Wehrmacht exhibition

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Neo-Nazi march against the exhibition Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941–1944 in Munich, October 12, 2002

Two traveling exhibitions of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research , which were on view from 1995 to 1999 and from 2001 to 2004, are referred to as Wehrmacht exhibitions . The first was called the War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 , the second crime of the Wehrmacht. Dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941–1944 . Through them were crimes of the Wehrmacht in the Nazi era , especially in the war against the Soviet Union , made a widely publicized and controversial. After the criticism of the first exhibition, the second set different accents, but reaffirmed the basic statement of the Wehrmacht's participation in the Nazi regime's war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, the Holocaust and the Porajmos .

First Wehrmacht exhibition


Before 1991, various social groups had initiated projects to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the German attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Protestant working groups published the anthology Bridges of Understanding .

Reinhard Rürup and others conceived the Berlin exhibition The War against the Soviet Union in 1991 in order to convey new historical research results on Soviet war victims, German extermination plans before 1941, their ideological and social roots and the participation of German leadership elites to broader sections of the population, especially schoolchildren and young people . This was hardly noticed outside of Berlin.

Duration, locations, number of visitors

The first exhibition was entitled “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”. Initially it was planned as a smaller exhibition next to a larger one. It was opened in Hamburg on March 5, 1995 - the fiftieth year after the end of the war - and was shown in 34 cities in the Federal Republic and Austria until November 4, 1999 : Berlin , Potsdam , Stuttgart , Vienna , Innsbruck , Freiburg , Mönchengladbach , Essen , Erfurt , Regensburg , Klagenfurt , Nuremberg , Linz , Karlsruhe , Munich , Frankfurt am Main , Bremen , Marburg , Constance , Graz , Dresden , Salzburg , Aachen , Kassel , Koblenz , Münster , Bonn , Hanover , Kiel , Saarbrücken , Cologne , again in Hamburg and Osnabrück .

It was opened with speeches by well-known personalities: for example Klaus von Bismarck in Hamburg, Iring Fetscher in Potsdam, Erhard Eppler in Stuttgart, Johannes Mario Simmel in Vienna, Diether Posser in Essen, Jutta Limbach in Karlsruhe, Christian Ude in Munich, Hans Eichel and Ignatz Bubis in Frankfurt, Hans-Jochen Vogel in Marburg, Franz Vranitzky in Salzburg, Avi Primor in Aachen and Johannes Rau in Bonn. In four years it has attracted around 900,000 visitors from all walks of life, professional groups and ages and has received diverse national and international attention. From 1997, in particular, the number of visitors far exceeded expectations: Waiting times of several hours became the rule in many cases, and the exhibition catalog became a bestseller.

Another 80 cities had requested the exhibition. Exhibition dates were planned until 2005, also abroad. Inquiries came from Australia , China , France , Greece , Great Britain , Israel , Italy , Japan , Luxembourg , the Netherlands , Russia and the Czech Republic . In 1999 an English version was created for the USA . The English language catalog was published in New York City .

Authors, topics, main statements

Hannes Heer. Recording from 2017

The exhibition was initiated by Hannes Heer and prepared for a year by four historians on behalf of the Hamburg Social Research Institute: Hannes Heer, Bernd Boll , Walter Manoschek and Hans Safrian . The visual conception and design came from Christian Reuther and Johannes Bacher. The overall management of the content was with Hannes Heer.

The exhibition presented various documents and photographs on display boards over an area of ​​around 400 m². One aspect was the “world of images of the post-war years”. Of the wartime scenes, the focus was on three: Serbia and the partisan war, the route of the 6th Army to Stalingrad and the years of occupation in Belarus . The central narrative of the exhibition was the “microcosm of military violence against prisoners of war, partisans, Jews and the entire civilian population”. Another area of ​​the exhibition was devoted to covering up traces. The installation in the center of the exhibition was shaped like an iron cross . Uncommented, small-format photographs were exhibited here. The headings for this were “torturing the Jews”, “gallows”, “dead zones”, “shots in the neck”, “captivity” and “deportations”.

In this way, the Wehrmacht exhibition documented the active participation of the German Wehrmacht in Nazi crimes in four main areas: the Holocaust, the looting and looting of the occupied territories, mass murders of the civilian population and the extermination of Soviet prisoners of war .

For the first time, the general public took note of facts that had been well researched historically but were generally little known at the time:

  • the beginning of the Holocaust in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, which the Wehrmacht leadership planned and then carried out with a division of labor,
  • the participation of whole troops in these crimes, with no resistance with a few exceptions,
  • anti-Semitism and racism widespread in the armed forces as well as in simple troops ,
  • the criminal orders (for example the commissioner's order ) and their largely uncontested execution
  • and the destruction of the Eastern European civilian population in the millions, intended as a war goal.

Form of representation

The individual topics were presented in the exhibition with documents and contemporary, mostly private and often despite the ban, photographs of former Wehrmacht soldiers on movable walls. The origin of the written documents was indicated in each case. They were placed under thematic headings such as "criminal orders of the armed forces leadership", differentiated from them "criminal orders on site". Other chapters read: "A perfectly normal war", "The doomed" or "Lost victories".

Four partition walls were arranged in the exhibition room in such a way that they represented an iron cross. On the outside, under the heading “Language of Violence”, various propaganda texts from the years 1930/32 were shown, which glorified the war, Germany and the German soldiery. Other outsiders showed the "everyday life of crime" with quotes from letters from the field post and confessions from German soldiers in Soviet captivity. The inner walls showed photographs of riots against Soviet Jews, the lives of prisoners of war, deportations and expulsions of civilians.

