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The Disposing of Hitler

2022 could be considered a year marked by great uncertainty. In the wake of a pandemic with many countries experiencing deteriorating economic circumstances, Russian troops entered Ukraine on the 24th of February. That war could break out in Europe came as a shock despite headlines of significant numbers of Russian troops massing around the border in late 2021 and early 2022 [1], and questions as to whether deterrence was a possibility [2]. The situation has led to increased global uncertainty, particularly amid other economic problems surrounding the impact of the war on food supplies and energy, for which many European nations are dependent upon Russia. Russian involvement in Ukraine is not new, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 reflected similar motivations, and many of the same methods. The slowly developing sense of crisis could be compared to events in the 1930s where inactivity from other nations emboldened Hitler, leading to the wider conflict of the Second World War as control of the situation was lost and appeasement failed. It was the presence of nationalism in Ukraine, and its association with the far-right, that led to Putin’s assertion that Russia was entering Ukraine in a “special military operation” to “de-nazify” the country, a claim so over-exercised it begins to diverge almost entirely from common understanding of what a Nazi ideology would actually look like [3].


The debate around the presence of neo-Nazis across Europe, especially in its East, could therefore be expected and discussion of its past is almost inevitable. Just short of 700 miles away from Kyiv is Vienna, where currently at the ‘House of Austrian History’ (Haus der Geschichte Österreich (HDGÖ)) an exhibition entitled ‘Disposing of Hitler’ is running. Here, the debate surrounding the remnants of a regime that collapsed seventy years ago is an indication of the power it retains today, especially relevant as another war is taking place in Europe at the same time. The exhibition is subtitled ‘Out of the Cellar, Into the Museum’ and deals with the legacy of Nazism, specifically its physical remains, and what might be the most suitable way to respond to them. The display is “Nazism without the grey [4]”, deliberately taking a sombre approach in order to move away from the propaganda-like nature of the objects themselves. Visitor engagement is actively encouraged, reflective of the inevitable debate the matter sparks, making decisions on objects provided on cards which are then displayed as a part of the exhibition [5]. It lays out three possibilities for each artefact: should these be preserved, sold, or destroyed?


Preserve

One way to deal with the legacy of Nazism, as tends to be common with any valuable or informative object, is the preservation of associated items. This could be in a monetary sense as to what has the greatest financial value, and often in tandem with this is the historical importance of something with regard to the significance of its history, but equally important is the personal value of an item. For many, items associated with the Nazi regime are unlikely to hold much great sentimental value, although there will inevitably be exceptions to this.


The Wheatcroft Collection, based in Leicestershire in the UK is considered to be one of the largest private collections of military vehicles in the world, comprising approximately two-hundred items. However, the Wheatcroft Collection is far more extensive than a collection of vehicles. The owner, Kevin Wheatcroft, as a result of a lifetime of collection, also owns a range of Nazi memorabilia, such as the door of Hitler’s cell in Landsberg Prison in which he wrote Mein Kampf, and various other items such as Eva Braun’s gramophone, furniture from Hitler’s guesthouse in Linz, and Josef Mengele’s grandfather clock. Kevin Wheatcroft states he seeks to preserve such items for future generations and outlined his intentions for many items to go onto public display, suggesting they are not simply being preserved as a private collection for personal interest which seems to be the current position [6]. There is a case to argue that through the preservation of some physical remains of the Nazi regime, subsequent generations can be more aware of what took place and these can act as a warning and deterrent from following a similar path. However, where these items are not seen by the public, it would not achieve this end result. In the United States a warehouse at Fort Belvoir in Virginia houses thousands of pieces of Nazi propaganda artwork. This includes significant pieces like Hubert Lanzinger’s ‘Der Bannerträger’ (The Standard Bearer) completed between 1934 and 1936, shortly after Hitler’s rise to power. Both of these represent the historical and monetary importance of an item, and why these generally have been persevered. Yet, as highlighted in the exhibition at the Haus der Geschichte Österreich, items can also be preserved as a result of their significance to the individual. One of these is a toy pram made by a Wehrmacht soldier for his daughters in the aftermath of the war. The pram is made from a German field post crate which had been used to send home belongings which had been looted during the invasion of France. This was painted, with only the original address to send items home deliberately uncovered but hidden on the inside. For the soldier’s daughters, it holds obviously sentimental value as far as it was a childhood toy, but it also represents the connection between that family, Nazism and the events of the war [7].


