“My heart is breaking when I think about the people who suffered from Nazism. Back in the day I was just a child, but being German, I feel my guilt and ask for forgiveness,” anxiously says Elizabeth Goff, a resident of Munich, who now is 78 years old. Back then, her sister suffered from Nazism, while she herself left the city, and then watched Ludwig Erhard’s “economic miracle,” and later – the fall of the Berlin wall. Now she came back to Munich, her hometown. She says she is “happy that everything is over, that we are living in a new era now.” The humankind learns to overcome its totalitarian past, rethinks its own history lessons, asks for forgiveness for destroyed people’s lives and cruelty, and learns to be different. Thus, Germany has become different after Willy Brandt’s apology. Apology for the crimes of a regime, which the president of the Federal Republic of Germany Joachim Gauck urges Russia to make. Germans managed to overcome their past, even though, as Brandt once said, “there is no such nation which would be able to hide from its history.” It reminds of itself, even in modern cities. The Day decided to explore the places where the ideology of the Nazi Party flourished decades ago. Munich and Nuremberg are in the focus.
One of the most visited cities in Germany, famous around the whole world for its unique Bavarian flavor, Oktoberfest, and beer brewing tradition, it has an interesting history that starts back in the 8th century, when monks from the Tegernsee Monastery settled on Peter Hill. How interested are tourists in the period of Wittelsbach rule, turning the city into the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria, mystical stories about Ludwig II, and the Weimar Republic? We tried to look into the unusual and “non-tourist” history of Munich, a city where the Nazi Party was created.
On February 24, 1920, at 7:30 in the Festsaale at the Hofbraeuhaus am Platzl, the first large-scale gathering of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP) took place with over 2,000 people participating in it. It was at this meeting, which lasted 4 hours, that Adolf Hitler pronounced the “25 point plan,” which became the official program of the Nazi Party, and offered to rename the organization into the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. According to this program, national socialists demanded the unification of all Germans on the basis of the people’s right to self-determination and uniting into the Greater Germany; equality of rights in respect to the other nations and abrogation of the peace treaties of Versailles and Saint-Germain; land and territory (colonies) for the sustenance of German people, and colonization for the surplus population, for the state to settle the matters of job placement and livelihood of German citizens; abolition of unearned work and labor incomes and breaking of debt slavery; carrying out a land reform; replacement of the Roman Law, which serves a materialistic world-order, with German common law, etc. Hitler said then: “General interests are above personal ones, this is the spirit of the program. The breakdown of the debt slavery is the core of the national socialism.”
By the way, Vladimir Lenin had also been there. During his first emigration, Lenin was a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. He lived illegally in Munich on Kaiser Street and visited that restaurant. The editor of Iskra (The Spark) newspaper, which was based in Munich at the time, wrote about such pastime: “We are especially happy to mention the Hofbraeuhaus, where excellent beer erases any class distinctions.”
And in 1923, in the Buergerbraeukeller beer hall, the so-called Beer Hall Putsch (also known as Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch) took place, when Hitler’s supporters made an attempt to overthrow the current government and seize state power. The putsch was started by the Kampfbund veteran organization, headed by the national socialist Hitler and General Ludendorff on November 9, 1923, in Munich. At 11 a.m., Nazis gathered under the swastika flags and military standards, and the column headed towards the city center, Marienplatz, hoping to lift the siege off of the Military Ministry. The column was led by Hitler, Ludendorff, and Goering, there also were several hostages marching along. Julius Streicher, who learned about the putsch and came from Nuremberg, joined the Nazis at Marienplatz.
At first, a few police patrols let the column pass, but when demonstrators came to the Odeonsplatz near Feldherrnhalle and the Ministry of Defense, their way was blocked by numerous police force, armed with carbines. Three thousand Nazis were opposed by about a hundred police officers. Hitler urged the police to surrender, but he was refused, after which shots were fired. Overall 16 Nazis and 3 policemen died during the shooting, many more were injured, including Goering. Hitler and other participants tried to escape. Ludendorff remained standing on the Odeonsplatz and was arrested. Later he despised Hitler for being a coward. Two hours later, Rohm surrendered. Robert Murphy, an eyewitness of those events, who acted as the US Consul General, wrote in his memoirs: “When shooting started… both Ludendorff and Hitler behaved in the absolutely same way, as it befits two soldiers hardened in battles. Both simultaneously dropped to the ground in order to avoid the bullets. While Ludendorff’s guard, who was marching next to him, was shot instantly, just like many of Hitler’s followers.”
