Critics Say Exhibit on Hitler’s Army Depicts Soviet, Not German, Victims

A controversial exhibit on Hitler’s army will not come to New York next month because some of the show’s exhibits may actually depict victims of the Soviet secret service.

The exhibit, which is meant to illustrate the role ordinary German soldiers played in the Holocaust, includes photographs, letters and other documents from World War II. Opponents claim it brands all veterans of the wartime German army, the Wehrmacht, as criminals instead of honoring the vast majority for serving their country.

During its tour of Germany during the past four years, the exhibit has generated heated protests — and, in some cases, violence.

At almost every stop, the exhibit has attracted neo-Nazis who hand out fliers claiming that the photos are falsified, and that “our grandfathers were not criminals.”

Jan Philipp Reemstma, the head of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, which mounted the exhibit, announced Thursday the delay in sending it to New York, saying it will take researchers at least three months to answer questions recently raised about some of the photographs in “The War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht from 1941 to 1944.”

The show was to have opened Dec. 2 at the Cooper Union School of Art.

Supporters say the exhibit has raised awareness of a taboo chapter of German history because it proves that ordinary German soldiers, and not only the Nazi SS, were responsible for committing atrocities during World War II.

More than 800,000 visitors in Germany and Austria have seen the exhibit, which contains some 1,400 photos, more than half of them portraits.

Reemstma’s announcement followed an appeal Wednesday by a leader of the Christian Democratic Party, Michael Glos, that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer “use all necessary means” to stop the exhibit from being sent to New York.

He said the Foreign Ministry should be working to help build a positive image of Germany abroad.

Glos said in an interview that the exhibit would only heighten prejudices against Germans and could damage the good relationship between the United States and Germany.

Reemstma admitted that a “loss of credibility” threatened to undermine the exhibit’s thesis. He added that researchers had too often depended on archival descriptions of photos. But he denied that any photos had been falsified.

In the past two years, several captions have been corrected. Visitors have pointed out, for example, that German and Hungarian soldiers were mistaken for one another.

Recently, Polish historian Bogdan Musial said he had found evidence showing that some photos depicted the mass murder of civilians by Soviet forces.

The institute withdrew those photos, but pointed out that Musial has supported the main thesis of the exhibit.

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