The Alter Schlachthof memorial in Dusseldorf
"What makes the anti-Semitism of the Third Reich something completely new and unique is threefold. Once: the epidemic flares up, and more blazing than ever, at a time when it seems to belong to the past as an actual epidemic long ago and forever. I mean it like this: before 1933, there were still anti-Semitic outbreaks here and there, just as there were occasional cases of cholera and plague in European harbors; but just as it was certain, or believed to be certain, that the city-destroying epidemics of the Middle Ages would no longer occur in the cultural world, so it seemed quite impossible that there would once again be deprivations of rights and persecutions of Jews of the medieval kind. The second uniqueness besides the monstrous anachronism is that this anachronism by no means comes in the garb of the past, but in the highest modernity, not as a popular uprising, as a frenzy and spontaneous mass murder (although in the beginning spontaneity was still pretended), no, in the highest organizational and technical perfection; because whoever today remembers the murder of the Jews in retrospect, thinks of the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The third and essential novelty, however, consists in basing the hatred of Jews on the idea of race." (Viktor Klemperer, LTI – Notebook of a Philologist, 1946, quoted from the revised 26 published by Reclam. Edition 2016)
What ended in Auschwitz, in Sobibor or in Majdanek, in Riga and in Babij Jar, began in middle-class German towns. It began with deportations visible to all inhabitants of German cities, and many were actively involved. It happened in places, some of which can be visited today as places of commemoration and remembrance.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, there are 29 Nazi memorials and places of remembrance that coordinate and exchange information in a working group. The office is located at the history site Villa ten Hompel in Munster. The Alter Schlachthof place of remembrance in Dusseldorf is one of the 29 memorial sites. It is located in the immediate vicinity of the Dusseldorf-Derendorf S-Bahn station on the campus of the Dusseldorf University of Applied Sciences, on the site where the Dusseldorf slaughterhouse was located until 2002, where more than 6.000 Jews were interned here before being deported to the concentration and extermination camps via the Dusseldorf-Derendorf freight station, which was located in the immediate vicinity. A comprehensive picture of the Nazi crimes, the victims and the perpetrators in Dusseldorf can be found not only in the catalog of the memorial site but also in the book "Der Elendsweg der Dusseldorfer Juden – Chronologie des Schreckens 1933-1945" (Dusseldorf, Droste, 2005), written by Herbert Schmidt, a book that can certainly be read as an example of what happened in other places.
Responsibility for the content and logistics of the Alter Schlachthof memorial, which opened in 2016, lies with the university's presidium. The historian Joachim Schroder (*1973) is the presidium representative for the Memory Place. He has dealt scientifically and professionally with Nazi history, its prehistory and posthistory, and was involved, among other things, in the establishment of the Nazi Documentation Center in Munich.
Norbert Reichel: Maybe we start our conversation with your scientific and professional fields of work.
Joachim Schroder: I studied history at Heinrich Heine University with a focus on modern history and a minor in Eastern European history. I completed my doctoral studies in 2006, and even as a student I conducted guided tours and workshops at the Mahn- und Gedenkstatte Dusseldorf. In a larger project I worked on forced labor in Dusseldorf, the results of which I presented together with my colleague Rafael R. Leissa in the book "Forced Labor in Dusseldorf" (edited by Clemens von Looz-Corswaren, published by Klartext in 2002) was able to document. Afterwards I worked in a DFG project at the Heinrich-Heine-University Dusseldorf and researched the history of the German-French "hereditary enmity" with all the various wars of the past 200 to 250 years. My main focus was the First and the Second World War. Parallel to this project I have completed my dissertation. The topic was the relationship between German and French communists after the First World War.
After that, I worked on the Max Weber Gesamtausgabe. My doctoral supervisor, Gerd Krumeich (*1945), headed the Dusseldorf office of this edition. He was my most important academic teacher. I edited Max Weber's (1864-1920) last complete lecture, which he had given in the winter semester 1919/1920, shortly before his death. In this context I dealt with economic history, but also with the time 1919/1920 in Munich, the beginning of Nazism. Already at that time there were disturbances at the universities by volkisch-minded students, also in lectures of Max Weber. And this brought me to a topic that had occupied me for a long time, the question of the reasons for the emergence and rise of Nazism. It was therefore a fortunate coincidence that, after completing my work on the Max Weber edition, I was able to participate in the establishment of the Nazi Documentation Center in Munich.
The Weimar Democracy – Factors of a Failure
Norbert Reichel: What would be your personal answer to the question of the Nazis' success?
