Suzanne Fields
BERLIN -- Berlin, Paris and London lie becalmed beneath a blanket of winter white. People come and go, talking only of snow, snow, snow. They're obsessed with the weather, as if their winters are usually balmy seasons of sunshine and warmth. They've forgotten, if only for a fortnight or so, fears of terrorism and anger over intimate pat-downs. Tourists are furious over cancelled airline flights.

Museums are the winners. People are eager to stay inside. An especially sensitive and painful exhibit is drawing crowds in Berlin, breaking taboos and reviving a lively subject that no one could have expected to be a crowd pleaser. The German Historical Museum looks at Hitler and the ways the German people embraced him. For a nation where selling "Mein Kampf" or displaying Nazi memorabilia is forbidden, there's lots about how Germans of all ranks in society participated in the rise of Adolf Hitler.

A curator emphasizes that the show is not about Hitler as a personality, but the way the Germans themselves created him. That's why it's called "Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime." There are photographs of adoring mothers and children writing letters of admiration and affection, fondly stitching swastikas into embroidered presents for der fuehrer.

The focus is on ordinary, everyday items, such as playing cards with pictures of the leaders of the Third Reich. Quite chilling is a portrait of an ordinary German woman painted on a canvas with words on the reverse side in Hebrew from the Torah, suggesting that the sacred book of the Jews was cruelly recycled for someone's creative destruction. A rabbi's wife tells how her daughter sat in a classroom where the teacher talked about the inferior genetic makeup of the Jews, and the child was forced to endure the taunts of her classmates.

This exhibition follows mainstream books by contemporary historians documenting the way ordinary Germans not only benefited from the confiscation of property of the Jews, but actively contributed to their isolation, exile and death. One scholar describes those ordinary Germans as "enablers, colluders, co-criminals in the Holocaust."

Last year, a holiday season exhibition in Cologne showed how the Nazis manipulated Christmas, encouraging Christmas tree ornaments and cookies fashioned of swastikas. The Nazis tried to eliminate the symbol of the star, either the six-pointed symbol of Judaism or the bright starshine on the manger of the baby Jesus.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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