Thursday, April 1

Nazi Nurnberg

I've got so many pics to sort through from the past week of travel and family, it's a daunting task! I've got a niece and nephew for two weeks, I'm planning my parents' upcoming trip here soon, and gearing up to coach Easton's soccer team. Don't even mention the state of my house. Just don't. Trust me.

Last Thursday we left the kids with my sister-in-law in Munich and took in a great museum in Nurnberg. Spelling seems to be relative here for English translations. On signs here, it's spelled Nurnberg with the umlaut (two dots) over the 'u.' I knew this city as Nuremberg, famous for the post-WWII trials of Nazi leaders for the Holocaust by the first international court convened for war crimes like.

Anyhow, we were headed to Prague for Ryan to run in a half marathon. His coworker's wife had registered for the half marathon but wasn't ready so Ryan filled in. He's kept running through the winter using lunch breaks at the gym - mostly in preparation for a marathon in Stockholm this June. I'll cover the run in another post. It deserves it. Ryan deserves it!

We've been to Nurnberg before. Last November, we got to spend Thanksgiving with Ryan's brother's family in Munich. They had just moved there and were still awaiting their household goods - basics like beds and other necessary furniture and stuffs. We still had a great time and one night even drove north to Nurnberg to kick off the Christmas Market season which runs from the last weekend in November through New Year's. Nurnberg's Christmas market is famous and huge. My sister-in-law and I didn't enjoy it as much because we were gripped by fear for the lives and locations of the nine children in our care who were in the midst of shoulder-to-shoulder thick crowds. Aaack! No need to explain why we gladly offered to take the little ones home so Ryan and the big kids could stay and enjoy the scene.

Back to the present, Ryan had heard of a good museum here so he was anxious to see it and I was glad to go to a museum sans-kids although I'd never heard of the Nurnberg Rallies before, have you? Wish I had! I soaked up every minute of it and even made Ryan wait a good half hour for me to finish! It was glorious being in a museum without my kids to rein in! I must admit my extreme disdain for noisy, rowdy high schoolers plowing through and disrupting this precious time for me. You'd think I'd be more patient, but it really erked me since this was such a rare opportunity for me to enjoy a museum. I'm sure we can all relate. Bleh.

The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds - Permanent Exhibition "Fascination and Terror" was fabulous! Ever wonder how and why the German people allowed Hitler and his cronies come into power and lead them? It's something that I hadn't taken the time to research before or since moving here but wanted to because it felt like this invisible wall I hadn't scaled to understand my neighbors.

I've often wondered if my German neighbors wonder what I think of their country's history since as WWII victors we got to write the official history. Ya know? Anyhow, in three hours, this museum answered my questions because I listened to each translation - because I could!

[As a side note, I've also often wondered what they think of us Americans still having such a large military presence in their country. Are we seen as occupiers or friends? Last year I listened to a great book that answered that for me, "Of Paradise and Power" by Robert Kagan, 3 hours and worth it.]

The museum is housed in one of the huge structures the Nazi Party built after coming to power in 1933. They built a large complex of grand monumental structures to accommodate huge rallies and to house their Party Headquarters. The museum is in the incomplete Congress Hall whose construction was stopped by the start of WWII in 1939.

A close up of what the inside of the horse shoe looks like today.
This picture below shows an image of how the interior was supposed to look when completed. No cars, no parking lot.
An arial shot of the complex, see the horse shoe-like building?

And lastly, a satellite image of the complex. The light portion in the very center is the old town and fortress. The light part in the bottom right is the Nazi Party's complex. The Nazis picked Nurnberg to link itself with the grand history of this great imperial city along with other pragmatic perks like supporters in the right high places.

My favorite part of the exhibit was the Eye Witness accounts by 7 or 8 elderly Germans. If you visit the museum, go to the last exhibit (room 19) first to see this video. It puts the rest of what you see in context as seen through the eyes of this group who grew up with the Nazi party coming to power. Really, see it first and then go back to the beginning of the museum. You will thank me later, especially if you're not a museum lover.