The performance combined these photographs of the crimes with documents from the previous orders and the subsequent cremation, destruction of files, forgery of documents and post-war repression. This was intended to show that the Nazi ideology partially achieved its goal of eradicating both the intended war opponents and the memory of them and the crimes committed against them in the first post-war years.

Reactions to the first Wehrmacht exhibition


Many media reported on the exhibition and rated it positively. The " legend of the clean Wehrmacht " is no longer tenable.

However, there was considerable controversy in the media. Former television journalist Rüdiger Proske criticized the exhibition a few days after it opened. The attack on the Soviet Union was not the prelude to a war of race and extermination, but "primarily motivated by imperialism". Proske also accused Hannes Heer of rigorous misjudgments and feared social exclusion of the Bundeswehr . In an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on February 6, 1996, Günther Gillessen criticized the documents on display as “evidence of a vagabond feeling of guilt”. The all-powerful SS was responsible for the crimes, and attacks by the Wehrmacht were only the result of Stalin's brutal warfare behind the German lines. The exhibition is an unscientific “pamphlet” that satisfies a “need to be concerned”.

The journalistic and political debates in the exhibition venues of Bremen and Munich in 1996/1997 were particularly intense. Large advertisements directed against the exhibition appeared in the Munich daily press. In other exhibition venues, too, public discussions about the content and form of the exhibition took place in advance, in political committees as well as in the education sector, the media and among visitors. Rüdiger Proske made the fight against the exhibition his task and published a 100-page polemic with the title “Against the Abuse of the History of German Soldiers for Political Purposes”. He also wrote to the Federal Chancellor, all German members of the Bundestag, ministers of culture and mayors of the planned exhibition venues, calling on them to reject the exhibition and not to show it.

In 1999, the broad social debate on the role of the Wehrmacht in the Nazi era was often highlighted as a positive exhibition effect. Ulrich Raulff wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on September 1, 1999:

“Until a few years ago, military history paid little attention to the regime's racial policies. Now she has understood that in the shadow of war the Holocaust has developed and spread. The war made the Holocaust possible, and since the war was largely dominated by the Wehrmacht, questions arose as to the Wehrmacht's behavior with regard to international war law, which were hotly debated in the German public. Whether it was a question of breaking 'the last taboo' in German history or not, the dispute over the involvement of the Wehrmacht in the criminal policy of the regime triggered by the Reemtsma Institute's exhibition 'War of Extermination' has the effect that the Second World War changed its face in the nineties. Despite all the criticism of the 'Wehrmacht exhibition' (which was admittedly never able to do justice to the reality of the entire Wehrmacht): After a wandering through 32 cities and a number of visitors approaching one million, it is the most successful political exhibition in the Federal Republic become. As such, it created facts of consciousness. "


The intention to show the Wehrmacht exhibition sparked ongoing conflicts in many cities shortly after the exhibition opened. While the opponents saw it as a blanket defamation of all members of the Wehrmacht and, moreover, of the German soldiers, the proponents welcomed it as a necessary clarification about a dark chapter in the German past. Opponents and supporters were often spread out along party political front lines.

In Bremen, the exhibition almost broke the grand coalition of CDU and SPD. The Senate decided to show the exhibition only after a lengthy discussion. The political compromise included holding a specialist conference on the subject on February 26, 1997, before the exhibition was opened on May 28, 1997 in Bremen's town hall . In Nuremberg, the mayor rejected patronage for the exhibition. In Munich in particular, there were fierce controversies between the parties represented in the city council. Most of the CSU MPs and Manfred Brunner from the Federation of Free Citizens categorically rejected the exhibition, while the SPD and the Greens approved it with their majority. As a Munich city councilor, Brunner demanded the dismissal even after the exhibition began. The location of the exhibition was also controversial: instead of the city museum originally planned, the exhibition took place in February 1997 in the Rathausgalerie on Marienplatz. Lord Mayor Christian Ude stood behind them. This intensified the protests, but also found support from the Protestant Church, for example.

Bavaria's Minister of Culture Hans Zehetmair (CSU) recommended not to visit the exhibition. Florian Stumfall wrote under the title "How Germans are defamed" on February 22, 1997 in the party newspaper Bayernkurier :

“The exhibition generalizes actual crimes by units and soldiers of the Wehrmacht to blanket accusations against all former soldiers. [...] So the organizers want to deny millions of Germans the honor. "

It is therefore an "intensification of the punitive measures of the Nuremberg Court of Justice ", the makers of which staged a "moral campaign of destruction against the German people".

Peter Gauweiler (CSU) said on February 14, 1997 at the traditional fish meal of the Schwabing CSU that "tobacco millionaire Reemtsma" had " failed to prove his basic democratic consciousness through the years of funding the mob from Hafenstrasse ". He should “make an exhibition about the dead and injured of the billions of his cigarettes that he sold and to which he owed his fortune.” He justified this in a leaflet distributed to 50,000 Munich households. The SPD and the Greens saw a lack of distance from right-wing extremism and the danger of a black-brown alliance. Dietmar Keese (SPD) compared Gauweiler's sentences with the “language of Joseph Goebbels ”.