Of greater significance than individual items is the preservation of historical sites associated with Nazism. For example, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. Current estimates for the number of people who died at this site sit at 1.1 million [8], and being the largest of such extermination camps, for many, Auschwitz has become symbolic of the Holocaust more widely, and its role in beginning the modern human rights movement seems especially significant [9]. Interestingly, the website for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum has an appeal asking for the donation of relevant documents and items currently under individual possession with the statement “Let us build memory!”, stating “memory is not something that is acquired once and stays forever [10]”. This comment seems especially pertinent as living witnesses to the events of Nazi persecution, and survivors in particular, are diminishing rapidly now.


The Nazi persecution of Jews began in 1933, culminating in the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’. Death camps began operating at Semlin in modern Serbia and Chelmno in Poland in December 1941, following other massacres across Europe. For the vast majority of those killed in such circumstances, there is simply nothing tangible to preserve and nothing to dispose of, only reports of what took place to remind readers of the atrocities. In modern Ukraine, 33,000 Jews were murdered by Nazis, more specifically by the Einsatzgruppen (operations groups), at Babi Yar, starting on the 29th of September 1941 following the German occupation of Kyiv [11]. The site continued be used by the Nazis as a site for murder, with an estimated total number of victims at the site of 70,000 [12]. Poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote in his 1961 poem about the site “At Babi Yar no memorial presides./ A rough and looming cliff is the tombstone” [13], this followed the attempted cover-up of what had taken place on the site by the Soviet government. The year after, Shostakovich, the Russian composer, dedicated his 13th Symphony to Babi Yar, drawing even greater attention to the site. Eventually, in 1976 the first official monument was installed, although this was not associated with Ukrainian Jews. However, after independence was gained from the USSR in 1991, a memorial shaped like a menorah was displayed at the site [14]. This allowed it to reflect the truth of what had taken place, rather than the narrative of the Soviet government which focused on the political conflict between communism and fascism. Following the current Russian invasion of Ukraine there have been reports of a Russian missile hitting the site, drawing attention to the importance of the preservation of such sites in dealing with the legacy of Nazism across Europe. President Zelensky noted how the missile strike forms an attempt to erase the history of the site, the Holocaust, and that of Ukraine more widely [15]. This makes clear the importance of preservation, but also serves as a reminder of how easily destructible such locations are where efforts are not made to maintain them. Towards the end of World War Two, as allied forces closed in on Germany in 1944, many concentration and death camps were razed, meaning in some instances preservation of anything physical was nearly impossible. The preservation of such sites could be for educational purposes or to stand as a memorial and cannot be subject to the accusation of being preserved for a sole individual as a part of their own personal collection.


The legacy of Nazism is also clear in what was lost, as much as in what remains. The Haus der Geschichte Österreich (HDGÖ) refers to a painting displayed in its foyer which had originally hung in an apartment in Vienna but was taken by the caretaker after the family were persecuted for their Jewish background. Confusion arises as it is known that the family survived the Holocaust, but their painting was never returned due to difficulties in finding them [16]. There are suggestions now that fake auctions and paperwork were produced by the Nazis to cover up the looting of artwork. Perhaps more significant is the reluctance of modern art institutions to accept evidence of this deceit. This was made clear in issues surrounding a piece by the 18th-century artist Nicolas de Largillière ‘Portrait of a Lady as Pomona’, which was only returned to descendants of the original collector, Jules Strauss, in 2021 [17]. Whilst museums may be better equipped to preserve paintings physically (in the sense of upkeep and maintenance), the history attached to the paintings is equally important to preserve. The unwillingness shown by institutions to return these items to who they truly belong seems to be a failure to provide some victims of the Nazi regime with any form of justice.