Joachim Schroder: Without the First World War, this success would not have existed in the way it did. The emergence of the Nazi ideology, the Nazi movement is closely linked to the defeat in the First World War, the November Revolution. The Nazis also saw themselves as a reaction to these events. And they were a reaction to "Bolshevism," the fears that events in Russia might also spread to Germany. This was an absolute portent for the Nazis.
Norbert Reichel: Not only for the Nazis, it went far into bourgeois circles.
Joachim Schroder: Absolutely. It was actually a horror for everyone who did not belong to the radical left, including the Social Democrats, who also cooperated with anti-republican forces to put down uprisings from the left. In retrospect, it has often been argued that the danger of a communist revolution or takeover did not exist in reality. But such a statement is ahistorical. The fear of "Bolshevism" determined the mood and actions of many people at the time. They could not know how history would end. In 1919, there were uprisings all over the German Reich, there was discontent among the working class, there were many weapons in circulation, also due to the returnees from the front, who kept their weapons, were practiced in the use of weapons and joined together in various combat groups. In some regions there were civil war-like conditions and there were several thousand deaths in all this unrest, that is as good as forgotten today. The Nazis were part of the right-wing Civil War party.
One reason that the Nazis were so successful in Bavaria was the strong support they received from sections of middle-class society, for example in the Bavarian People's Party led by Gustav Ritter von Kahr (1862-1934), who served as Regierungsprasident of Upper Bavaria and – after the Kapp Putsch in March 1920 – as Bavarian Ministerprasident. This was the beginning of the Bavarian "order cell" in which the Nazis grew up.
Norbert Reichel: In 1934, the Nazis had him murdered in the Dachau concentration camp as part of the purges generally carried out in response to the so-called "Rohm Putsch". But in the early 1920s, the positions of the NSDAP, Bavarian People's Party, and other bourgeois parties were quite compatible. For me, an impressive literary document is Lion Feuchtwanger's 1930 novel "Success," a key novel in which Ritter von Kahr also plays his part.
Place of Remembrance Old Slaughterhouse, interior view after closure, photo: Buro Ullrich © HSD 2003
Joachim Schroder: The Nazis' allies against democracy and the Republic were all the groups and parties that hated the November Revolution. They regarded the Nazis as powerful allies in the truest sense of the word. It was one of the great misjudgements of the bourgeoisie to be able to use the Nazis. This misconception was still in effect for some in 1933. Two early promoters of the NSDAP in Munich were Ernst Pohner (1870-1925), Munich's police chief, and Wilhelm Frick (1877-1946), later Nazi minister of the interior, still head of the Political Department of the Munich police in the early 1920s. They aligned the Munich police ideologically and in terms of personnel with their anti-Republican and anti-Semitic attitudes and systematically ensured that Nazis were not prosecuted, or were prosecuted only to a limited extent, despite all the brutalities and assaults they committed. Both were leaders in the 1923 putsch and lost their posts, but their personnel policies had consequences. This is another reason for the success of the Nazis in Bavaria, without prejudice to their post-9/11 coup. November 1923 the following period of weakness. They survived bans on the party and its organizations because of their alliances. They came back republic-wide, they strengthened in the economic crisis because they had simple answers to complicated questions.
Norbert Reichel. The Nazi Documentation Center in Munich stands at a historically significant site of Nazi history.
Joachim Schroder: That was when the "Brown House" stood. The Americans had this leveled after 1945, as well as the two temples where during the Nazi era the so-called "blood witnesses" from 9. November 1923 were honored with great pomp and ceremony. The place can still be visited, they later made a parking lot out of it to "defuse" it. Then it was greened, but it is still easy to see what a parade ground it was. Marches were part of the popular ritual of the Nazis, with which they also impressed the population.
Norbert Reichel: I also find interesting the address of a nearby house, a veritable palace, at Karolinenplatz 5, which supports your thesis. The Bruckmann family of publishers lived there, who supported the Nazis from the beginning and held a salon there where the most important German intellectuals of that time met, for example Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Stefan George, Friedrich Gundolf, but also Harry Graf Kessler and Karl Wolfskehl. There they met the trio Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess and Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler with a riding whip and a pistol on his belt. Wolfgang Martynkewicz described this salon in his book "Salon Deutschland – Geist und Macht 1900-1945" (Berlin, Aufbau, 2009) and documented how bourgeois intellectuals and right-wing extremists interacted with each other without any fear of contact. At least at first.
