put together a trip that does just that, and is under fire by critics over the distasteful offering.

The tour takes 30 tourists on a luxury $3100 trip through Germany to visit sites associated with Hitler, according to a report in The Australian. The articles says the eight-day trip in June – titled “Face of Evil: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” – has been sanctioned by German authorities.

The tour includes more than just visiting a few concentration camps, which is common on many other tour groups through Germany. The concentration camps, which for many are a must-see when in Germany, are a significant part of history. But can you say the same for Hitler’s lakeside villa where he planned the Sachsenhausen concentration camp? That’s one stop on the Hitler tour, along with the spot where Hitler committed suicide.

Tour leaders say the trip is for those with a true interest in the history of the Holocaust era and will prevent any Neo-Nazi members from taking the tour; critics say the trip is a “perverse pilgrimage” to honor Hitler.

We want to know what you think:

Would you pay $3100 to take a “Hitler tour” of Germany, or do you think this tour should be taken off the tourist itinerary offerings?

American-Muslim group urges Palestinians to visit Holocaust Museum

Holocaust, holocaust
The Islamic Society of North America is defying Hamas and urging Palestinian youths to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the Jewish news service JTA reports.

A group of A-students from the Gaza Strip are to visit the nation’s capital on a UN-sponsored educational visit. Their tour is to include the Holocaust Museum, but Hamas, which runs the Palestinian Authority, has criticized the plan. A Hamas spokesman says Palestinian children suffer enough persecution and can’t deal with learning about other people’s suffering.

That prompted the Islamic Society of North America to make a public statement endorsing the plan, saying they’ve taken Muslims there before and that it has had a positive effect on Muslim-Jewish relations.

I’ve never seen this museum, but I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Although I went nearly twenty years ago, I have a very clear memory of speaking to a German student who I met there. Her reason for going? “I feel it’s my responsibility as a German.” She became a friend, and although she often criticizes Israel’s policies, she’s fully aware of what happened in the biggest crime of the twentieth century.

Who knows? Perhaps this will encourage Jewish-American children to visit Palestinian high schools, or Iranian and American kids to set up an exchange program, or North and South Korea to create a communal youth group.

Hmmm. . .is that too much to hope for this holiday season?

[Image courtesy user AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons]

Schindler’s List factory becomes museum

During World War Two, German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved some 1,200 of his Jewish workers from extermination. His enamelware and munitions factories were considered vital for the German war effort and he claimed his workers all had special skills vital for the operation of his factories, whether they had or not. Many of his “skilled mechanics” were in fact children or handicapped people.

Schindler became the subject of the book Schindler’s Ark and later the movie Schindler’s List. Now part of his factory in Krakow has become a museum to the city’s war years.

The exhibitions cover the outbreak of the war, the German invasion of Poland, Polish resistance movements, and Schindler’s struggle to save his workers. The museum is a branch of the Krakow City Historical Museum. The front page of their website has a short video about Schindler that’s quite powerful, even if you don’t understand Polish.

Photo courtesy Noa Cafri via Wikimedia Commons.