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Friday, November 21, 1997 Published at 10:49 GMT


Hitler museum sparks row
image: [ The centre under construction ]
The centre under construction

A row has erupted in Germany over plans to build a Hitler museum in what was his Alpine retreat of Berchtesgaden.

By constructing a Hitler documentation centre, the Bavarian authorities are hoping to tell tourists the whole story behind the Nazi dictator and the awful crimes committed during the Third Reich.

[ image: Souvenirs are widely available in local shops]
Souvenirs are widely available in local shops
Berchtesgaden has been a shrine of sorts for neo-Nazis since the War. The remains of Hitler's retreat were finally destroyed in 1952 after Allied bombers left the job half finished.

The German government demolished the villa completely to stop souvenir hunters carrying the rubble away.

[ image:  ]
The authorities claim the centre is crucial if the 300,000 tourists who visit Berchtesgaden every year are not to pick up the rather cosy image, which is found in some of the area's shops, of Hitler relaxing with his mistress, Eva Braun.

But the ideas behind the museum are badly thought out says Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, for Holocaust Remembrance.

He believes it could serve as another reason to bring neo-Nazis into the area: "Though their intent may not be to build a Hitler theme park here, which would be a magnet to lunatic neo-Nazis around the world, it's still very fuzzy."

Mr Samuels is concerned that the museum's intention to show the human side of Hitler could give tourists the wrong idea.

But Michael Brenner, Professor of Jewish History at Munich University disagrees. "Once we have a documentation centre, people, especially tourists, will know about the black side to this beautiful site."

Dr Volker Dahm, the museum project leader, also defends the decision to show scenes from the private life of the dictator which present him as a man rather than a monster.

Both he and Professor Brenner share the view that unless the human side of Hitler is shown, future generations will not have a chance to understand how seemingly ordinary human beings can be capable of such evil acts as genocide.

Shimon Samuel fears this attitude is naive. "We had information that there was going to be an exhibit here which would show a more human side to Hitler, with pets and as a hiking enthusiast. And that would have been a banalisation of history and a scandal and we protested this."

Two generations have been born since Hitler's Third Reich crumbled, but his memory still casts a long shadow over Berchtesgaden and Germany. It is a shadow that many of the ordinary people of Berchtsgaden would be glad to see lifted.

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