On March 13, 1997, the Bundestag debated the exhibition and the crimes of the Wehrmacht shown there in a current hour, which is considered to be Parliament's “finest hour”. Speakers from all parties also dealt biographically and personally with the topic of military and German guilt. The Bundestag dealt with the issue again on April 24, 1997. Parliaments of the federal states also discussed the exhibition. State parliaments, state archives and museums, universities and adult education centers then increasingly applied for the exhibition, which has now been opened more frequently by high-ranking politicians. Many exhibition venues documented the debates before, during and after the exhibition.

Right-wing extremists

German right-wing extremists accompanied the exhibition with numerous public protests, counter-propaganda, attacks and attempted attacks. At the opening on January 10, 1997 in Karlsruhe , around 30 members of the Republicans , the NPD and the “Young National Democrats” (JN) demonstrated under their slogan: The German soldier: Honest, decent, loyal! - No more anti-German agitation! The JN representative Michael Wendland announced ongoing marches at all other exhibition locations until the end of 1998 against the "seditious, anti-German shame exhibition". His appeal was picked up by other neo-Nazi groups and circulated in the Thule network's mailbox system .

The founder of the right-wing extremist “Germany Movement ”, Alfred Mechtersheimer, also mobilized against the “Anti-Wehrmacht Exhibition” . His "Bündnis 97" slandered the exhibition in leaflets as a "traveling circus". The undersigned, Andreas Gregor Wick , was also active in the “ Weikersheim Study Center ” in the 1990s .

On February 24, 1997, around 300 opponents, including skinheads , responded to the call of an "anti-defamation committee" and protested in front of the Munich City Hall against the exhibition that was scheduled to start the following day. On March 1, 1997, 5,000 neo-Nazis mobilized by the NPD and JN demonstrated in downtown Munich - one of the largest demonstrations by the political right in the post-war period. The desired route to the Feldherrnhalle was forbidden, but a meeting with demonstrators from a broad opposing alliance, who blocked the route, was barely prevented by the police in the valley .

There were anonymous bomb threats in Linz. On March 9, 1999, at 4:40 a.m., an explosives attack was carried out on the exhibition in Saarbrücken. The adult education center building that housed the exhibition and the neighboring castle church were damaged. Since 2011 it has been investigated whether the right-wing extremist terrorist cell National Socialist Underground (NSU) could have committed the attack.

History revisionists

The Stuttgart-based “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kameradenwerke und Traditionsverbände eV”, headed by the history revisionist Alfred Schickel . V. ”spoke in an“ educational pamphlet ”of a“ left-wing extremist political position of the organizers and their backers and thus the direction of their disinformation policy based on the old Soviet model ”. The exhibition is "the core of an ideological campaign that applies to all former and present soldiers". It is "historically untenable". According to a catalog of “measures”, all exhibition dates should be “systematically and systematically monitored and accompanied by factually effective criticism”. Corresponding propaganda material was distributed to certain media and politicians: including a 35-page report by Hartmut Schustereit , a former employee at the Military History Research Office in Freiburg.

Schustereit judged the exhibition with reference to a few pages of the accompanying catalog as a “continuation of Soviet propaganda”, which had “long been refuted by historical research”. In doing so, he referred to representatives of the refuted preventive war thesis , according to which Adolf Hitler had only anticipated a threatened attack by Josef Stalin with the attack on the Soviet Union . Above all, he quoted Joachim Hoffmann , another former employee of the Military Research Office. This had appeared in a criminal process for inciting the right-wing extremist publisher Wigbert Grabert as an exonerating witness and had described the book “Basics of Contemporary History” by the Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf as a “necessary non-fiction book with a scientific claim”.

The " Österreichische Landsmannschaft " in Vienna offered the report as follows:

“The military historian wrote a correcting account on behalf of traditional German associations; he criticizes scientifically sound and irrefutable, what concerns the formal, linguistic as well as the content level of the falsifications and defamations. "

The Viennese “Austrian Working Group for Culture and History”, based at the same address, claimed that the report proved that the “lurid and slanderous language” of the exhibition was borrowed from the “vocabulary of Soviet communist agitation and propaganda”.

The Stuttgart “Arbeitsgemeinschaft” also published the pamphlet Rüdiger Proskes.

The right-wing extremist Grabert-Verlag , Junge Freiheit , Nation Europa , Witiko-Brief and the Austrian Eckartbote promoted both brochures .


Traditional associations of former Wehrmacht soldiers rejected the exhibition from the start. A “working group of historians and former soldiers” was founded in Bonn to organize a public discussion forum on this topic, at which contemporary witnesses and historians were supposed to speak to invited media guests. He had the working title "Truth for the soldiers of the Wehrmacht" and in 1997 published the book Army in Crossfire under the direction of Joachim F. Weber .

In Bavaria , the “ Bavarian Soldiers' Association 1874 ” and the “Association of Former Stalingrad Fighters” wrote angry letters of protest against the Munich city council's decision to show the exhibition.

The Federal Ministry of Defense only allowed members of the Bundeswehr to visit the exhibition as private individuals. Nevertheless, some troop commanders recommended visiting the exhibition.

