That is what the documentation center in Nurnberg was attempting to shed light on. The actual events of the holocaust are almost an afterthought here but the events leading up to it are what are highlighted and analyzed, including the rise of the Nazi Socialist Party. We arrived too late in the evening to visit the museum and thus decided to use the couple of daylight hours remaining to walk around the Congress Hall and the rally grounds. The approach to the congress hall took us along the “Grosse Strasse” or the “Great Road”. The road points to the Nurnberg imperial palace on one end, and the other terminates at the congress hall. The road is wide enough that it was used by the Allies during the war to land planes. The stone for this massive road was quarried and laid by prisoners of concentration camps. The congress hall is the largest surviving example of Nazi architecture (stark, monolithic, Neoclassical) this was the massive meeting place, which Hitler was having built, and was to be the central headquarters of the Nazi empire).
As we worked our way around the rally grounds, we got a good look at the enormous hall, large enough to hold an audience of 50,000, from various angles. The man-made lake in front of the congress hall was bone dry but we’re not sure why.
The rally grounds themselves occupy a space of 4 square miles behind the documentation center but not all the proposed buildings were completed. We were able to visit the Zepplin field, where Hitler addressed his followers. It’s called the Zepplin field because Lord Zepplin landed one of his balloons here. We climbed up the massive stone steps and benches and up to where Hitler once stood to address the masses – up to 250,000 at a time!
We looked down at the various semi-trailers parked in front of the Zepplin field, and the 2006 World Cup Stadium behind the field and it really gave us a sense of how gigantic the field was. I found it scary to imagine it packed with ardent supporters of a megalomaniac. It was nearing sunset, so we made our way back to the campsite and had an early evening.
We commemorated Remembrance Day this year with a visit to the Documentation Center. We picked up our audio guides and entered the large, coliseum like structure that was the congress hall. We emerged a few hours later, saddened by what we had seen, but definitely a bit more educated as to how the Nazi “phenomenon” had happened. The museum was simply fantastic and I could easily have visited it at least a couple more times to take in all the information. The exhibits were quite objective in explaining the rise of the Nazi Socialist Party, and also the rise of Hitler. They used a combination of textual displays, pictures and short films to convey all the information.
It was also interesting to hear first-hand accounts from people that had participated in the Nazi rallies of Nurnberg. I was shocked that some of them still sounded excited to have been a part of it. The rallies were another crucial part of the propaganda machine and they worked so well in fact, that attendance at the rallies was limited and it was considered an honour to be a part of it. It is amazing how propaganda, fear and mob-mentality can be effectively used to turn an entire nation towards a cause. Having had a very good introduction to the rise of the Nazi movement, we walked back towards camp. It was less depressing than the concentration camps we had visited, but still chilling nonetheless.
We arrived in the large city of Nurnberg and were pleasantly surprised to find that our campsite was within walking distance of the Nazi Documentation Center and Hitler's rally grounds. The memory of our visit to Mauthausen, the documentation center in Berchtesgaden, and Terezin were still fresh in our memories but one thing that these sites had not focused on was the question: "How does one man get an entire nation to believe and follow him on a quest for world domination and ethnic cleansing?"