In the immediate aftermath of the war, for the United States, Gordon W. Gilkey worked to help locate and return art that had been confiscated by the Nazis [18]. Works included pieces from the collection of Queen Wilhelmina of Holland which had been seized during the occupation of the Netherlands, and other allied nations participated in the effort, like Britain (although its efforts were far more minimal in this respect than other areas as it concentrated upon science and technology). However, it is believed the USSR located a vast number of valuables across Berlin, Saxony, and Thuringia, taking 10% of it back to Soviet countries [19]. During the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Viktor Lazarev, a professor of art history at Moscow University had suggested leaving the artwork, alongside other valuable items like chandeliers in situ, and advocating for its preservation as a part of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ (a total synthesis of art) [20]. This illustrates how prolonged the debate about the best way to deal with such items has been, with no consensus ever being reached, and how this is certainly not just a modern issue.


Sell

In May 2021, the Hampshire-based Lyndhurst Antiques Centre issued an apology for selling Nazi memorabilia. Initially, the shop tried to defend its actions, saying it did not condone anti-Semitism, but did not wish to erase history and sought to present both sides of the argument. The items were later removed from sale as complaints were reconsidered [21]. In 2019, Bloomfield Auctions in Belfast planned to open bidding on tableware produced for Adolf Hitler’s fiftieth birthday, this was criticised by the Belfast Jewish Community, leading to the auction ultimately being cancelled [22]. However, a year earlier, Sherborne’s Charterhouse Auctioneers in Dorset sold silverware cutlery made for Hitler for £12,500 which had belonged to a senior military officer despite public criticism [23].


There is certainly an active market for Nazi memorabilia in the UK. One antiques dealer has such items displayed in their window, including a Nazi passport, a workbook for immigrants, stamps featuring a portrait of Hitler, and a range of medals. Interestingly, an Iron Cross from the First World War was priced at £65, whereas one from the Second World War featuring a swastika would cost £150, and medals from Nazi Germany were generally more expensive than others. This is possibly a reflection of the rarity of such items, but may also demonstrate the enduring fascination with the Nazi regime instead. It is perhaps fair to point out that international auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams refuse to trade items connected to Nazi Germany, although, any items they would deal with would be far more valuable in the first place.


Whilst in the UK it is not illegal to sell such Nazi memorabilia, this is banned in many other European countries, notably Germany and Austria. In March 2012 a motion was tabled by Labour MP Fabian Hamilton to call the government to introduce regulation upon the trade of Nazi Memorabilia, bringing the policy into line with those of other European countries which have bans [24]. Section 86 of the German Criminal Code is titled ‘Dissemination of propaganda material of unconstitutional organisations. This states that “Whoever disseminates in Germany or produces, stocks, imports or exports or makes publicly available through data storage media for dissemination in Germany or abroad the propaganda material” (such as that of a political party that has been declared unconstitutional by the Federal Constitution Court or propaganda material the content of which is intended to further the activities of a former National Socialist organisation), “incurs a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or a fine [25]”. Therefore, as a result of this, the sale of such items is prohibited. However, Mike Morris, a collector and dealer of Nazi paraphernalia in Texas visited Germany from the late 1950s onwards to purchase items directly from military veterans or their relatives. He stated that: “It’s against the law in Germany to have anything with a swastika on it, so they wanted to get rid of it [26]”. Whilst it was certainly in the interests of these individuals to no longer possess such items, they still made a personal profit, as presumably did Mike Morris too. Whilst some purchasers may be museums using items for an educational purpose, the majority will have been individuals collecting items for personal reasons. Selling may rid physical responsibility for the object, but the connection between the original owner and the object endures.