Associations of displaced persons

In April 1997 the Junge Freiheit and the " Ostpreußenblatt " published a statement by Götz Kubitschek and his "Arbeitsgemeinschaft Paulskirche", which said:

“The exhibition [...] violates elementary criteria of scientific working methods. Nevertheless, it is now shown in an outstanding location. As a symbol of the German national revolution of 1848, the Paulskirche in Frankfurt cannot be the appropriate location for this exhibition. We call on politicians to take scientific criticism seriously, not to support the exhibition and not to upgrade it with outstanding exhibition locations. It brings nothing new, but what is known is distorted and damaging for the coexistence of generations. "

This signed 340 people, including around 70 former and former members of the Bundeswehr, representatives of the Association of Expellees such as Wilhelm von Gottberg , Wolfgang Thüne , Hermann Thomasius and Harry Poley from the East Prussian Landsmannschaft , Hans Mirtes for the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft , the CDU member of the Bundestag Wilfried Böhm and Hans Wahls from the far-right Witikobund .

The Ostpreußenblatt made itself the mouthpiece for the rejection of the exhibition. Edition 10/97 quoted Alfred Dregger : This exhibition shocked and confused, it reviled and hurt, and that is probably its intention. Dregger spoke of "stupid coming to terms with the past that rarely delivers a contribution that really tries to be understood", and emphasized:

"But most of these soldiers, who risked life and limb for their country and had to endure endless suffering, can rightly deny that they participated in Hitler's crimes or otherwise committed war crimes."


In issue 13/97, Major General a. D. Gerd-Helmut Komossa , the exhibition "deliberately damaged" the soldiers' reputation. The former ZDF editor Helmut Kamphausen described it as an “exhibition by a communist who is endured by a multimillionaire”. In the same edition, the rehabilitation of the armed forces deserters and victims of Nazi military justice was rejected: there were rightly convicted criminals "in their own ranks" with whom no "decent soldier" wanted to deal.

In issue 14/97, the former military pastor Lothar Groppe stated that the crimes of Wehrmacht soldiers were "undeniable". These “regrettable excesses” were “inevitable”, “because the bloody fighting, not least through insidious attacks by partisans, lowered the inhibition threshold for breaking the law in every army.” Constitutional judge Jutta Limbach, who opened the exhibition in Karlsruhe, had thus no judicial independence, but "ideological obstinacy" shown.

These opponents also took up the scientific criticism of some of the exhibits and generalized them: Many of the crimes shown were not committed by Germans, but by Soviet soldiers on Stalin's orders . The exhibition must also show these crimes of the Red Army . With these arguments, both right-wing conservatives and right-wing extremists fought the Wehrmacht exhibition as an attack on the “honor of the German soldiers”.


This exhibition hardly presented any new historical findings about the Wehrmacht crimes. It was largely research results that had arisen gradually since the 1960s, were summarized for the first time and presented to a larger audience with private photographs. Above all, found criticism

  • the title "Crimes of the Wehrmacht": It already acts as a blanket condemnation of all Wehrmacht soldiers. In contrast, a display pointed out right at the beginning: The exhibition does not want to pass a belated and sweeping judgment on an entire generation of former soldiers , but also emphasized that the Wehrmacht was actively involved in all crimes and as an overall organization.
  • the form of presentation: you mix striking evaluations with the presentation of the facts. This also works as a blanket defamation of all members of the armed forces as criminals.
  • Lack of differentiation between perpetrators, accomplices or eyewitnesses both in documents and accompanying evaluations.
  • lack of examples of insubordination and non-participation in crime. This favors the impression of equating Wehrmacht soldiers and criminals.
  • lack of expressiveness of many photographs for the specified action. Some photos showed a number of naked Jews, but not their murder, as the caption claimed.
  • missing or imprecise indications of origin for some photographs. Without this, however, it would not be possible to assign the responsible perpetrators. Photos without such information could mislead the crimes.
  • lack of didactic support to understand the images shown. They create shock and horror, but leave the viewer alone with questions about the background.

In 1999, the historian Bogdan Musial pointed out errors in the allocation of ten photos that “show not German, but Soviet crimes in the summer of 1941.” He also claimed that “about half” of the photos showed actions that had nothing to do with war crimes had to do. The Hungarian historian Krisztián Ungváry stated that an execution of Serb youths shown in six photos in a Yugoslav city was not carried out by Wehrmacht soldiers but by members of the Hungarian army . Only ten percent of all 800 photos involved actually showed Wehrmacht crimes; the rest are acts of Hungarian, Finnish and Croatian soldiers, " volunteers " from Ukraine, Russia and the Baltic states or members of the SS and the security service (SD) . Dieter Schmidt-Neuhaus questioned four photos that should show victims of a massacre in Tarnopol . The military historian Rolf-Dieter Müller from the Military History Research Office took up this criticism and accused the exhibition authors of having misled the mass audience.


The increasing criticism from historians and the resulting media echo prompted the institute director Jan Philipp Reemtsma to temporarily withdraw the exhibition on November 4, 1999. He hired a commission of historians to review the exhibition. The members of the commission included Omer Bartov , Cornelia Brink , Gerhard Hirschfeld , Friedrich P. Kahlenberg , Manfred Messerschmidt , Reinhard Rürup , Christian Streit and Hans-Ulrich Thamer . Reemtsma excluded Hannes Heer, who refused a new version and only advocated corrections to the criticized photos, from the management and further participation in the new exhibition in the summer of 2000.

On November 15, 2000, the commission published its investigation report with the summary result that the exhibition contained “ 1. factual errors, 2. inaccuracies and carelessness in the use of the material and 3. particularly generalized and suggestive statements due to the type of presentation . "At the same time, the report stated that" the basic statements of the exhibition about the Wehrmacht and the war of annihilation waged in the 'East' are basically correct ". Overall, the authors of the exhibition had done intensive and serious source work, and the exhibition contained “no forgeries”.

