Exhibition Examines Role Of Scientists And Doctors In Holocaust

Holocaust, eugenics
This is a poster for the Nazi eugenics program. Printed in 1936, it proclaims, “We are not alone.” The column on the left shows the countries that already had forced sterilization for certain “social undesirables.” The columns on the bottom and right show countries considering eugenics programs.

Note the American flag on the left. Various U.S. states practiced compulsory sterilization as early as 1907, when Indiana instituted sterilization of “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles, and rapists.” The law was overturned in 1921, only to be replaced in 1927 with a law requiring sterilization of the “Insane, feeble minded or epileptic.” That law stayed on the books until 1974. Many states had similar laws and this “social cleansing” program heavily influenced the Nazis.

The Nazis instituted their Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power. Many scientists and doctors were quick to jump onto the Nazi bandwagon and began “studies” to prove how the Germanic peoples were superior to all other races. This gave a scholarly stamp of approval to the forced sterilization, and eventual killing, of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and physically and mentally disabled.

This unseemly link between science and the Holocaust is being examined in a new exhibition at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. “Deadly Medicine: Creating The Master Race” brings together posters, leaflets and photos of scientific examinations to show how the scientific community became complicit in the greatest crime of the 20th century.

It also shows how these ideas were sold to the German people. One picture in a high school textbook shows a German man bent under the weight of an alcoholic and a brutish-looking man, perhaps meant to portray a mentally disabled person, with the caption, “You are sharing the load! A hereditarily ill person costs 50,000 Reichsmarks on average up to the age of sixty.”

“Deadly Medicine: Creating The Master Race” runs until October 15, 2012.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Auction of Hitler family portraits raises questions about Nazi memorabilia

Hitler, Klara HitlerFamily portraits of Hitler’s parents are going up for auction.

Craig Gottlieb Militaria, a leading auction house in California, will be auctioning off paintings of Alois and Klara Hitler via Gottlieb’s website from September 1 to 17. Gottlieb is also selling Hitler’s desk set. The shop is open to prospective buyers by appointment.

The subject of Hitler and Nazi memorabilia comes up regularly here on Gadling. An article about a Hitler tour around Germany started a flame war, and my discussion about the other meanings of the swastika got some interesting and somewhat more level-headed responses. More than sixty years after the fall of the Third Reich, these symbols still elicit strong reactions.

This raises all sorts of questions about how we portray the past, and what should and shouldn’t be included. In Germany and Austria, for example, it’s illegal to display the swastika expect in specific historical contexts. My article on swastikas probably couldn’t get published in a German magazine because it skirts the edge of the law. Other countries display these items freely. At the Imperial War Museum in London you can see a variety of Nazi items. An Orthodox Jewish friend commented that such a context is OK. It makes her wince to see it, but it’s part of history and needs to be discussed.

On the spectrum of what’s acceptable and what’s not, museum displays are on pretty safe ground, although it took many years before a Hitler exhibition was allowed in Germany. But what about selling Nazi memorabilia? Gottlieb’s store is full of SS items. He’s even written a book on SS Totenkopf (“Death’s Head”) rings and currently has 44 such rings up for auction. Some countries ban selling Nazi memorabilia, as does eBay, yet an article in Forbes estimates the sale of these items to be in the hundreds of millions.

%Gallery-129938%I’m a military historian and collector myself. I’m also a struggling writer with a kid to feed, so my collection is pretty small. We collectors buy these things because they give us an immediate connection to history. Yet the thrill I feel when reading a postcard from the Western Front or holding a Civil War bullet is far different than what I feel when I see a swastika flag covering a coffee table. Yes, that’s an example taken from experience. I don’t have any Nazi items in my collection and I’m not interested in buying any.

London is my favorite place to shop for militaria. Provincial Booksellers Fairs take place all over England and offer up lots of rare books on military and other subjects. Shops in places like Grays Antique Markets and Camden Passage Islington offer a huge variety of medals, weapons, and uniforms. One thing I’ve noticed is that there are two types of shops: those that sell Nazi memorabilia and those that don’t. Those that do often have a lot of it. In one shop I saw an entire set of instruments from an SS marching band.

I asked a shopkeeper who didn’t stock Nazi items why he made that decision.

“Because I don’t having those people in here,” he said.

“Perhaps they’re just interested in history?” I offered.

He shook his head and replied, “That’s not why they buy it.”

While I won’t go as far as to suspect anyone fascinated with the Third Reich as being a closet Nazi, I do have to wonder what they get from it, and shake my head in amazement at how much power Hitler and his goons still have over our emotions sixty years on.

Attached is a gallery of the kind of Nazi memorabilia prized by some collectors. What do you feel when you see them? Do you think they should be for sale? Would you accept one as a gift? Is it OK to have them in museums? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

[Photo of Klara Hitler courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Warsaw, Poland: an up-and-coming European museum destination

European museum destination
As an EU member with a good exchange rate and low prices, Poland is becoming a popular tourist destination in Eastern Europe. Most of the love goes to Krakow, with its original architecture and “new Prague” charm, but capital city Warsaw has plenty to offer as a European museum destination. While much of the old town was leveled in World War II, the restorations have been painstakingly done and the tumultuous history makes for a great basis for museum exhibitions.

Like Berlin, Warsaw has embraced its past and given the visitor plenty to learn from and new investments mean state-of-the-art attractions and exhibitions.

