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New Berlin exhibition exposes police role in Holocaust

Amrit Naresh · 5 Apr 2011, 08:35

Published: 05 Apr 2011 08:35 GMT+02:00

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In the decades following the Second World War, thousands of former police officers for the Nazi regime slipped back into their country’s civilian workforce with impunity, their crimes lost to history.

Now, building on over 30 years of research, the new exhibition, “Order and Annihilation – The Police and the Nazi Regime,” sets the record straight on the crimes of the police work in that era.

“The very normal uniformed green police [the regular urban police] force was, until 1942 ... a primary perpetrator of the Holocaust,” museum project director Dr. Wolfgang Schulte told news agency DAPD this week.

“The police had various functions and responsibilities in the Nazi state,” continues a placard at the exhibition, “and as a general rule, police officers dutifully performed their given tasks – be it traffic control or mass executions.”

The 1945-46 Nuremberg Trials indicted scores of high-ranking Nazi officials, but a majority of police officers, war criminals themselves, escaped justice and were never held accountable in court.

The global public knew little about the role of the police for several decades after the war, but the DHM exhibition delves into the gritty details. It tracks the lifespan of the force from its right-leaning origins in the Weimar Republic to its use as an instrument of terror during the Third Reich, to the eventual return of thousands of former Nazi officers to police forces across both East and West Germany.


Click here for more photos of the exhibition.

During the war, according to the exhibition, the 355,000 men and women serving in the police force methodically carried out their duties of registering, collecting and exterminating undesirable groups in occupied territories. These were not just officers of the infamous Gestapo, but belonged to all branches of the police.

Even without any official punishment for the refusal to carry out an order, few officers abstained from their role in the killing, imprisonment and forced labor of millions of civilians in occupied territories.

“The manuscripts, the photos and videos the museum has compiled are disturbing, but also compelling and I think important to see,” said Werner Hinrich, a history professor visiting from Potsdam.

“We’ve known about the crimes for a few years now," he added. "But it’s important to remember and revisit the past, always, so we can make the future better."

Almost as unsettling as the crimes themselves was the re-employment of former Nazi officers in German police forces – including those administered by the Allied powers occupying West Germany.

One section of the exhibition tells the story of former SS officer Julius Wohlauf, a “good example” of a police officer, who took up a job as a salesman immediately after the war in 1945, before rejoining the Hamburg police force ten years later.

Story continues below…

In all, he lived and worked freely for nearly two decades until he was brought to trial for war crimes in 1963, and sentenced in 1968 to eight years in prison for complicity in the murder of 9,200 people during the war.

The curators postulate that Wohlauf, alongside many officers like him, participated in the Nazi scheme for various reasons – out of “blind obedience, vocational ambition, ideological schooling, peer pressure and racism,” but also out of “sadism and personal gain.”

Despite such an explanation, the motives behind the police crimes during the Nazi era remain difficult to understand. But the new exhibition goes a long way in exposing a history that remained hidden for many years.

“Order and Annihilation – The Police and the Nazi Regime” runs until July 31 at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Guided tours are also available.

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Amrit Naresh (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

09:50 April 5, 2011 by Kayak
Herr Amrit, What were the "Nazi police"? Why did you not write simply "the German police"?

"Order and Annihilation ­ The Police and the Nazi Regime"

At least the title of the exhibition is correct in its use.
11:07 April 5, 2011 by DoubleDTown
kayak: good call on the "nazi police." Germans need to be called on that all the time. It's very common for them to talk about the Nazi crimes. I never hear about the Roosevelt/Churchill terror bombing of Dresden -- it's always the Anglo-American terror bombing. yet somehow all the other bad stuff was done by "nazis" -- who of course don't exist any more, rather than Germans.

As to the text of this article: "eschewed justice"? How about "escaped justice."
16:33 April 5, 2011 by derExDeutsche
The point is; Hey Germans, don't go Loving Politicians for what they say they will do for you. Seems to me, the ones that offer the most, have the worst track records.

Often times you won't even get the opportunity to vote them out. You'll have to wait for a collapse, USSR or war, Nicaragua. its 1 Vote 1 Time.

Anti-American Socialists offering a Healthy Volk have always been universally loved in Germany. We in US, we're lucky its only half of us.

Because favors in Politics are like Cigarettes in Jail, never FREE. And Germans have already Paid a heavy toll. Between Hitler and the DDR, you'd think they'd Smarten up? Not a chance. They are doubling down.

Govt. should exist to provide the bare necessities and that's it. Humans provide for themselves, we always have. Keep a Govt. small enough to drown in the bathtub, and you won't have these problems.

But Germans will never listen.
21:32 April 5, 2011 by 9900lawre
Can't see "Nazi Police" in the article.

I've seen a couple of documentries on this subject and think the claims about the role that the police had at the time are justified.

Lastly about bombing and not saying at all it's right but who started it?
21:42 April 5, 2011 by Altdude
No totalitarian dictatorship or oligarchy in history has ever long survived without either the support or the subjugation of the military and the civil police. So, what's new?
06:23 April 6, 2011 by Kayak
To clarify my first comment; The article has since been revised to remove the phrase "nazi police".
12:00 April 7, 2011 by Sam Green
Why rake up the past ! In a dictatorship people had to do as ordered otherwise they would end up dead aswell!
02:33 April 10, 2011 by willowsdad
An even more illuminating exhibit might be one on how much support and admiration the Nazis had in the US and UK, especially among the ruling elites, who envied the no-nonsense way the Nazis dealt with pesky labor unions and commies and got Germany moving (or else!) again.

Another would be the head-apinning speed with which a good many Nazis were "rehabilitated" into allies of the West in the Cold War. Wernher von Braun, for one, should've been tried as a war criminal, but instead was hired by the US government and became very rich. He was useful, you see.
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