Joachim Schroder: From today's perspective, it is very difficult to understand all this. As far as Hitler's appearance in this salon is concerned, one must certainly also take into account the militarization of society at that time. There are photos of mass nationalist demonstrations in Munich, the "Landesschutzentreffen" 1920 / 1921, where we see hundreds of thousands, many armed, protesting against the Treaty of Versailles, or later, in 1923, the invasion of the Ruhr by the French. There were large contingents of armed citizens' guards. The weapons from the war were on their way, the soldiers had not given them all up, on both sides.
Norbert Reichel: In my opinion, the Weimar Republic also failed because of the lack of a monopoly on the use of force or the failure to enforce it.
Joachim Schroder: Absolutely. Another point is the state of the judiciary. The judiciary was politically very one-sided and extremely sympathetic to the right-wing, "patriotic" associations. It ensured that sentences against right-wing defendants were considerably more lenient than against left-wing defendants. Armed right-wing associations were just part of the family. Those were the own people.
Norbert Reichel: "Patriotism and patriotism were conceded to them in the judgments.
Joachim Schroder: This includes the sensational verdict against Hitler after his attempted coup. One can hardly imagine this today. He organizes a coup and gets just five years' imprisonment, under luxurious conditions. He de facto served less than a year. The entire entourage also got off lightly. Hitler was conceded to have acted from honorable motives.
Norbert Reichel: And he really held court in Landsberg. In the Museum Zentrum fur verfolgte Kunste in Solingen you can see a photo of him sitting with various friends as if it were a family celebration in his living room at home.
Joachim Schroder: That was a very comfortable fortress detention. This was not comparable to the prison conditions suffered by activists of the Munich Raterepublik, such as Ernst Toller (1893-1939), Erich Muhsam (1878-1934) and over a thousand lesser-known prisoners. There was a clear inequality of treatment, especially when one considers how even fellow travelers of the soviet republic were punished without any major leadership responsibility and compares this with the situation after the Kapp putsch. Almost no one was held accountable there.
Continuities – the German desire for exoneration
Old Slaughterhouse Place of Remembrance – Entrance to the Large Cattle Hall, Photo Jorg Reich © HSD 2009
Norbert Reichel: There are some memorable continuities on the right side. In this context, we should perhaps recall the Fischer controversy from the 1960s. Fritz Fischer (1908-1999) held – simply put – that there was a straight line from the Kaiserreich to the National Socialist crimes. I found a controversy, at least comparable in approach, in recent times in view of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the German Empire. This was a debate between Hedwig Richter (*1973) and Eckart Conze (*1963) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the empire, on the question of how the empire should be evaluated. Hedwig Richter saw in the empire quite preliminary stages to liberal and democratic developments, which would have been partly even actively promoted, which Eckart Conze just did not see.
Joachim Schroder: The Debates on the Question of Responsibility for the First World War at the 100th Anniversary of the Second World War. Anniversary 2014 show comparable. There is in Germany again and again and still the wish for a relief from responsibility. This wish was wonderfully served by Christopher Clark (*1960) with his thesis of the "sleepwalkers" (English edition 2012, German edition 2013). In the end – according to his thesis – everyone was armed, but everyone or no one was really responsible. They would have simply slipped into it. From this follows the question whether Versailles was justified. I think that the Versailles motive was one of the strongest motors for the success of Nazi propaganda. Their announcement to tear up the treaty was instrumental in their success.
Norbert Reichel: The November Revolution in the wake of events in Russia, the legend that one had remained "undefeated on the battlefield," which Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925) also spread, the hatred of the Treaty of Versailles – all this connected bourgeois and right-wing extremist circles. In this context, so-called "martyrs" such as Schlageter (1894-1923) also play a role.
Joachim Schroder: Schlageter is an interesting figure. The Nazis claimed it for themselves, which they were not wrong about. He was – so they said – the last casualty of the First World War and the first casualty for the "Third Reich". I once made an exhibition with my teacher Gerd Krumeich about the Ruhr occupation in Dusseldorf. In this context, Schlageter, who was shot by the French in Dusseldorf in May 1923, played a role.
But again to the Fischer controversy. After World War I, as after World War II, the vast majority of Germans were of the opinion (and today it is spreading again) that the Kaiserreich was not responsible for the outbreak of World War I, this "primordial catastrophe" of the 20th century. The first controversy of the twentieth century (George F. Kennan, 1904-2005) had been responsible for it. That is why Fischer's thesis was such a scandal in West Germany. In the GDR, the situation was somewhat different; there, "German imperialism" was considered the main culprit in the First and Second World Wars, as well as in the Nazi takeover of power. In this respect, the whole catastrophe was set in motion with the First World War: Versailles, the turbulent 1920s, the economic crisis, with all the consequences up to the rise of Nazism. I think that the view of Fritz Fischer found supporters again and again, partly his theses were modified and weakened, but all in all they were never shared by a majority of historians. At the moment, the opponents of Fritz Fischer's theses have a clear upper hand. This could be well observed in the controversy around the year 2014.