Given all of the places to see, Warsaw could easily fill a week (or two) on a Europe trip. Here’s a look at some of Warsaw’s best museums.
Only-in-Warsaw

Warsaw (Up)Rising Museum – Warsaw’s proudest museum is a hi-tech interactive experience detailing the events of the two-month rebellion of the Polish people against the German forces as well as what preceded and followed. It borders on being overly comprehensive, the hundreds of artifacts can overwhelm, as can the crowds who line up daily. Be sure to follow museum signs as you walk through, as the chronological exhibit doesn’t necessarily follow the logical path.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison – Two of the city’s most unassuming buildings were once the most feared. Not as flashy as the Rising Museum but equally effective, the former Gestapo HQ contains a few stark cells that once held prisoners to be interrogated and often tortured before being taken to the prison, along with very professionally-done interactive displays telling the experiences of the poor souls held there. Most of the prison in the former Jewish ghetto has been destroyed, but dozens of artifacts and exhibits explain the prisoners’ conditions and attempt to describe the horrors that happened there.


Fryderyk Chopin Museum – Another hi-tech, multimedia extravaganza, this brand new space dedicated to Poland’s most famous composer goes beyond the usual exhibition with a fully customizable experience. Sample sounds from a rare score, read letters to the important women in Chopin’s life, and see a recreation of his Paris drawing room.

Palace of Culture and Science – Not so much a museum as a gift Warsaw can’t hide away, the tallest building in Poland was a gift from Joseph Stalin and it’s hard to go anywhere in the city without seeing the Soviet beast. Though the building is enormous, not much of it is open to the public. It’s worth a trip to the terrace for panoramic city views (see above photo) or spend an afternoon making sense of the bizarrely curated Museum of Technology.

Want more history? There are also museums dedicated to the Polish People’s Movement and Polish Independence, plus the many churches and monuments of the restored Old City and Krakowskie Przedmiescie street. Warsaw’s Jewish culture is also well-documented at the new Jewish Museum and Wola district historical museum.

Well-done in Warsaw


Center for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle – A few blocks away from the Gestapo Headquarters, the building has a history as a royal residence, medical hospital, and now modern art museum. Some of the most innovative artists in Poland and Europe are showcased here: November saw a show focused on Internet-shaped culture such as a scrolling display of Twitter results for the phrase “Best day ever.”


Warsaw Zoo – In addition to being a nicely-maintained habitat for animals, this zoo has a fascinating and heroic past. Diane Ackerman’s book The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the story of the zoo director who aided in war efforts and saved many Jewish Poles from the Nazis by hiding them in the animal cages.


Royal Castle and Wilanow Palace – Just outside the Old City, the Royal Castle was also rebuilt from scratch and houses a slew of antiques and artwork, as well as excellent temporary exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and other treasures from other museums. If you visit in good weather, it’s worth a day out of town to visit the grand Wilanow Palace and gardens, the Polish Versailles.

Not exhausted yet? Small museums also specialize in collections of cars, trains, military weaponry, horse-riding, caricatures, and Polish physicist Marie Curie. See the In Your Pocket Warsaw guide for more info.


Art thought destroyed by the Nazis is discovered


The Nazis called it “Degenerate Art”, works that didn’t conform to their taste for Germanic propaganda. Anything too experimental, anything too avantgarde, anything too Jewish, got locked away or destroyed.

Before they did that, however, they held the art up to public ridicule at a 1937 exhibition called Degenerate Art. Thousands of Germans went to this exhibition, although it’s hard to say how many came to lap up Nazi propaganda and how many came for a last look at works they assumed they’d never see again. The photo above shows Hitler visiting the exhibition. Notice how the paintings are hung at angles and angry graffiti is scrawled all around them.

Now a treasure trove of art long thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis is on display at Berlin’s Neues Museum. Eleven sculptures that were part of the Degenerate Art exhibit were found in a rubble-filled cellar on Königstrasse in Berlin. Like most of the city, this street was hit hard in the war and when new buildings were put up, they were built on the rubble of previous buildings. Archaeologists excavating ahead of a new subway line discovered the art.

It’s unclear how these sculptures survived. One theory is that someone who loved beauty more than Hitler hid them away in an apartment that was later destroyed. All the sculptures are fire damaged and some had to be pieced back together, yet this has only added to their dignity. The German magazine Der Spiegel has an excellent photo gallery of the sculptures.

[Photo courtesy Tyrenius via Wikimedia Commons]

Exhibition explores Germany’s relationship with Hitler

More than sixty years after the end of World War Two, Germans are still struggling with their Nazi past. While most of the population is too young to be culpable for World War Two, their parents or grandparents were involved. Many Germans opposed Hitler’s rise to power, but many more supported him, at least in the beginning.

A new exhibition at Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum explores the German people’s relationship with Hitler. Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime brings together a wide range of artifacts and documents showing how Nazism came to dominate every part of German life. Hitler was everywhere–on postage stamps, magazine covers, even toys–and the Nazi party sought to have its ideology permeate every aspect of life.

During the 1920s the German economy was in ruins after losing the First World War and getting caught up in a global economic crisis. In his early speeches Hitler called on Germans to be proud, and blamed Germany’s loss in the First World War on Jews, socialists, and other “foreign elements”. Hitler became even more popular when he got into power and revived the economy. People who suddenly had good jobs after years of hardship and pessimism turned a blind eye to the regime’s seamier side.

Doing an exhibition on Nazism is tricky in Germany and some earlier attempts have been rejected by the police. It’s illegal to display the swastika except in a scientific or historical context, and the common fear is that any exhibition on Hitler will attract neo-Nazis. So far this exhibition has been well received and there have been no incidents.

Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime runs until 6 February 2011.

[Photo courtesy user Professional Assassin via Wikimedia Commons]