The Topography of Terror Museum provided quite a unique experience. The museum consists of dozens of panels that detail how the SS rose to be the premier law enforcement in Germany. The SS originally included followers of Hitler, and as it grew in size, members gained more privileges. Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, made different divisions that all served different purposes. All normal police forces soon were forced to recognize the SS and could not stop them from carrying out their missions. The federal government told the local police that the SS could not be questioned or stopped under any pretense. To me, that is the scariest part because it disposed of checks and balances and jurisdictional boundaries. In law enforcement there are jurisdictions whether it is city lines, county lines, highways, or whatever other jurisdictions there are, that allow certain officers to have certain authorities; the same is true for the federal government. Certain laws have to be violated for federal law enforcement to be involved, and seeing that the SS just took over and told the city police to do what they say is a scary thought to me.
The museum provided extensive details about such SS tactics as public shaming, incarceration, and murder. The SS would shave women in public if they had relations with the wrong person, and they would jail any undesirables. In the end, they would publicly shoot or hang people. All this happened to anyone who disagreed with them, not just Jews, Roma, and Sinti. We learned about Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who came back to Germany, where he spoke against the Nazis. He slowly lost his rights before he was jailed and shot on Hitler’s orders.
The only thing I would change about the museum regards the display of physical artifacts. The Terror Museum is built on the old SS Headquarters, and it sent all the artifacts to other museums or placed them in storage so that certain items or locations would not become centers for modern Nazi worship. While I understand that rationale, I think that seeing the artifacts is as important as reading the information. We learned in class before this trip that the SS produced a plethora of false information making Hitler a World War I hero of Germany, raising his popularity. I am not saying this museum is making false information, but I like seeing history as well as reading about it. It gives me the sense that it is real. I like touching and seeing history.
Not having artifacts in museums goes further than not wanting to have a place for modern-day Nazis to gather; it also ties in with free speech. Without getting political, Germany has laws that prevent the use of sporting SS uniforms, supporting Hitler, supporting swastikas, denying the Holocaust, or engaging in online talk of the same nature. The German children still learn about the German faults in school by reading and visiting sites, but outside of that, all artifacts are heavily regulated. I feel this is a disservice to the public because history makes it real. I feel it is important to see and be able to have a conversation about all parts of history. I understand the purpose of not wanting a new Nazi movement and not wanting a place that they would idolize, but with that, having free choice is also crucial.
In addition, I was disappointed by the major Holocaust memorial in Berlin, known as the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”. This site, an elaborate collection of concrete stela intended to convey isolation and disorientation, has several problems. First, there are only a few small signs explaining the memorial’s purpose and intentions, but they are not prominent and it seemed that no one was reading them. They also did not acknowledge responsibility. Several of the stelae are already falling apart or leaning off their original foundations. In disregard of the historical weight behind the memorial, many visitors were sitting or eating lunch on it or allowing children to run around as if it were a playground. No one was being respectful, quiet, or reflective of one of the greatest atrocities in history.