German Exhibit Shows Mass Appeal Of Nazi Ideology A new exhibit at Germany's national museum in Berlin looks at how deeply Nazi ideology penetrated the country's popular culture. Playing cards, board games, posters, quilts and other artifacts are on display through early February.
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German Exhibit Shows Mass Appeal Of Nazi Ideology

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German Exhibit Shows Mass Appeal Of Nazi Ideology

German Exhibit Shows Mass Appeal Of Nazi Ideology

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And now a report from our correspondent in Berlin, where a new exhibit is drawing huge crowds. It's called "Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime." It highlights how Hitler's regime had broad public support among ordinary Germans -who not only accepted, but often celebrated the Fuhrer.

It also shows how the Nazis racist ideologies seeped deeply into popular culture and everyday life - Hitler playing cards, Nazi board games,�Third Reich quilts. Its not the first time a German museum has exposed the depth of the Fuhrer cult, but it is a first for the country's national history museum, as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The cultural artifacts are striking: a large ad for Drummer cigarettes with a smiling, brown-shirted Nazi SA member. Hitlers a Drummer for Big Ideas, the saying went. Smoke Drummer. There are metal signs that were posted in public parks and at entrances to towns: No Jews Wanted.

The Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht board games - suggesting fun for the whole family, playing blitzkrieg around the kitchen table - caught the eye of Markus Hoppe, a 38-year-old who came from Hamburg to see the German Historical Museum's exhibit.

Mr. MARKUS HOPPE: I was really impressed in a negative way, by those sick games they played during the war, like war games. I cannot believe this. I haven't known this before.

WESTERVELT: It wasn't just the Hitler youth clubs and board games that targeted children. There are hand puppets for kids, with demeaning caricatures of Jews. And carefully colored toy figures, made of plastic, encouraged play with goose-stepping soldiers - and Hitler saluting from a podium, surrounded by swastikas and generals.

Dr. SIMONE ERPEL (Historian/Curator, "Hitler and the Germans"): On the left side, you see Goering - that's Goering. And on the other side, it's Hindenburg.

WESTERVELT: That's historian Simone Erpel, one of the curators of "Hitler and the Germans." She's walks over to a large needle and patchwork tapestry done by village women from a Protestant church in central Germany in 1933, just after Hitler took power.

The tapestry shows boys and girls in Nazi garb, the church congregation and the army, all marching toward the church, surrounded by the "Lord's Prayer" -with the swastika flying from the church steeple above the cross: Party, Church and State Are One.

Dr. ERPEL: The motive is we are - bring the swastika into the church.

WESTERVELT: It was a Nazi church knitting club.

Dr. ERPEL: Not special Nazi, but it was not a political reason to do it. They do it but for themselves.

WESTERVELT: The people's relation to Hitler has been explored before. Why do you think this exhibit is important now, today?

Dr. ERPEL: To see it was not only one man, not only the SS, not only some perpetrators, but the whole society takes part to stabilize this regime and make it possible.

WESTERVELT: Also, she adds, the show comes at an opportune time, given the increasingly shrill tone of anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany. But the idea of a larger circle of guilt for Nazi horrors has been examined before, and some German critics complain that the exhibit fails to break new ground. And fear of Hitler, the man, seems to hang over it all. There are no speeches by the Fuhrer played out loud here - just a snippet on the audio guide.

Also, after much debate, the curators decided not to include any personal items, such as one his many uniforms. Curator Erpel says there was concern such items might be seen as glorifying the genocidal dictator, or become objects of veneration.

Dr. ERPEL: Maybe some of the visitors will interpret it: Hitler return back.

WESTERVELT: Despite the show's flaws, many Germans who've visited call it eye-opening, and important to have in the capital. Sabine Hornisher came from Stuttgart.

Ms. SABINE HORNISHER: (Through Translator) We didn't learn a lot about the Hitler cult in school. Of course, we saw a lot about concentration camps, and about who won and who lost. But I think people were still a little bit afraid to talk about the Hitler worship in the '70s, when I was in school. This is why I find the show important now.

WESTERVELT: And when you see the pictures here today, she adds, maybe you can't fully understand the Third Reich, but at least you come one step closer.

The Exhibit "Hitler and the Germans" runs through early February.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.

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