Until the film Valkurie (http://valkyrie.unitedartists.com/) came out in 2008 the general impression in North America was that all Germans were Nazis during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Actually, there were strong resistance movements that are largely overlooked by popular writers and historians. At present the best book on these is Peter Hoffmann’s The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945 (Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996).
Anyone who spends more than a couple of days in Berlin, during which they see the main sights, ought to visit the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, or German Resistance Museum, which contains a wealth of information about this little known episode in German history. Surprising to many is the prominent role of both Christians and Communists in resisting Hitler and Nazi tyranny. The exhibit also includes a highly detailed record of the ill-fated July 20, 1944, plot to overthrow Hitler. Here again the presence of Christians among those executed is noticeable.
|The place of execution in Plötzensee.|
After getting an overview of the resistance a visit to the Plötzensee Prison Memorial, on the borders of Charlottenburg and Wedding, which can be reached by going to the Gedenkstätte Plötzensee S Bahn station, is where over 2,500 German political prisoners were executed between January and April 1945. Many of these people were Christians who were literally hung on huge meat hooks where they slowly bled or strangled to death.
|The hooks used to execute prisoners.|
The nearby Church of Mary Queen of the Martyrs, or Kirche Maria Regina Martyrum, was designed by Hans Scäde as a memorial to victims of Nazi oppression. It is entered through a courtyard representing the parade ground in a concentration camp, which symbolizes pain and suffering. The crypt is deliberately gloomy, but the upper church is illuminated by a gentle, natural light, and contains a large modern fresco by Georg Meistermann depicting the transformation of darkness into light, night to day, evil to goodness, through the redemption of Christ. Note the 14th-century Madonna in the church and the modern sculpture “The Woman of the Apocalypse” by F. König in the courtyard. Overall this church makes a deep impact on its visitors reminding them of the great suffering of Jews and Christians during the Nazi era.
|Mary of the Martyrs Church.|
After visiting these sites a trip to the notorious Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, at the end of the south S-Bahn line, is appropriate. Here you can see the conditions under which political prisoners lived, including the cell of the famed theologian Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), who was held there “at Hitler’s pleasure” for his bold criticisms of Nazism. It is also important to realize that, after 1945, Sachsenhausen became an equally brutal Soviet prison under Communist control. The full story of the Communist use of former concentration camps, where thousands of people died, many of whom were not Nazis at all, has yet to be told.