With regard to the photos, the report states that “of the 1433 photos in the exhibition, fewer than 20 photos do not belong in an exhibition about the Wehrmacht.” For some photos, incorrect captions were taken from their archives without being checked; this was confirmed for two out of ten photos that Musial had criticized. The lack of photos can be seen "in the remarkably careless use of photographic sources, as is unfortunately very widespread in historical and popular publications". This approach is "so widespread that currently only a few exhibitions and publications of historical photographs would probably meet the strict criteria that are assumed here." On the other hand, "no historical exhibition that works with photographs has ever been so thoroughly examined".

The commission also criticized the “arrogant and unprofessional way in which the exhibition organizers dealt with the criticism made at the exhibition”.

Based on the results, the commission recommended a revision of the presentation without changing the basic statements, especially the inclusion of the victim's perspective in addition to perpetrator documents.

Krisztián Ungváry, one of the critics of the exhibition, was dissatisfied with the work of the commission. He suspected that the members would have wanted to spare the exhibition organizers. The commission worked "biased and imprecise". Truths have been confirmed which have "not been disputed by any of the main critics". However, the questions about how many errors the exhibition contained in total and how many complaints were justified were not answered.

Second Wehrmacht exhibition

Duration, locations, guests, visitors

The second exhibition was entitled “Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941–1944 ”. It was opened on November 27, 2001 in Berlin by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Julian Nida-Rümelin . In addition to Berlin, the exhibition venues were Bielefeld , Vienna , Leipzig , Munich , Luxembourg , Chemnitz , Neumünster , Schwäbisch Hall , Peenemünde , Dortmund , Halle (Saale) and, from January 29 to March 28, 2004, finally, Hamburg . Since then it has been temporarily archived in the magazine of the German Historical Museum in Berlin.

In contrast to the first exhibition, the then Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping allowed generals and soldiers to take part in the event in uniform. The then scientific director of the Military History Research Office, Hans-Erich Volkmann , gave one of the keynote speeches at the opening. In total, more than 450,000 visitors saw the traveling exhibition.

Concept, participants, content, form

The second exhibition entitled Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Jan Philipp Reemtsma and Ulrike Jureit , who were appointed spokesperson, conceived the dimensions of the war of extermination 1941–1944 .

Employees of the exhibition were Andrej Angrick , Christoph Bitterberg, Florian Dierl, Marcus Gryglewski, Gerd Hankel , Peter Klein , Magnus Koch, Norbert Kunz, Karsten Linne, Jutta Mühlenberg, Sven Oliver Müller , Manfred Oldenburg , Harald Schmid , Oliver von Wrochem and Ute Wrocklage . The scientific advisory board included Hans Mommsen , Michael Bothe , Hagen Fleischer , Jürgen Förster , Ulrich Herbert , Detlef Hoffmann , Klaus Latzel , Peter Longerich , Alf Lüdtke , Reinhard Otto and Gerd R. Ueberschär . The design concept for the second exhibition came from Andreas Heller.

Six thematic areas were presented using the example of events in East and Southeast Europe: The Holocaust, the mass deaths of Soviet prisoners of war, the food war, deportations and forced labor , the partisan war, as well as reprisals and hostage shootings. Two further aspects were added: The exhibition presented the scope of action of individual actors and dealt with the perception of the Wehrmacht in the post-war period. Much background information was also available. Evaluative headings were dispensed with, the background color black was replaced by white.

The relationship between written and photographic sources has changed overall because the involvement of the Wehrmacht in crimes is reflected more in written documents than in photographs. Because it was hardly possible to reconstruct information about the photographer, the persons depicted, the place, the process, the date and the route of transmission in many Landser photographs, these were largely omitted. Overall, the exhibits on display were also more contextualized than in the first exhibition. The focus moved away from the perpetrators, towards the places, times, circumstances and details of the respective crimes themselves.

In the case of controversial photographs such as those of the events in Tarnopol, the problem of the sources was explained. The new version thus drew significant consequences from the criticism of the first version. Their reception history was also documented.

Reception of the second Wehrmacht exhibition

Expert assessments

The second version was mostly praised in the media as scientific and factual. Almost all reviewers emphasized that they adhered to the basic thesis of a war of annihilation between the Wehrmacht and the Soviet Union and that it made it clear that the Soviet Union as a whole had become complicit in the crimes that took place.

Also Hannes Heer , the designer of the first exhibition, agreed with this assessment in principle, but criticized the fact that the revision did not take into account essential research results since the first version, the one that had held up as deficits: the Wehrmacht crimes during the invasion of Poland , participation the genocide of the Sinti and Roma , the role of the local aid organizations set up by the Wehrmacht in the Holocaust. Above all, the question of the motives and mentalities of the perpetrators is avoided and remains unanswered. By segregating most of the private photographs, the involvement of simple soldiers and units in the mass murders is again largely invisible. The new version thus lags behind the criticism that was directed not against the basic thesis of the war of annihilation as such, but rather the theses on its causes. One of the points of criticism mentioned by Heer was counterbalanced by another exhibition on the behavior of the Wehrmacht during the attack on Poland, compiled at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw . It bears the title: Greatest severity ... Crimes of the Wehrmacht in Poland September / October 1939.