Regardless of the morality of the sale of such items, it remains a profitable market to the extent that unusual lengths have been gone to in order to satisfy demand. An example of this is ‘The Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum’ which planned to exhibit Nazi artefacts following renovations, but 83 of the items were declared forgeries or were 1930s original objects with Nazi symbols added later [27]. Such forgeries are hardly a new phenomenon. In 1983, German magazine ‘Stern’ claimed to have discovered Hitler’s diaries which had been lost since 1945, and it would publish what they had found, leading to a rewriting of the history of Nazi Germany. A discovery of such significance would certainly cause a country to confront its history again- the forgetting of its past was once again not a possibility. However, it only took two weeks for the diaries to be exposed as being fakes, written by journalist Konrad Kujau. It was revealed that the publisher of ‘Stern’spent 9.3 million Deutsche marks to acquire sixty volumes of the diaries in April 1982 [28]; the market for Nazi items has been incredibly profitable for some time- interest in the controversial seems inevitable. The commodification of Hitler and the Nazis means that forgeries have become very common, and in many circumstances difficult to separate from what is actually genuine, and almost certainly casts doubt on the contents of personal collections.


The profitability of Nazi memorabilia is not simply limited to physical artefacts, it also extends to literature. ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ is perhaps one of the most notable associated pieces, published in 1947. It serves as an important reflection of the persecution of Jews and the Holocaust, and therefore its success is understandable, especially in the Netherlands where three-quarters of Dutch Jews were murdered [29]. The experience of the Franks would seemingly not have been uncommon, as well as this having overlap with events in other countries which fell under Nazi control. Since its publication it has sold over 30 million copies in 70 languages [30]. Immediately after publication, the book gained international attention, especially in the United States as a result of the American play, and this was combined with a positive review in the ‘New York Times Book Review’ in 1952. However, the review was seemingly not written without a degree of self-interest. Meyer Levin who wrote the review had formed a relationship with Otto Frank, and Levin received the rights to make the first dramatic adaptation of the publication, although this plan fell through [31], and the rights went to other individuals. When such an emotive topic is concerned, intrigue is bound to persist, and this is clear in the vast amount of work centred upon Anne Frank. In January 2022 Rosemary Sullivan’s ‘The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation’ was published. The work was widely criticised as undermining Anne Frank’s memory as well as the experience of those persecuted in the Holocaust more widely. Subsequently, in March 2022 its Dutch publisher recalled the book after its findings were discredited [32]. Whilst not a forgery, it shares similar characteristics to the fake items that continue to be produced as these will inevitably be purchased, with the producers continuing to profit from the legacy of Hitler.


Anne Frank’s diary may have reflected the experience of a victim of Nazism, but another book reflecting experience of Hitler’s regime was Albert Speer’s ‘Inside the Third Reich’, which reveals the experiences of someone successful in Nazi Germany. Speer was Hitler’s Minister of Armaments as well as lead architect, and his memoirs were written in his 12 years in prison after his trial. The book considers Nazi Germany through Hitler’s inner circle, Speer’s personal struggles, the ideology of National Socialism, and wartime production [33]. A book so celebrated in its reviews for its importance would inevitably be financially successful, allowing Speer to profit from his experiences and memories of Nazi Germany, as well as Hitler more specifically. Also important is the fact that Speer insisted that he was not aware of the Holocaust throughout the book, although a 1971 letter offers a degree of proof that he did actually know about this [34], therefore undermining some of the credibility of his work. This also means the book reflects Speer’s efforts to place distance between himself and many of the Nazi atrocities across Europe whilst at the same time, profiting from this. Although, he does admit to the exploitation of slave labour in armaments factories [35].


