Acknowledging the Past and Shouldering the Guilt

The Wannsee House.

Throughout the Spring semester and this three-week study tour, I have been exposed to the many Nazi atrocities committed during World War II—from pictures in museums to walking through Auschwitz itself. Arriving in the last country, Germany, I was unsure of how the losing country would portray their experience of the war. Would they shoulder their guilt in the persecution of the Jews, a topic the other countries so thoroughly discussed in their museums? Looking back, I would say that yes, the Germans did so in an extremely factual manner. However, I was particularly struck by their discussion of ghettos at the Wannsee House.

Ghettos, set up to house Jews and cut them off from society, were a devastating element of the Nazi persecution of Jewish people. The “Establishing the Ghettos” display recognized the wrongdoings of the Germans, but it was also the only display I encountered that acknowledged the role of Jewish Councils within the ghettos. It aligned well with a source we read in class in that it highlighted the role of the Councils while still placing the blame on the Germans themselves. It thoroughly reiterated that the awful choices the councilmen had to make were done under German threat of death or punishment. This display, which did not criticize these councilmen for whatever role they played in the death of their fellow Jews, seemed to me a recognition of the Nazis’ wrong-doing.

I was able to learn about a lot more at the Wannsee House than just the ghettos, however. In fact, the Wannsee House showed in-depth the anti-Semitism that was prevalent throughout Germany before Hitler took power, a topic we discussed only briefly during the semester. The first section of the house emphasized how multi-faceted this anti-Semitism was by using both a large amount of text and images of German propaganda. Its in-depth discussion of the dehumanization of Jews in pre-war Germany provides important context to the Jewish experience during the war. Overall, I think the Wannsee House did a thorough job in acknowledging the German role in Jewish persecution prior to and throughout the war.


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