“We share a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
After over 20 years of planning and construction, the Topography of Terror historical site in Berlin announces the completion of its brand new documentation center.
The site, known by historians as the Third Reich's "center of evil", once housed the Gestapo, the SS, and other Nazi agencies central to National Socialist rule of terror from 1933 to 1945. Among those who had offices there were high-ranking Nazi officials Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann, and SS-Chief Heinrich Himmler.
The director of the new center, Professor Dr. Andreas Nechama, explains that it was a strategic and political choice for the Third Reich to place these agencies in the center of the city and not along its outskirts. This way the citizens would be confronted head on with the violence of the state apparatus in the event they were considering active resistance.
The original buildings were damaged during the war and were torn down afterward. Due to their proximity to the Berlin Wall, the grounds became more or less forgotten through much of the Cold War period. The site became overgrown with grass, trees, and rubble.
"It was an attempt to let grass grow over history in the true sense of the word," said Nechama.
Since 1987 the site has been home to a permanent exhibition which informs the public about its history. It was at that time that the city of Berlin and the Federal Government of Germany made plans for a museum-like structure to be built there. Until now, the exhibit was in open-air with only an eighth of the area accessible to visitors. Nonetheless, the site attracted up to 500,000 visitors annually. Nechama believes it is the site's authenticity that attracts so many visitors, saying "People coming to Berlin still want to know 'Where were the agencies of terror? Where was the capital of the Third Reich?"
The new documentation center will officially open on 7 May 2010. The simple single-story pavilion cost about 25 million Euros and includes exhibition spaces, a multimedia research library, and seminar rooms. New exhibits will also open, and will document how the Third Reich operated and how Germans dealt with this dark chapter in history in the aftermath of World War 2.
The Topography of Terror is located at Niederkirchnerstrasse 8. It is open daily from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Admission is free. Official English website.
[Photo: Markus Schreiber]