Destroy

The German term ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung’ originally referred to German remorse for its general complicity in systematic war crimes, notably the Holocaust, but also refers to the denazification process. Clearly “the facile view that all Germans were responsible for Nazi crimes, and that there was no such thing as German resistance to the Nazi regime…was devoid of substance [36]”. However, many occupy the space between responsibility and opposition: complacency. In the Soviet Zone of Germany after the war, all known Nazis who had actively supported the Hitler regime were either jailed or placed under supervision, therefore restricted from holding positions of public influence [37]. Allied determination for “Nazi blood [38]” at the Nuremberg trials had a successful outcome with eleven of the twenty-one accused sentenced to death [39], as well as a range of extensive prison sentences for others. For this reason, at the higher level within the Nazi party, justice could be seen to be done. What has been more problematic is the complicity of minor officials, and simply members of the Nazi Party. Many people joined so as not to damage their career prospects, but by doing so hold some responsibility for aiding and abetting the regime. From 1945 to 1958, only 6,903 former Nazis were convicted of having committed a crime, despite the party having had eight million members in 1945 [40]. Many times, it is the minor memorabilia belonging to these more obscure members that is now often called into question. Whilst their owners may seek to downplay or conceal their wartime ‘activity’, now viewed distasteful in many eyes, many were reluctant to bring themselves to destroy its physical remains.


The private destruction of objects related to the Nazi regime is common. One such item in the HDGÖ is a school exercise book which was found amongst trash. This contained a student celebrating Nazi ideology as a member of the Hitler Youth, and this was donated to the collection [41]. Whilst this individual in some ways failed in their efforts to dispose of the item, it does certainly represent one approach to dealing with the legacy of Nazism through devaluing and destroying it, however small this may be, suggestive of a symbolic destruction. Some public attitudes seem to oppose destroying objects. A letter to the ‘New York Times Magazine’ about what to do with a Nazi belt buckle that had belonged to the individual’s father, a suitably insignificant item, saw the suggested response: “the impulse to destroy troubling historical artifacts is usually best resisted [42]”. For the belt buckle, it would hold little value to a museum, so would not be preserved there, nor by the person who possessed the buckle. Therefore, it could only be sold or destroyed; to sell it could make the seller uncomfortable not knowing who would wish to buy it or for what purpose, meaning they potentially felt little choice but to destroy it. Artist, Yoshinori Niwa in ‘Withdrawing Adolf Hitler from a Private Space’ (2018) converted clothing donation containers, placing these in German cities, allowing people to anonymously dispose of Nazi-related objects and remnants. Niwa sought to “confront the owners of such mementos with an ethical choice [43]”, where they could either hold onto these or get rid of them in an easy manner, moving into the future. Yet even this was met with opposition as a message was stuck on the front of the container telling the Japanese artist “Hey, you! Solve your country’s history first. I ask you to get rid of your stupid ‘art’ soon [44]”, a certain reflection of the role of Japan in the Second World War, together with a perception that Japan’s apologies have been minimal compared to Germany [45]. In Austria, second-hand shops run by the charity ‘Caritas’ decided to remove all Nazi-connected items from circulation. These are separated out from other donations and destroyed using a compactor [46], although if they are uncertain as to whether the object holds any value these tend to be offered to museums but are destroyed if there is no interest.