Norbert Reichel: Basically, one accusation against Fritz Fischer was that he represented the war guilt thesis in the sense of the GDR. And this brings us back to the anti-communist and anti-Bolshevik tradition in Germany.
Joachim Schroder: Only a few say today that Fritz Fischer saw everything correctly. There are already mixed views. Gerd Krumeich, for example, saw the German Empire as the main culprit, while Christopher Clark argued that the great powers had more or less unintentionally "slid" into the catastrophe and that the blame lay on both sides.
Norbert Reichel: This is why Christopher Clark is so popular in Germany today. I sometimes have the impression that he has taken over the role of Guido Knopp on television.
Joachim Schroder: He is one of Germany's favorite historians. His book on war guilt was immediately taken over by the Federal Agency for Civic Education and distributed in large numbers. Christopher Clark serves with his view an obviously existing desire for relief.
Norbert Reichel: I would like to take the liberty of making the side remark that the Bundeszentrale sometimes disseminates quite difficult positions, for example with a cheap licensed edition of Michael Rothberg's theses from 2009 on "Multidirectional Memory" (subtitle: "Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization") on the controversy about the singularity of the Holocaust, which play a central role in the debate about German colonialist crimes. Here, too, the impression is created that it is a matter of relativizing German responsibility for the Shoah and war, of a blanket exoneration of the Germans. On the other hand, the Bundeszentrale has also included counter-positions in its book series, such as on this topic most recently the dissertation by Steffen Klavers entitled "Decolonizing Auschwitz" (published by De Gruyter in 2019).
Joachim Schroder: In principle, I think it's good when serious historical literature is distributed at reasonable prices, and there's nothing wrong with authors with controversial or even provocative positions being distributed, such as Michael Rothberg. It should then only be ensured that counter-positions are also considered and disseminated accordingly. At any rate, sometimes one can have the feeling that the Bundeszentrale follows certain conjunctures.
Norbert Reichel: I think we are not concerned with fundamental criticism of the Federal Agency for Civic Education. It should perhaps be noted, however, that for more than 100 years in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, we have been in a kind of permanent dispute among historians. In the 1980s, it was the question of whether the Nazis had copied their practices from the Communists, as well as the question of the role of an allegedly innocent Wehrmacht; around 2014, it was the question of guilt for World War I. Again and again everything connected with the desire to downplay the responsibility for wars and the Holocaust, for crimes against humanity. And some people today are not afraid to instrumentalize the long-repressed colonial crimes for this purpose. In the GDR it was somewhat different, because everyone was anti-fascist from the start.
Place of remembrance Alter Schlachthof, Grossviehmarkthalle with graffiti, © geisheimer / attenzione 2011
Joachim Schroder: The GDR constitution stated that "German militarism and Nazism had been eradicated". One already swallows at this choice of words. These are terms that show how Nazism lives on in the vocabulary. We find that all over Germany in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. In the GDR, the thesis was put forward that the economic conditions for fascism no longer existed there, so that there could be no more fascism in the GDR. That's why the Nazis all went to the West. Of course, that was a bold statement, because even in the GDR there were former Nazis who managed to make a living in the state apparatus, far fewer than in the West, but they did exist.
I think Nazism and the Shoah will continue to be with us for decades and perhaps centuries to come because of the monstrosity of these crimes. How did it come about, how many and what different adjusting screws were there that led to it? This would also be a topic of "If-History", counterfactual history. It is always about how it could have been prevented, what happened that it could happen? This will never be resolved, there will always be new discussions. And this is related to the monstrosity of the crimes that emanated from Germany.
Norbert Reichel: You use the term "Nazism" instead of "National Socialism".
Joachim Schroder: With the term "National Socialism" we take over the diction of the Nazis themselves, but we should deconstruct it. That is why I use the term Nazism. "National Socialism" was actually a propaganda term used by the Nazis to win over the majority Social Democratic/Communist voting working class. There is the socialist element in Nazism, especially the idea of solidarity, community, care – but only within the "Volksgemeinschaft", which was constituted in a nationalist and racist way. So this should not be confused with socialist ideas of a Marxist or Social Democratic nature.