The Weimar Republic survived then. The putsch leaders were arrested within a few days after it was suppressed, except for Goering and Hess (they fled to Austria, Hess came back later and was convicted too). The marchers, including Hitler, received prison terms of varying lengths. But Hitler was released early, only after nine months. The Nazi Party, which was practically unknown outside Munich at the time, was temporarily banned everywhere in Germany. And now only a memorial board at Odeonsplatz reminds of the Beer Hall Putsch.
Germans found the strength to repent for the horrible totalitarian past. In 1970, people around the world were stirred by a certain photo. It featured Willy Brandt, who fell to his knees in front of the memorial in Warsaw, a monument to heroes and victims of the uprising in the Jewish ghetto, as a sign of the Germans’ repentance. Back then, The Times proclaimed him the person of the year, and the next year he became the laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize. Brandt was the first chancellor to visit Israel. He made a gesture which shook the whole country, he went into Yad Vashem wearing not just a hech cap, but a hat worn by orthodox Jews. Then he opened the Book of Psalms and started reading Psalm 103 in German: “We committed sins and crimes. Oh, merciful Lord, forgive us.” Brandt considered it to be his duty to help his nation to overcome the past. Then he added: “There is no such nation which would be able to hide from its history.”
Now Germans reinterpreted their complex historical past, put an end to it, and apologized to the world. After a long period of denazification, the understanding of those events comes to a whole new level. Former director of the German Historical Institute in Warsaw Klaus ZIMMER told us about the Germans’ perception of their national socialist past: “There is a difference between generations. If the older one has a highly pronounced feeling of its involvement, for the youth, the current generation of students, it is a relatively distant period, the lesson of which was already learned. Sixty years of democratic past influence the minds of the young generation profoundly. The young people are absolutely different. Everyone knows about those events, since they teach about National Socialism in schools. It is written in textbooks, there are frank and competent teachers, who are interested in the students learning as much as possible in order for them to develop democratic consciousness. Students know to what terrible consequences the events of the National Socialism had led. Especially when it comes to the Holocaust,” Zimmer adds. The history is presented in a way that would be understood by everyone. For example, in the Jewish Museum, the history of Jews is even presented through comics.
A visit to the Jewish Museum helps to imagine the life of Jews through centuries. The exhibitions show the relation of the fate of Jews in Munich and other parts of South Germany, especially during the Holocaust. Besides, the museum exhibits tell about the appearance and spreading of the National Socialism in Munich. We interviewed an average student of the KSFH Muenchen (Katholische Stiftungsfachhochschule Muenchen) Sofia DAMM to find out what the young know about the history of that period: “I learned the history of the National Socialism in the eighth grade. During the classes we learned about World Wars I and II, the Post-War period, and the Cold War. But we have the trilateral school system, and that is why I know much more about the subjects of my specialty. I know that the Nazi Party was created in Munich. Bavaria was very attractive for the then leaders. They carried out their policy here, but it was hard for them to propagate their political views among religious Catholics who lived in the rural area. National socialists had to ‘re-educate’ them.”
A group of people interested in Jewish history and culture gathered for the first time with a goal to create the Jewish Museum on Munich back in 1928. The project had been “asleep” and was revived only almost two decades after the Holocaust. It appeared on Maximilianstrasse thanks to Hans Lamm and Richard Grimm. As a rare source of Jewish history and culture in Munich, the museum had many visitors. But it was closed down later due to financial problems. However, a new museum was opened in 2007, which is situated on the St. Jakob Square and is a part of the Jewish Center. Plenty of literature about Jewish culture, as well as about the war period, can be found in the three-storied building.
Also, a few projects are carried out in the city, aimed at studying and understanding history. There are plans to create a Center of the National Socialism History Documentation 70 years after the Nazi period in the building which once housed Hitler’s party headquarters, the famous Braunes Haus. Now historians are working on the concept of the exhibition. The monument to the victims of National Socialism, located at the Odeonsplatz, also reminds about the complex Nazi past. However, it is under reconstruction now. Just as the consciousness of Germans is now under the reconstruction of humanity.