Gerd Wiegel from the Study Group of German Resistance 1933–1945 criticized both versions: They ignored the long-term interests and goals of the criminal war of extermination of the Wehrmacht and did not even mention the General Plan East . The new version removed the provocation of private pictures and thus again reduced the group of perpetrators to high Wehrmacht generals:

“The photos of the simple perpetrators on site have disappeared from the catalog and exhibition; you can see the victims - the perpetrators mostly only insofar as they are troop leaders and commanders, simple soldiers are hardly to be seen. "

For Werner Röhr, this easing explains the political acceptance of the second version compared to the controversial first version:

“Although the new exhibition far surpasses the old one in terms of abundance of material, differentiation and professional design, although it retains its basic message and underpins it more extensively and precisely, it does not come close to its effect. [...] The old exhibition showed how this involvement in the crimes was carried out by many 'willing executors'; this was their scandal. To have gone behind this provocation is a fatal offer of peace to the critics. "

For Klaus Naumann one of the reasons for this effect of the first version was the deliberate renunciation of historical classification and the limitation to factual illustration:

“With the exception of brief allusions, we deliberately dispensed with any historical 'derivation' or the formulation of historical 'teachings'. [...] Because every narrative that embeds an event in a before and after is faced with the dilemma of generating an affirmative and suggestive pull through the mere continuity of narration, derivation or justification, no matter how carefully formulated: What happened happened because it had to happen one way or another. The exhibition evades this compulsion to interpret in order to clear the view for the facts (it happened). "

Counter events

Similar to the first version, there were also rallies and counter-events by right-wing conservatives and right-wing extremists during the presentation of the second version, for example in Dortmund (here, moreover, butyric acid was released in one of the toilets of the venue , so that the exhibition had to be briefly interrupted) and in Peenemünde.

At a right counter rally on Heldenplatz in Vienna , participants shouted “Sieg Heil”.


The Austrian director Ruth Beckermann released the documentary Beyond the War in 1996 . It shows the reactions of former Wehrmacht soldiers in Austria during and after visiting the first exhibition, and records conversations and interviews with them.

The film The Unknown Soldier (screenplay and director Michael Verhoeven ) was released in German cinemas from August 2006 and on DVD from February 2007 . In addition to the presentation of countless Wehrmacht crimes, especially in Ukraine and Belarus, the film compares in particular the two versions of the exhibition and critically examines the reasons that prompted the publisher Jan Philipp Reemtsma to divest the army and also to change some key issues. Verhoeven follows Heer in his judgment and states that private pictures of normal soldiers in particular, shot during the murder or immediately afterwards, have been removed. In the second exhibition, therefore, the identical perspective of the photographer and the murderer is missing , i.e. the view into the psyche of the perpetrator-voyeur who wanted to boast with the pictures.


Exhibition catalogs
  • Hamburg Institute for Social Research (Ed.): Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941–1944 . Exhibition catalog, overall editing: Ulrike Jureit, editing: Christoph Bitterberg, Jutta Mühlenberg, Birgit Otte. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2002 ISBN 3-930908-74-3 .
  • Hamburg Institute for Social Research (Ed.): War of extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 (catalog for the exhibition "War of Extermination - Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944"), Ed .: Hannes Heer and Birgit Otte, Hamburger Edition , 1st edition, Hamburg 1996, ISBN 3-930908-24-7 .
Material about the exhibitions
  • History in Science and Education (GWU), Volume 50 (1999), Issue 10, ISSN  0016-9056 , pp. 589-595 and 596-603.
  • Gottfried Kößler: War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944. Building blocks for the lessons for preparation and follow-up of the exhibition visit. (Fritz Bauer Institute, Pedagogical Materials, No. 3) 2nd, revised and expanded edition, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-932883-07-1 .
  • ZEIT-PUNKTE: Obedience to the point of murder? The secret war of the German armed forces. Facts, analysis, debate. Die Zeit, special issue 03/1995.
