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Published: June 17th 2016
We started our day at the Documentation Center and Congress Hall in Nuremberg. Hitler planned several massive structures that were designed further the fuhrer myth and to force people to feel insignificant except as part of a larger whole. Most were not built. The current exhibition is in the old Kongresshalle. It is a first-class explanation of events. The Germans, more than most, have been willing to take a sober look at themselves, report history and the interpretation of that history honestly, and vow "never again". Our visit was somewhat prolonged because of the extent of the material, but it is beyond the scope of this blog to try to explain it all. In a nutshell, Hitler preyed on the fact that Germany had been ill-treated after World War I, and promised people he could make things better for them. In the process he slowly became dictator and almost a demigod. He blamed the problems of the Reich on non-Aryans, particularly the Jews, and first excluded them then rounded them up and exterminated them. He built large, impressive structures. He restricted the press. He had thugs beat up dissenters at rallies. In short, he began in a fashion similar to a
modern-day American politician.
Today marked the end of the war sites for us. Fittingly, our next-to-last stop was at the large bivouac area marked on my father's World War II maps upon which he circled the site and beside it wrote "Finis". They arrived about a week before Germany formally surrendered. There had been concern, based on rumors, that Surviving Nazis intended to mount a guerrilla war from the area of Munich and to the south. Therefore, troops were sent rushing south. On April 29th, 1945, both the Dachau concentration camp and the Moosgarden POW camp were liberated (Moosgarden had received the last prisoners from Stalag Luft III, site of the Great Escape). The last bivouac for my father's unit was at Isen, a little German town which probably looks now about as it did then.
Following our brief stop at Isen, we proceeded to Dachau. Like any of the prison camps that remain as exhibitions, this one is grim indeed, although it was one of the better camps to be sent to, since it was not intended primarily as an extermination camp like Auschwitz, Treblinka, or Bergen-Belsen. It started as a place to imprison political prisoners, but
the "guest list" soon included communists, socialists, priests, gypsies, trade unionists, and those with physical and mental disabilities, this last group being "euthanized" by the tens of thousands. In a moment of extreme cynicism, camp conditions were improved in 1943-1944, but only because they need more prisoners to remain alive to be used as slave labor. When one crematorium proved insufficient, a second and larger one was built. Today, the former camp is the site of an exhibition including open air sites and a museum. What becomes clear from visiting these sites we visited today is the clear slippery slope that starts with blaming others for whatever misfortunes you may perceive and then proceeding to victimize them.
We finished the day in high tourist fashion by going to the Hofbrauhaus and drinking beer in liter mugs and eating heavy German food.
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