The National Socialists were always called "Nazis" by their opponents, because they did not believe this propaganda. Even after 1945, people spoke of "Nazism" as a matter of course, because there was certainly an awareness that "National Socialism" was a propaganda term. In English it is "Nazism", in French "le nazisme". I have also found this in older German texts from the 1950s, for example Fritz Bauer (1903-1968). How ambiguous the term "National Socialism" can be used is shown by posts of the new right, for example by Erika Steinbach, who wrote that the Nazis would have been socialists.
Norbert Reichel: That's what I heard often enough from teachers in school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even then there was something like what we now call "horseshoe theory". And how do you evaluate the term fascism??
Joachim Schroder: "Fascism" is for me the family concept. The Nazis were a fascist party, they were clearly oriented towards their successful Italian model. At the same time, one must emphasize the differences between German, Italian or Spanish fascism. What distinguished Nazism from Italian fascism and others was the deep-rooted anti-Semitism, the adventurous conviction that "Judaism" was a separate "race".
On the authenticity of a place of remembrance
Norbert Reichel: This is now a good moment to look at the purpose and practice of memorials. How do you classify the Old Slaughterhouse Memorial in this context??
Joachim Schroder: We are a relatively new institution. The place is a historical site – as is the case with many other memorials. The slaughterhouse was in operation until 2002. Therefore, there could not be a larger memorial at this place. There was a plaque put up in 1986 with relatively meager words. There was nothing more. The slaughterhouse was privatized in the 1990s, but then went bankrupt in 2002 and was closed down. The site was abandoned and soon the Dusseldorf University of Applied Sciences was looking for a new location for a new building. They found it on the fallow land – however, they "inherited" the historical place.
In this place, the Nazis killed about 6.000 people were imprisoned in the former Grossviehmarkthalle. After a night in the hall, they were deported from the nearby freight station to the concentration and extermination camps – there were seven deportations in total. The Nazis had quite deliberately chosen this site: Internment with a wall, easy to monitor, good transport opportunity. Not far away was the Gestapo headquarters in Dusseldorf, which was in charge of the deportations and was responsible for the entire government district.
Alter Schlachthof place of remembrance – cattle stairs after the opening, photo Eric Fritsch © HSD 2016
Norbert Reichel: I think that the humiliation of the deportees also played a role. They were driven down a cattle ladder to a slaughterhouse.
Joachim Schroder: You can say it like this. They were treated like animals, denied all humanity.
The hall was put under monument protection in 1999, because it should be prevented that everything was demolished. When the university inherited the building, it had to find a way to deal with this history. Universities were not supposed to set up their own places of remembrance. There is something similar in Frankfurt am Main with the Wollheim Memorial on the grounds of IG Farben, also on what is now the university campus. I came to the university from Munich in 2013 and then took up the background research, developed an exhibition concept, all together with the colleagues at the research focus right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism.
My position was initially funded by the Ministry of Science, because it was not foreseen that someone at the university could have done it alongside their other work. There is no history seminar at the university, only the research focus. We had to raise funds, donations. This was also part of my task.
The memorial site was opened in 2016. In this respect, the memorial is special compared to the other 28 in North Rhine-Westphalia, because it is located on the campus of a university. This is a great opportunity: the university has about 10.000 students, every semester new, young people come from all over the region, from the most diverse backgrounds. You all see the building, the place of remembrance. We belong to the lower middle field in terms of size. We have a core team of two people, one of whom is me. At the moment we have the possibility to employ two additional colleagues for a limited period of time.
Norbert Reichel: The memorial site is structured in such a way that you have made background information visible on a long information desk in front of the historical site, with which the history of the site can be made accessible. When you go in, you find pictures of victims of the deportations on the walls, you go down the former cattle stairs, you find terminals with more information, including biographies of the victims. All the pictures we see are also included in the exhibition catalog. The cattle staircase is the only remnant of the historical condition of the slaughterhouse as a slaughterhouse as well as an internment camp. Today, of course, neatly swept and cleaned. We no longer see the filth of a slaughterhouse. When I visit such places, I always wonder what they smelled like back then and what sounds and screams could be heard. Our sensual search for clues is very limited. The actual hall of the slaughterhouse now houses the library of the university. I ask myself not only here, but also at other places of remembrance: how authentically can the horror of the crimes be portrayed? How authentically may it be portrayed?