  • Hannes Heer, Klaus Naumann (ed.): War of Extermination - Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-930908-04-2 .
Effects of the exhibitions
  • Hannes Heer: 20 years of the Wehrmacht exhibition: theses, debates, consequences. A personal look , in: Jens Westemeier (ed.): "That was how the German soldier ...". The popular picture of the Wehrmacht , pp. 79–100, Paderborn (Ferdinand Schöningh) 2019. ISBN 3-506-78770-5 .
  • Hans-Ulrich Thamer : An exhibition and its consequences. Impetus from the "Wehrmacht Exhibition" for historical research . In: Ulrich Bielefeld, Heinz Bude , Bernd Greiner (eds.): Society - violence - trust. Jan Philipp Reemtsma on his 60th birthday . Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-86854-255-4 , pp. 489-503.
  • Bernd Struß: " Eternal yesterday" and "Nest defilter ": The debate about the Wehrmacht exhibitions - a linguistic analysis. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 3-631-58736-8 .
  • Marten Klose: War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944. Reception and reactions in the context of personal experience and family memories. 2009 ( full text online ).
  • Christian Hartmann , Johannes Hürter , Ulrike Jureit: Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Balance of a debate. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52802-3 .
  • Johannes Klotz: The exhibition "War of Extermination, Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944". Between historical science and history politics. In: Detlef Bald, Johannes Klotz, Wolfram Wette: Myth of the Wehrmacht. Post-war debates and maintaining tradition. Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-7466-8072-7 , pp. 116-176.
  • Klaus Latzel : Soldiers' associations against the exhibition "War of Extermination" - the long shadow of the last Wehrmacht report. In: Michael Th. Greven, Oliver von Wrochem (Ed.): The war in the post-war period. The Second World War in politics and society in the Federal Republic. Opladen 2000, pp. 325-336.
  • Hamburg Institute for Social Research (ed.): Visitors to an exhibition. The exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”in an interview and conversation. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg, ISBN 978-3-930908-42-4 .
  • Hamburg Institute for Social Research (Ed.): An exhibition and its consequences. For the reception of the exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”. Hamburg 1999.
  • Hans-Günther Thiele (Ed.): The Wehrmacht Exhibition. Documentation of a controversy. 2nd Edition. Edition Temmen, Bonn 1999, ISBN 978-3-86108-700-7 .
  • Hamburg Institute for Social Research (Ed.): War is a state of society. Speeches at the opening of the exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”. Hamburg 1998.
  • City of Munich, Kulturreferat (Ed.): Balance of an exhibition. Documentation of the controversy surrounding the exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”in Munich, gallery in the town hall February 25 to April 6, 1997. Th. Knaur Successor, Munich 1998.
  • Heribert Prantl : Wehrmacht crimes. A German controversy. Hoffmann and Campe, 1997, ISBN 3-455-10365-0 .
Analysis of the exhibitions
  • Hannes Heer: About the disappearance of the perpetrators. The war of extermination took place, but no one was there. Structure TB, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-7466-8135-9 .
  • Ulrike Jureit: "To show means to keep silent". The exhibitions about the crimes of the Wehrmacht. In: Mittelweg 36 , 13 (2004), issue 1, pp. 3-27.
  • Walter Manoschek, Alexander Pollak, Ruth Wodak, Hannes Heer (eds.): How history is made. For the construction of memories of the Wehrmacht and World War II. Czernin Verlag, Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-7076-0161-7 .
  • Miriam Y. Arani: “And the photos sparked criticism”. The "Wehrmacht Exhibition", its critics and the new concept. A contribution from a photo-historical-source-critical point of view. In: Photo history. Contributions to the history and aesthetics of photography. Issue 85/86, Jonas Verlag, Marburg 2002, pp. 96–124 ( online: archive ).
  • Alexander Pollak: The historicization of a taboo. From the controversial demythologization of the image of the “clean Wehrmacht” to the objectified documentation of the war of extermination: a comparison of the two Wehrmacht exhibitions. In: zeitgeschichte 29/2002, No. 2, pp 56-63.
  • Karl-Heinz Schmick: Old wine in new bottles: an analysis of the second exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944 ”. Süderbrarup, Freiland 2002, ISBN 3-9808689-1-5 .
  • Karl-Heinz Schmick: Studies on the exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944 ”. Ludwigsfelder Verlag-Haus, Ludwigsfelde 2000, ISBN 3-933022-09-6 .

