Confronting its past: Exhibition sheds light on German responses to the Holocaust

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Berlin).

Last month saw the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and for many communities around the world it was a time to reflect on the crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. The television schedules were filled with harrowing survivor accounts – and the question on German responsibility was examined time and again.

The German response to these atrocities has been incredibly complex in the decades since, as an exhibition at Nottingham Trent University, entitled Germany’s Confrontation with the Holocaust in a Global Context, demonstrates.

The Holocaust cuts deep into the consciousness of the nation and over the years German responses have included denial in the first stages when local people were forced to see the extermination camps to protests in the 1960s as young people were angered by crimes the previous generation have committed. Later, there were feelings of guilt and remorse; across German towns and cities, particularly in Berlin, you will find sombre memorials to the victims, while school children are taken to Auschwitz to witness for themselves the site where these horrifying events took place.

The exhibition examines the delicate balance between Germany being able to move on from the past while never forgetting what happened. In 1945, the Allies were aware of what could happen if the country were punished too harshly as it was after the First World War and yet at the time there were still people who had supported the Nazis, either actively to passively.

The issue becomes no less cloudy as the years roll by although there is a sense of reconciliation and indeed, it is suggested that Germany can be used as a blueprint to show how a nation deals with genocide. The Germany of today is dynamic, forward-thinking and reluctant to involve itself in conflict unless it has to but sometimes it cannot shake off its past association and the exhibition shows protests in Greece where Angela Merkel is compared to Hitler and highlights the continuing presence of far right groups in the country. Germany will perhaps always grapple with its role during the Holocaust but its willingness to seek reconciliation and its capacity for reflection have meant that the nation has been able to move forward.

This exhibition has been curated by academics from the University of Leeds, with Professor Bill Niven from Nottingham Trent University acting as historical adviser. The exhibition opened at Leeds Town Hall with opening ceremonies also taking place at the National Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire and Cape Town Holocaust Centre in South Africa on Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is showing at Nottingham Trent University’s Newton Building on Goldsmith Street until Friday. Entry is free.

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