Joachim Schroder: For me, it's less about presenting than documenting, but either way it's a difficult balancing act. It is forbidden, as it was often done in the past, to work with shocking images or the like, or even with any reenactments, as it sometimes happens in the context of the First World War. The hall here was not a concentration camp, where watchtowers, barbed wire and gallows immediately evoke corresponding images in the mind. But: from here went the way of 6.000 persecutees to the ghettos and murder camps. This direct connection should be accessible to all visitors and they should also learn what happened there.
To depict the horror, we don't need many pictures to do that. Words, reports, especially memories of survivors are enough. We didn't put four longer quotes on the walls for nothing, right by the cattle stalls. The quotes reflect their feelings when entering this place. These words in this place create the connection and give it authenticity – at least that's how I feel about it. The somewhat tunnel-like cattle ladder also has something symbolic about it; it is something like a path to barbarism. At the same time, of course, you are right, today everything is smooth, clean, beautifully painted, has this museum-like character – and no longer that of a cattle hall.
Old slaughterhouse place of remembrance – information desk and permanent exhibition, Photo: Eric Fritsch © HSD 2016
All in all, the historic site is of course hardly recognizable compared to the time, especially due to the modern architecture of the campus. From the outside, the former Viehmarkthalle itself has changed relatively little. When you enter the library, you can still get an idea of what it looked like back then. The exhibition of the place of remembrance is actually located only in the entrance area of the hall, where the cattle staircases were, which are part of the tour of the exhibition. In addition to the cattle stalls, there is another remnant: a series of preserved stone troughs. We exhibited them inside the hall, in the library, because that's where the real scene of the crime was. They are there as a symbol of Nazi barbarism – and there was a long discussion about whether and why the troughs should be in the hall, because not everyone was enthusiastic about the idea. After all, it is a library today and the students are supposed to study in peace and not be disturbed by noisy school classes. That's what's so peculiar about this place of remembrance: the simultaneity of the historical site and the library's operations.
Norbert Reichel: You work closely with the Jewish Community of Dusseldorf in the conception and realization of the project.
Joachim Schroder: There are always joint events and we exchange ideas. In the conception of our permanent exhibition, I also spoke with representatives of the community and asked for their opinion. Most recently, we also agreed on the occasion of the anniversary of the Wehrhahn attack on 27 September. July 2000, we put up a commemorative plaque at the scene of the attack – because some of the victims of the attack were Jewish, and they were subsequently cared for and supported by the Jewish community.
Emotions, empathy, sustainability
Norbert Reichel: Once downstairs, one looks through a glass door into the library, a place of civilization. Where there was barbarism, there is civilization today? The topic of authenticity moves me a lot, also with regard to emotionality. Or to put it another way: how emotional does a place of remembrance have to be for it to have any effect at all?? How do visitors, school classes, church congregations, adult education classes – whoever?
Joachim Schroder: From my observation, it's already the case that precisely this walk down the stairs does something to people, and I think that has something to do with this authenticity of this place. When visitors take part in a guided tour, they first receive all the general information they need, the discrimination, the harassment up to the decision of deportation and murder of all Jews. With the numerous portraits that they then see in the exhibition, they get the personal references to what they have heard before generally. Now they see personal examples, biographies, when they go up and then down the stairs.
This effect was not deliberately planned. We had to take a pragmatic approach because we simply didn't have that much space and therefore had to move part of the exhibition outside. Overall, however, it has worked out well that the access takes place in the described order. One moves from the general via the biographical to a kind of memorial space, which is also less illuminated. Here is the terminal you mentioned, where there are not only many documents to see, like e.g. the biographies, but also the biographies of our employees.B. the almost completely surviving deportation lists. The Digital Archive also contains all the biographies we have researched so far, with photos and documents where available (our Biographical Archive has been online since last year). You leave this room via the other side, which in turn shows that the story continues. On this page, back up the stairs, it is also about people who emigrated, who hid, who survived, who helped – but also about perpetrators.
Emotionalization alone is not enough. This is a very central point in our work, which most of our colleagues will also agree with. Emotions alone do not lead to knowledge. We need to deal with ideologies, structures, we need factual knowledge, an understanding of historical processes. But even factual knowledge alone is not enough if empathy is lacking. Empathy without competence doesn't help, neither does competence without empathy.
Norbert Reichel: Empathy! This is one of the topos of almost every public speech about remembrance culture. Then they say that a visit to a memorial site has the effect of immunizing one against misanthropy, against the repeatability of the crimes committed against humanity by the Shoah. Almost like a vaccination against extremism. Are your visitors well prepared or are there some who did not want to come at all?? Some may come out and say, good thing I was there after all, others start to scold and insult.