Across Germany, the architectural legacy of the Nazis still exists, reflected in the continued presence, but obvious repurposing of the Nuremburg rally grounds, or the stadium used for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin [47], despite the destruction caused by wartime bombing. The Munich Documentation Centre for National Socialism (museum) has deliberately been located on the site of ‘Brown House’, which was the first party headquarters from 1931 until its destruction in January 1945 in a bombing raid, with the remains were removed in 1947 [48]. Munich’s Königsplatz was used for political assembly throughout the twentieth century, and this role was expanded under the Nazis, especially, after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 and new party buildings were constructed in the area. After the United States army captured Munich in May 1945, Nazi emblems were removed from the buildings and some buildings blown up, their remains were covered by grass [49]. How far this could be considered to be destruction might be challenged, but it certainly succeeded in part, for the significance of the site is not outwardly clear. Yet, other buildings were retained, possibly a pragmatic decision at the time when serviceable accommodation was at a premium. Efforts are certainly made across the city to confront its history. Bea Schlingelhoff’s 2021 exhibition ‘No River to Cross’saw a space filled with plain, green rectangles, representing the 650 pieces of modernist artwork seized by the Nazis [50], reflecting how what was destroyed can still be remembered and honoured. Munich, described as “Hauptstadt der Bewegung [51]” (the Capital of the Movement) by Hitler, was certainly the spiritual centre of the movement, meaning its complex legacy is far more difficult to simply destroy than a small, personal item.


Memory or Nostalgia?

Spanish philosopher George Santayana is often credited as having written the aphorism “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it [52]”. As mentioned previously in the essay, this concept is often cited by those seeking to preserve Nazi artefacts, especially for personal items not on public display in museums that have an arguably educational purpose.


The need to remember such events is reflected in the Stolpersteine project by Gunter Demnig which saw brass plates inscribed with the name and dates of victims of Nazi persecution placed outside their last freely chosen place of residence. Such a memorial was placed in Britain in May 2022, engraved with the name of Ada van Dantzig, a Jewish woman who worked in London, but was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943 after travelling to Switzerland try unsuccessfully to help her family escape [53]. The need to face the consequences of Nazism is not merely a central European issue, but extends much further, even to countries which were never under Nazi occupation. Few survivors of the death camps are now alive and despite visiting the camp memorials it is hard to fully comprehend the enormity of what took place. The Stolpersteine memorials are a reminder of how the victims of this persecution came from all backgrounds: from any street, in any town, in any country under Nazi control. The reluctance to discuss these events when they happened is something we can identify with and is more easily relatable. These small memorials are a reminder of the part that silence played. Another common way people understand the war is through film. In particular, the sub-genre of Second World War films allows the legacy of the Nazis to be continually discussed, and it has only grown since the ending of the war in 1945. Continued attention devoted to this subject only serves to reflect its persistent appeal, and if anything, a resurgence in it [54]. Countries which fell under Nazi rule seem to have far less tolerance for those who wish to perpetuate its memory, such as through the collection of artefacts and objects. This can be extended to how Nazis, and particularly the Second World War, is presented in film. Elem Klimov’s 1985 film ‘Иди и смотри’ (Come and See) focuses upon the Nazi Germany occupation of the Byelorussian SSR [55], presented through the experiences of a child. No compromises are made to minimise the devastation of what took place in Belarus. This is reinforced at the end of the film: “The unforgettably barbaric facts…are given in a title card toward the end: In what the Soviets called Belorussia…two million people…perished. Six hundred [and] twenty-eight villages were deliberately razed to the ground, their inhabitants massacred [56]”. The message falls far from the romanticism, triumphalism, or sensationalism which seem to dominate many of the World War Two films which come from Hollywood which often seem to fail to fully consider the sense of inhumanity which surrounds war. A comparison can be drawn between ‘Come and See’ and Taika Waititi’s 2019 ‘Jojo Rabbit’ as both films consider the role of children caught up in the war. Waititi’s film is self-described as an ‘Anti-Hate Satire’, and whilst receiving a generally favourable public response, its failings have been duly noted by others. Critic, Richard Brody simplified the films’ message as “Don’t judge a Nazi by its cover”, or more so “don’t judge Nazis by their uniforms or their allegiances or their declarations or even their actions [57]”. In his essay he makes a reference to the film director Stephen Soderbergh’s speech at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival: which states that “[a film pitch] can be about genocide, it can be about child killers, it can be about the worst criminal injustice that you can imagine—but [you]…say: “You know what, at the end of this day, this is a movie about hope” [58].” Whilst this stance may be rather cynical, it certainly reflects the ambiguity which surrounds much of the portrayal of the Second World War in film, showing just how malleable memory is, prone to be transformed and distorted into something suitable for modern attitudes. Whilst this may reflect a change in the nature of the film industry since the mid-1980s, or a general cultural divide between the USSR and the United States, it seems that mostly likely this difference stems from the contrasting experiences of Nazism. Klimov’s film draws upon Belorussian memory of war to convey this to an audience, whereas Waititi’s “blend of antics and sentimentality, something like a vision of daily life in Nazi Germany that makes conspicuous not only its terrors and oppressions but also a vision of widespread resistance [59]”. Wishful thinking of how the conflict should have been experienced, rather than a representation of its reality, a form of nostalgia more than memory. We may avoid disposing of Hitler in order not to forget, but the art of remembering needs to be approached with great caution and care.