Web links

Material about the exhibitions
Balance sheet
Individual aspects

Individual evidence

  1. Elisabeth Raiser u. a. (Ed.): Bridges of Understanding. For a new relationship with the Soviet Union. On behalf of the Solidarity Church Westphalia and Lippe working groups. Gütersloh 1986
  2. Reinhard Rürup (ed.): The war against the Soviet Union. A documentation. (Exhibition catalog) Berlin 1991
  3. This exhibition, entitled 200 Days and 1 Century, dealt with the times and hopes between the liberation of Auschwitz (January 27, 1945) and the day of Japan's surrender in World War II . It ran from January 29, 1995 to October 1, 1996. You can find the information ( memento of February 20, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) on the website of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research (accessed on January 20, 2015).
  4. ^ Helmuth Lethen: The shadow of the photographer. Images and their reality . 1st edition Berlin 2014, p. 152. ISBN 978-3-87134-586-9 .
  5. Hannes Heer: How can you tell the story of the Holocaust and the war of extermination? About memory politics in a memory-resistant society. In: Hannes Obermair , Sabrina Michielli (ed.): Cultures of remembrance of the 20th century in comparison - Culture della memoria del Novecento al confronto. (Booklets on the history of Bolzano 7). Bozen: City of Bozen 2014. ISBN 978-88-907060-9-7 , pp. 115–153, here: p. 125.
  6. For topics and installation, see Hamburg Institute for Social Research (ed.): Destruction War. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 (catalog for the exhibition "War of Extermination - Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944), Ed .: Hannes Heer and Birgit Otte, Hamburger Edition , 1st edition, Hamburg 1996, ISBN 3-930908-24-7 and Jan Philipp Reemtsma: Two exhibitions - one balance sheet ( Memento from September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), edited and abridged version of a lecture, published in full in: Mittelweg 36, Issue 3/2004.
  7. “He was spared the fear of death”. Rüdiger Proske on Hannes Heer's exhibition Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944 at Kampnagel , in: Die Welt , March 13, 1995.
  8. ^ Günther Gillessen: Evidence of a vagabond feeling of guilt , Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. February 6, 1996, p. 33. Quoted from Hannes Heer: On the difficulty of ending a war. Reactions to the exhibition “War of Extermination. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 " , in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft , 1997, issue 12, pp. 1086–1100, here p. 1094.
  9. ^ Ulrich Raulff: Schockwellen , FAZ from September 1, 1999
  10. Bernd Meier, Bernd Schneider: “You shouldn't overburden an exhibition” , Weser-Kurier , February 27, 1997. Reprinted in Helmut Donat (ed.): Liberation from the Wehrmacht? Documentation of the dispute about the exhibition "War of Extermination - Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944" in Bremen 1996/97 , Donat, Bremen 1997, p. 218 f., ISBN 3-931737-42-X .
  11. Bayernkurier of February 22, 1997: How Germans are defamed
  12. Frank Müller: "The language of Goebbels." Fear of a black-brown alliance is around , Süddeutsche Zeitung , February 19, 1997.
  13. See, for example, Rolf-Dieter Müller in an interview with Klaus Wiegrefe : Immunized against criticism , in: Der Spiegel , June 7, 1999. Likewise, Rita Süssmuth in an interview with Christopher Ricke: Süßmuth: Empty Parliament is not communicable to citizens , Deutschlandradio Kultur , September 7, 2009. Cf. also Christian Böhme: Wehrmacht exhibition: Die Wucht der Tat , in: Der Tagesspiegel , November 27, 2001; Benedikt Erenz: Fathers and Atonement , in: Die Zeit , January 10, 2013.
  14. Minutes of the contributions to the debate , here pp. 14708–14730 (accessed on September 11, 2014).
  15. ^ Minutes of the contributions to the debate
  16. See Wehrmacht exhibition: Many enemies, many friends, a pause for thought four years on the road , in: Der Tagesspiegel , November 15, 2000 (accessed on December 17, 2014).
  17. ^ Anton Maegerle: “Anti-German Hetze” - right-wing extremists mobilize against the Wehrmacht exhibition (Blick nach Rechts 3/1997), ZDB -ID 155689-7
  18. Jörg Schallenberg: Munich Defense Against Right-Wing Power , Die Tageszeitung , October 11, 2002 (accessed January 20, 2015).
  19. Hamburg.de, April 28, 2003: NPD demo against Wehrmacht exhibition ( Memento from July 3, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  20. ^ Wehrmacht exhibition merkur-online.de from August 11, 2002
  21. Karl-Otto Sattler: Explosives attack on Wehrmacht exhibition. Police suspect right-wing extremist background / criticism of CDU advertising campaign. In: Berliner Zeitung . March 10, 1999, accessed July 20, 2012 .
  22. Did NSU commit attack on Wehrmacht exhibition? ( tagesspiegel.de [accessed July 26, 2017]).
  23. Das Ostpreußenblatt, Volume 48 - Volume 10 of March 8, 1997, p. 1; cited on - The conservative information base on the Internet ( Memento of February 2, 1998 in the Internet Archive ).
  24. Jean Cremet: United in Outrage - In the agitation against the exhibition “ War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944 ”, in addition to the extreme right, the expellees are also increasingly speaking out (Blick nach Rechts 11/1997), ZDB ID 155689-7
  25. ^ Bogdan Musial: Pictures at an Exhibition. Critical comments on the traveling exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 47, October 1999, pp. 563–591.
  26. Chrisztián Ungváry :, Real images - problematic statements. A quantitative and qualitative photo analysis of the exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944 ”. In: History in Science and Education 10, 1999, pp. 584-595.
  27. Dieter Schmidt-Neuhaus: The Tarnopol partition wall of the traveling exhibition “War of Extermination Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941-1944”. A case study on the use of image sources. In: History in Science and Education 10 1999, pp. 596–603.
  28. Rolf-Dieter Müller: “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944 ”. In: Military history reports 54/1995, p. 324.
  29. a b Press release by the commission to review the exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 "(Frankfurt / M., November 15, 2000) , printed in Newsletter 13 (PDF; 336 KB) ( Memento from March 12, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) (December 2000) of the Military History Working Group (p. 23-25).
  30. ^ Commission report on the review of the exhibition Report of the commission on the review of the exhibition "War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”, pp. 25, 33, 79, 85 below, 92 (PDF) ( Memento from June 12, 2015 in the Internet Archive ).
  31. Krisztián Ungváry: With two standards. The commission to review the Hamburg Wehrmacht Exhibition was partisan and imprecise. In: Berliner Zeitung. November 23, 2000
  32. Peter Klein: The two »Wehrmacht exhibitions« - conceptions and reactions ( Memento from February 4, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), in: Gedenkstättenrundbrief 165 (4/2012) pp. 5–12.
  33. Hamburg Institute for Social Research (ed.): Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941–1944 . Exhibition catalog, Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2002, p. 9, ISBN 3-930908-74-3 .
  34. Hamburg Institute for Social Research (ed.): Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941–1944 . Exhibition catalog, Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2002, p. 13 f, ISBN 3-930908-74-3 .
  35. On the changed handling of photos see Ulrike Jureit: "Showing means keeping silent". The exhibitions about the crimes of the Wehrmacht. In: Mittelweg 36, 13 (2004), issue 1, pp. 3–27, here in particular pp. 11–20.
  36. Hannes Heer: On the disappearance of the perpetrators. The disputes surrounding the exhibition “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944 ”.
  37. " Tied to old lies"
  38. a b Gerd Wiegel: The Disappearance of Pictures. From the old to the new "Wehrmacht Exhibition" ( Memento from June 5, 2003 in the Internet Archive ). Study Group German Resistance 1933–1945 e. V., information No. 56, November 2002.
  39. Klaus Naumann: What remains of the military community? A double look at the "Wehrmacht exhibition"
  40. Helga Embacher, Bernadette Edtmaier, Alexandra Preitschopf: Anti-Semitism in Europe. Case studies of a global phenomenon in the 21st century. Böhlau, Vienna 2019, p. 236.