The annual rallies were held from 1923 - 1938, although after 1933 these rallies were a national propaganda event held by the state. It was amazing to see how the Nazis perfected the use of propaganda and mainstreamed its radical agenda! It's something I knew, but hadn't internalized like this. Thank you eye witness accounts, best touch!

In the post-WWI 1920s, extremely high unemployment caused people to take to the streets in demonstrations. The eyewitnesses spoke of how un-orderly and chaotic, even frightening these gatherings were as many of these demonstrations were held by workers' parties in the new democracy. Then they tell of how the Nazi party came marching into town, nice clean-cut young men in uniforms marching as they sung their patriotic-sounding anthems. People took notice of the difference, especially these young adults. The Nazi party truly harnessed the people's desire to have order and pride in their country again.

Wikipedia - Nuremberg Rally:
The primary aspect of the Nuremberg Rallies was to strengthen the personality cult of Adolf Hitler, portraying Hitler as Germany's savior, chosen by providence. The gathered masses listened to the F├╝hrer's speeches, swore loyalty and marched before him. Representing the people as a whole, the rallies served to demonstrate the might of the German people. The visitors of the rallies by their own free will were subordinate to the discipline and order in which they should be reborn as a new people.

Knowing what we know today, these austere Rally images below have such a different connotation in our minds than they did to those who attended then. It is likely that these are depicting one of the grand ceremonies revering traditions and observances we would do today, like honoring our soldiers and those who had served our country and died at war. It was all staged so the populace would deeply internalize the message and follow their Fuehrer without question.

Impressive, No? There was good portion of the exhibit devoted to the architect, Albert Speer, who helped lay out these monuments, rally programs and formations. There's an award-winning propaganda documentary called "Triumph of the Will" that was filmed at the rallies and this was a very interesting part of the exhibit.

From the museum website:
"The former Nazi Party Rally Grounds are an historical site unlike any other memorial site in Germany. In contrast to the memorial sites within former concentration camps, prisons, etc., reminding us of NS terror and, in turn, of the victims of that tyranny, the area in the southeast district of Nuremberg is a site that was directed at "the taking in of an entire people" (Ignatz Bubis). This is where the Nazi movement celebrated itself in an almost obscene fashion, presenting an appealing but false picture of their regime to the world. As they openly geared people to war, they sowed the seed that would yield a hideous harvest in the above-named sites."

Think of the televised rallies and gatherings you've either been to or seen on tv. For these Nazi rallies, it was an honor to be chosen to march or perform there. The whole town fell over themselves to decorate and welcome rally attendees. In recent election years like 2000 with Bush or 2008 with Obama, did you ever feel pressure to have a yard sign? Magnify it by 100! Everyone either made or was given a flag or banner by fervent neighbors. The rallies had cultural celebrations with traditional German dancers and lots of music and they kept the beer flowing. Each year had noble, innocuous themes like 1934 "Rally of Unity and Strength", 1935 "Rally of Freedom", 1936 "Rally of Honour." The indoctrination was so subtle and powerful.

Having attended a large university and then living in DC, I've been to a good share of different kinds of huge events where the atmosphere is electrifying. And political rallies, they're something else! I can totally understand how rally attendees back then could have been swept up by all the anticipation, the show, and be caught unawares to hear snippets of the atrocities that were well underway. Concentrations camps were already in full swing by the time these rallies were held, cutting boulders and stones to build these magnificent rally structures utilizing the slave labor of demonized populations, such as the Jews, and political prisoners, such as Communists.

The eyewitnesses shared how shamelessly used they felt after WWII. A great people in hard times led astray. Those who realized it were virtually powerless against the well-oiled machine of Hitler's storm troopers, the Gestapo and others. I'd like to know who those people were. It's hard to understand that kind of evil that preys on it's own people.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll get to finish "Historical Nurnberg." I've taken much longer than I wanted to here, but I feel much better having exercised and purged my brain. Man, I hope my teacher gives me an A on this report! Oh wait, I graduated over a decade ago! Bedtime . . . right after I take a picture of my boys snuggled together sleeping on the living room floor that is their bedroom right now. Too cute!