Joachim Schroder: I have relatively long experience with visitors, with guided tours in memorial sites, especially with school classes, where the students do not come of their own accord, but as part of the lessons. I already did this during my studies at the memorial in Dusseldorf. In relation to school classes, to put it in general terms: we have perhaps a third that is not interested at all, a third that takes note, a third that is very interested, inquires, discusses.
Norbert Reichel: That's two-thirds, who are obviously difficult to interest.
Joachim Schroder: Yes, exactly. But this is an average. It also depends on what prior knowledge is there. The more prior knowledge there is, the greater the participation. Guided tours are of course different from workshops. There I have more time, so that the participation improves. But there is always a part that is simply not interested. That's bitter, but it can't be changed.
Norbert Reichel: I think about this because there are always demands to make visits to Nazi memorials obligatory for all students. I am in favor of such an obligation. Of course, one should then also create the capacities, in the places of remembrance, in the timetables of the schools. I often ask myself what kind of history lessons we actually offer. Is this a compulsory exercise or does it go into more depth??
Joachim Schroder: The whole thing stands or falls on that. If we have motivated and engaged teachers, the likelihood that we will have motivated and engaged students is high. This would also be a task for the training of teachers. After every anti-Semitic incident, we have the same reaction: demanded, send everyone to a memorial and then we vaccinated them all. Then they are impregnated against right-wing radicalism. I can well understand this wishful thinking. It would be nice if it were so. That does not work. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that we should make visits to the memorials obligatory, that everyone should go to these places and engage with history, because this goes beyond history lessons in the classroom. The visit can raise awareness, but it doesn't have to. It also depends on the quality of the guided tours, the quality of the educational work.
Norbert Reichel: I think memorial sites would also be overtaxed to compensate with a visit what was not done before in school or elsewhere.
Joachim Schroder: One should not overload a guided tour with too high demands. That is also not possible in a workshop. We can't make up for what was missed in school. But perhaps we can give impulses, attract attention, irritate, raise questions – all this in unfamiliar surroundings. My wish is actually that the students or visitors come out with more questions than they came in with.
Norbert Reichel: If a fairy godmother were to grant you further wishes in addition to the obligatory visit to a memorial site, what would you wish for??
Joachim Schroder: Increasing the number of hours in the subject of history. I hear again and again from teachers that there is not enough time. My conclusion: we need to increase this time. That is point 1. Point 2 would be uniform standards in the education and training of teachers. From what I hear, there is a great lack of opportunities for further training on this topic. Perhaps a central training center for teachers would also help to teach Nazi history, because the training at the university is obviously inadequate in many cases here.
Norbert Reichel: This would not only affect history teachers, but also others who deal with historical topics. This is actually a topic of almost all subjects, literature lessons in German and in foreign languages, politics. And the obligation to visit memorial sites should perhaps also be part of the training of teachers, not only in the subject of history. The extracurricular area also offers new leeway through the expansion of all-day programs. The KMK recommendation on the culture of remembrance from 2014, initiated by Sylvia Lohrmann, contains a lot of good suggestions, some of which have hardly been implemented so far. There are other noteworthy KMK recommendations, all of which can be read on the KMK website.
Joachim Schroder: If you deal a little with the Nazi era, you will find occasions and topics in all areas. For example, also in the natural sciences with the so-called "racial doctrine". Or what all found its way into schoolbooks at that time.
Norbert Reichel: Or mathematics. If we consider which misanthropic mathematics problems pupils had to calculate during the Nazi era, for example on the costs of care and feeding of the handicapped.
Joachim Schroder: Keyword textbooks. Maybe we need uniform textbooks, textbooks that are up to date.
Norbert Reichel: Very hot topic. Who actually writes the textbooks? My impression is that many retired teachers. They have time for it.
Joachim Schroder: Most of them are probably written by "old white men". This comes to it. Not everything they write is wrong, but we have to admit that most of the boards and commissions are not diverse.
Norbert Reichel: One example was the dispute over the appointment of the Second Independent Anti-Semitism Commission of the German Bundestag. It was only through interventions that Andreas Nachama and Marina Chernivsky were able to participate as Jewish representatives. That was again the old unbelievable story to exclude Jewish representatives because they might be "biased"! It is no different with committees and commissions on the subject of racism.
Joachim Schroder: The factors of time and diversity are decisive. We have at our place of remembrance the topic of the Shoah. We do not have the issues of the murder of the Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, disabled people with the T4 action, the persecution of political opposition. All these universal topics need time and should also be able to get their space in educational processes, also at different places of remembrance.
