Today we are in Nürnberg, known for its immense Nazi Party rallies and for the trial that established the use of law in punishing political crimes.
There are other things that distinguish this city, but we decided to get the nasty stuff over with first. We actually began our visit weeks ago by watching Leni Riefenstahl’s chilling documentary, Triumph of the Will, which was filmed at the 1934 Nürnberg rallies and shown throughout the country.
The Documentation Center is a museum housed in a small wing of what was to be Hitler’s Congress Hall, to host the mammoth rallies. It never got completed but you can get a sense of what was planned. The museum itself attempts to provide answers on how Nazism could happen, and a sad story it is.
And then there is Zeppelin Field, where the huge rallies were held.
What was more strange – standing on Hitler’s platform, or having this site, which held up to 150,000 supporters at a time, completely to ourselves? A subject for debate.
The Tribune where Hitler stood was modeled after the Pergamon Altar (which we didn’t get to see in Berlin) and was originally topped by a giant swastika, later blown up by the Allies.
Think about the vastness of the crowd. If they were all cheering your name, I guess you too would think you were pretty special, and free to do as you please. A wonderful bit of stage management which the film brilliantly portrays. And a really chilling place to be by ourselves.
As a fitting conclusion to this experience, we went across town to the courtroom where the Nürnberg trials were held in 1945.
Room 600 today is back to its original design, but in 1945, it was expanded in the back and reorganized to hold a large number of people, from attorneys to judges (from each of the four victorious powers), interpreters, cameras and recorders, and – of most importance – the accused.
Posters indicate where each group was seated, and it is surprising that so much history was made in so small a space. The trials set a precedent for international law, and established the concept of “crimes against humanity.” which has had to be invoked often since then. The trials also revealed to the world the scale of the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
Another very sad place.