The Continued Impact of Memory

With the recent outbreak of war in Europe, the legacy and continued presence of Nazism is being debated with greater frequency once again. Ukraine is a country that has been particularly associated with this, historically as well as in more recent times. The first surge of nationalism, associated with the far-right largely stemmed from opposition to Soviet, or Russian, control. As suggested by the historian Timothy Snyder, “In the Baltics and Ukraine and Poland, some partisans were openly anti-Semitic, and continued to use the Nazi tactic of associating Soviet power with Jewry [60]”. A prominent figure within this is Stepan Bandera, who, alongside his supporters, collaborated with Nazi ethnic cleansing. “Bandera and other Ukrainian nationalists saw the Nazis as the only power that could destroy both of their oppressors, Poland and the Soviet Union [61]”, and it is to this extent that Bandera is perceived as reflecting the struggle of so many Ukrainians at this time. Historian, Serhii Plokhy described him as a “symbolic leader and a proverbial father [62]” of the movement for independence. For this reason, in 2010, the Ukrainian president at the time, Viktor Yushchenko bestowed the title of ‘Hero of Ukraine’ upon Stepan Bandera [63]. The decision proved controversial: in Russia, Bandera is regarded as a fascist, and in Poland, he is held responsible for the mass killings of Poles in the Second World War [64]. Even in Ukraine itself, it proved divisive; Bandera is certainly more popular in the West of the country, reflected in the statues built and streets named after him, including one in the city of Lviv [65]. In the East, with its larger ethnic Russian population, it was viewed far less favourably. More recently, organisations like ‘Svoboda’ and ‘the Right Sector’ branded themselves as ideological successors to more historic nationalist groups [66]. In the West it is felt that Russian state media deliberately overstated their role, especially following the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, yet for many, their presence has tarnished views of Ukraine, no matter how diluted this has since become. Their existence has also provided a form of justification for the Russian invasion with Putin’s insistence that the Russian army is fighting Nazis.


The growth of other far-right parties in Europe such as AfD, Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany), Lega Nord (Northern League) in Italy, and Prawo I Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) in Poland [67] has also added to the prevailing concerns about the regeneration of Nazism through the ideas of ethnic nationalism and incidents of violence. The Nazis as a political party dissolved nearly 80 years ago, but its ideas still resonate, and the concerns of resurgence are real, although there are issues in discerning what is genuinely fascist and what is not. Considering how contentious the subject is and its sheer emotional weight, it can easily be exaggerated both out of genuine concern for the future or manipulated by those with less benevolent purposes.


With Hitler’s legacy still very much alive, it is hardly surprising a sense of guilt continues to exist. As items are passed down across generations, moral questions of how to deal with them physically and emotionally are generated. If the Holocaust memorials are an attempt to ensure the atrocities are not repeated, the more modest items in the HDGÖ exhibition are a reminder that it was the actions of countless individuals that made them possible. Recent events demonstrate the ease with which such political circumstances can spiral out of control. It may prove easy to physically dispose of Hitler, but it is proving far more difficult to forget him.


References