Bureaucracy of terror
Norbert Reichel: At your place of remembrance you also have biographies of perpetrators. In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult topics. If we look at recent studies, for example the Bielefeld MEMO studies, the number of Germans who believe that their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were in the resistance, helped Jews or were victims themselves seems to be increasing. Sometimes almost a third!
Deportation list Old Slaughterhouse © Arolsen Archives
Joachim Schroder: That is also the reason why we decided to present perpetrators as well. At the moment, there are only perpetrators, because apart from two female members of the criminal investigation department, we have not found any perpetrators known by name – as far as this region is concerned. These two policewomen were involved in the plundering of the internees, but there are no files, no further information about the two women, nothing about what became of them after 1945. We have only the names. It is difficult to show in a museum. At the moment we are thinking about how we can do it anyway.
Why perpetrators? We want to show that the Holocaust was a crime based on division of labor. They were not only Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, as German courts argued after 1945. This was a very elaborately organized process with one lead agency and many other agencies that participated: the tax office, the residents' registration office, the Reichsbahn, the district court. Judicial officers came and put their stamp on the declaration of renunciation of property. Police officers picked up the deportees and accompanied them to the ghetto, to the camp. We have a police officer with 15 people who accompanied the deportees to Sobibor. And anyone who has been to Sobibor knows that they could not have been unaware of what was happening there.
At the Reichsbahn there were people who made the schedules for the trains that went to the ghettos and murder camps, who sold the tickets. At the very end, the ones who pulled the triggers during the shootings were the ones who took the selected ones to the gas chambers. These were "ordinary men" (Christopher Browning) who carried out the Holocaust, ordinary family men. These all play their role in their field of work, and without their performance of duty, the Holocaust would not have been possible.
These are names, faces, stories, and we thought that they should also be shown and told in the exhibition. We put them at the end of the exhibition because we think that the place is first dedicated to all the people who were deported from there. We critically discussed the question, also with the Jewish community, whether we could exhibit pictures of perpetrators. If our colleagues had told us not to do it, we would not have done it. But there were no objections.
Norbert Reichel: I hear again and again from Jewish communities and Jewish experts that we should intensively deal with the perpetrators in our family histories.
Joachim Schroder: To avoid that so many claim that they were descendants of resistance fighters. It must be said that this was not so. This only applies to a vanishingly small percentage – my colleague Sabine Reimann occasionally offers very interesting seminars on researching one's own family history (#nazihintergrund?), who are very much in demand.
Norbert Reichel: Some of the actors of the resistance in the last years of the war, including the actors of the 20. July 1944, were themselves perpetrators before.
Joachim Schroder: Yes, that shows how complex this is. There was a wide range, from the excess perpetrator to the simple clerk in an authority such as the tax office or the Reichsbahn, who were also cogs in the great murder machinery. Some participated as convinced Nazis and anti-Semites, some indifferently or even reluctantly, but out of a deeply rooted sense of duty to their superiors or "the state". This is a sentence that I have read 100 times in denazification files, that one would have been an "old-school civil servant", by no means a Nazi. To say: one did not question what one was told to do by one's superiors.
Norbert Reichel: A fundamental document is Heinrich Himmler's Posen speech of 4 March 1918. October 1943 before higher SS and police leaders. He also explained the contents of this speech on 6. October and recited again and again on other occasions.
Joachim Schroder: The speech throws a harsh light on the inhuman and murderous mentality of the SS, which was the central "motor" of the Shoah. And it shows that the perpetrators saw themselves in the right, also in view of the monstrosity of the crimes they committed. Himmler spoke of a "glory of German history that can never be written," and that the executors of the terror had "remained decent" in carrying out the task of "exterminating the Jewish people". He means by this: the SS commandos would not have pillaged, plundered, raped and personally enriched themselves, although everyone in the room knew that the opposite was the case. Another interesting passage from the speech, which is less often quoted, sheds light on the motivation of the perpetrators. If – according to Himmler – one had not gotten "the Jews" out of Germany, then one would again have a situation in Germany like in 1916/17, with "agitators and saboteurs" – he meant by this that then a new "1918" would have threatened in Germany. Because THAT was the primal fear of the Nazis: that something like the November Revolution could happen again. And who, from the Nazis' point of view, were responsible for the November Revolution or, more generally, for Bolshevism?? The Jews. This is again the phantasm of the Jewish-Bolshevik world revolution.
Norbert Reichel: What are the reactions in the workshops when you address the topic of the perpetrators??