BONN (Feb. 20)
A party belonging to Germany’s governing coalition has denounced an exhibit that details a series of criminal acts carried out by the German army during World War II.
The exhibit about the Wehrmacht, as Germany’s wartime army was known, is “an insult to millions of German soldiers and a defamation of Germany,” according to an official statement from the Christian Social Union.
The exhibit, which premiered last year in Hamburg, is scheduled to open next week at a university in Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria, where the Christian Social Union is the ruling party.
The exhibit documents the role of the Wehrmacht in rounding up European Jews and sending them to concentration camps. It also portrays cases of the outright killing of Jews by German army units.
The exhibit was financed by Jan Philipp Reemtsma, a philanthropist who runs a Hamburg-based foundation that supports research projects about Germany’s Nazi past.
Reemtsma said he was not impressed with the Christian Social Union’s criticism of his project.
“This is something we have been expecting all along,” he said. “It is in fact difficult for Germans to be confronted with this terrible past and to face the truth on such a delicate issue.”
The Christian Social Union’s criticism echoed the sentiments of many Germans, who have long sought to distance the Wehrmacht from the war crimes carried out by the SS and Gestapo.
Members of the opposition Social Democratic Party responded to the criticism by charging that the Christian Social Union was co-operating with neo-Nazi groups in a bid to stop the exhibit from opening in Munich.
The Christian Social Union is “practically playing the role of the organizer of a neo-Nazi protest, which can easily end up in violence,” said Dietmar Keese, the leader of the Social Democrats in the Bavarian Parliament.
The charges and countercharges come at a time of heightened debate within Germany about the role of its citizens during World War II.
That debate was fueled by the recent success of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” a book by American author Daniel Goldhagen that said the Holocaust would not have been able to take place without the active complicity of the average German citizen.
Meanwhile, neo-Nazi groups have announced plans to bring thousands of followers to Munich on March 1 for a protest march against the exhibit.
Some 40 left-wing groups said they would organize a counter-demonstration against the neo-Nazis.