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Golden Bust of Hitler

Map of Nuremberg that marks the Jewish owned shops. It was a disquieting feeling to recognize all the surnames on the period map, such as Cohn, Stern, Herzl, and Salomon.

Congress Hall

Visitors Exit the Nuremberg Documentation Centre

Original Half-Timbered Houses in Nuremberg

Editor's Report: My Visit to Nuremberg's Documentation Centre of Nazi Crimes

by Rhonda Spivak, Nov 12, 2017


In Nuremberg Germany, during breakfast at my hotel a few years ago, the first thing I heard was Hebrew. There was a table of Israelis talking about the toys they were going to buy and had already bought. For Jews, Nuremberg is synonymous with Hitler's Nuremberg laws, the rise of the Nazis and the Nuremberg trials that followed after the war. But to many others, Nuremberg is synonymous with toys, in that Nuremberg played an important role for centuries as a site for the production and sale of toys.There is a world-famous toy Museum, with toys crafted from wood and pewter, which I did not visit since I was there to educate myself about Nuremberg's Nazi related history.


I  visited Nuremberg's Documentation Centre which is designed to educate about Nazism. The  museum is  in the north wing of the unfinished remains of the Congress Hall of the former Nazi party rallies, which was approved to be built by the Nuremberg City Council in 1994.


While the permanent exhibition examines the causes, context and consequences of the Nazi reign of terror it has relatively few artifacts from the Nazi era, focusing more on "documents" (text and archival photographs etc.) The documentary approach was preferred because it was believed that authentic Nazi artifacts still had enduring power and the ability to fascinate present day Germans. It was felt that putting things into a display cabinet would exalt their status, giving them that mystical aura.


Yet, one of the things I most remember about going through the exhibit was the room that contained a gold bust of Adolf Hitler which was an authentic Nazi artifact, one of the relatively few artifacts in the Documentation Centre. I watched three high school German boys who were part of a class trip lingering over this Hitler bust after the rest of their group had moved on. The three of them were taking photos with their iPhones, placing their own faces next to the Hitler bust, smiling and laughing as they were doing so. As I watched this scene, I wondered why the Documentation Centre had put this bust of Hitler in the middle of the room, making it a focal point, such that it served as an object of fascination for these German teens rather than an object of repulsion.


The plastic green Nazi soldiers ( also artifacts) that were displayed underneath glass in the floor, giving them a 'trampled on' status, were a more fitting display than the Hitler bust.


The three teenage German boys I watched rushed through much of the exhibit but I later watched as they lingered over an exhibit showing anti-Semitic drawings and books and a period map of Nuremberg which marked Jewish owned stores with an X. They were listening intently to the audio in German, and when I tried to listen to the relevant audio in English, it wasn't working. 

While there were not that many artifacts in Nuremberg's documentation centre, the site itself is really one monstrous artifact, since the gigantic Congress Hall is a testament to Hitler's megalomania. The   "glass and steel arrow" of the north wing of the Documentation Centre which pierces the Congress Hall is meant to be a spear in the heart of Nazism. But, it should be noted that the Austrian architect of the Documentation Centre, Günther Domenig, who won an international competition, had his own Nazi demons to confront. His father was a die-hard Nazi, and he himself had anti-Semitic feelings, but his being involved in the project enabled him to find "a degree of atonement for his own anti-Semitic feelings," Domenig told the New York Times, ''Even when I entered college, I was troubled to find that many fine architects were Jewish...'I wondered if I should stop going to school. I asked myself this. It took me 10 years in my life to get over all this. So, you see, it was very important for me to do this building [the Documentation Centre].''

It wasn't until 1994 that the City of Nuremberg decided to build the Documentation Centre and the history of why it was finally built is rather interesting. After World War 11, Nuremberg was completely destroyed. It had been extensively bombed by the Allies during World War 11, not so much because it was the heart and soul of the Nazi party, but because it was a vital rail centre and large numbers of aircraft, tank, and submarine engines were manufactured in Nuremberg, making it a prime target to the 1944 Allied bombing campaign.


After the War, it was decided not to rebuild a totally new city, but rather to restore as many historic monuments and the old town, using the materials that had characterized the city for centuries before the Nazi period. The medieval splendor of Nuremberg was restored, including all the narrow, cobblestone streets, and half- timbered houses. The restoration which took 38 years tried to return Nuremberg to its pre-Nazi state, thereby purposely forging continuity with its earlier state. The restoration was not complete until 1984 and during that time, no one in Nuremberg thought about any Museum or Centre to document Nazi crimes, which did not fit at all with the theme of splendidly rebuilding the Nuremberg of the middle Ages and Renaissance. The desire was to return to Nuremberg it's 'good name' and to wipe away the terrible stain of Nazi history, as if this history could really be rinsed away thereby returning Nuremberg to its glorious past (Tourists easily could be directed to the old restored town, and not to the Nazi Party Rallying Grounds.)


If I wasn't aware of Nuremberg's Nazi history and long history of antisemitism, I would have been able to enjoy meandering though its restored old town, with its Gothic churches, patrician houses, walls, bridges, towers and medieval ambiance. But I couldn't ignore the overwhelming stench of Nazi history.


It was only in the 1990's with the rise of Neo-Nazism in Germany that the Nuremberg Documentation Centre came to life, since it was believed to be necessary to educate about the horrors of Nazism in order to counter the rise of Neo-Nazism. 


And interestingly enough, despite Nuremberg's attempt after the Holocaust to forge its identity with its pre-Nazi history, the number one attraction in Nuremberg according to Trip Advisor today is the Documentation Centre at the former Nazi Party Rallying Grounds. Although the reconstructed old town of Nuremberg 's towers, churches, bridges, walls and half-timbered houses is a tourist draw,

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.