The Epicenter Of Nazi Cruelty

An iconic fragment of the Berlin Wall on the Niederkirchnerstrasse 8. Photo by Anna Siatka.

An iconic fragment of the Berlin Wall on the Niederkirchnerstrasse 8. Photo by Anna Siatka.

By ANNA SIATKA

BERLIN—To most modern-day tourists, it’s an unfamiliar address: Niederkirchnerstrasse 8, in central Berlin. But when it comes to Holocaust history, the site is notorious. It was the headquarters of Nazi cruelty.

The first view is of a partly destroyed section of the Berlin Wall, which once divided the city into East and West, obscures the building that in 1936 it was for a short time known as the headquarters of the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, and later the Gestapo, the SS, and Reich Security. Now, it’s a museum called The Topography of Terror, which aims to heighten understanding about the Nazis’  actions.

The primary exhibition is divided into five parts: Institutions of Terror (SS and Police); Terror, Persecution and Extermination on Reich Territory; SS and Reich Security Main Office in the Occupied Countries; The End of the War and the Postwar Era. A second exhibition chronicles life in Berlin between 1933 and 1945, while a third presentation provides a more profound insight to the Nazi’s treatment of the sick and disabled people.

In 1929 the Weimar Republic suffered an economic crisis, which caused a high unemployment rate. Many authorities got involved in corruption scandals that made the citizens lose their trust in the government. The political crisis of that time simplified the successful rise of the Nazi party. In 1933, Hitler was appointed as the Reich chancellor, and he wanted to destroy the Weimar democracy. Rights such as freedom of the press or federalism were abolished. The new order called the Third Reich began.

The Führer’s dictatorship meant terror for the Nazis’ opponents. “Racial aliens,” such as Roma, Jews or disabled people were persecuted and murdered. The Reich Security Main Office in Niederkirchnerstrasse 8 gave orders to departments around the country that led to persecutions and murders of the enemies of National Socialism. German Jews, as well as Sinti and Roma, were deported to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe. Homosexuals were another group of enemies because of their unwillingness to reproduce and expand the Aryan race.

Nazi Germany wanted to conquer Europe, especially Poland and Russia. Wehrmacht, SS and police officers under the command of Heinrich Himmler were responsible for maintaining the order in occupied countries, such as Poland. Special units organized deportations to the extermination camps, first of the Jews but then also of the intellectuals, governors, and opponents from those occupied countries. Victims were shot, put into the gas chambers, or killed in the special mobile units. The T4 program was a special action where euthanasia was used to get rid of “the incurably sick,” especially mentally ill people. Mass murder only came to an end once the Nazis lost World War II.

Later on the Military Tribunal in Nuremberg prosecuted major political figures; still, as The Topography of Terror explains, many of them were able to continue their careers unpunished.

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