Timothy W. Ryback & Florian Beierl: A Damnation of Memory at Berchtesgaden





[Timothy W. Ryback is cofounder of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and author of “Hitler’s Private Library.” Florian Beierl is founder of the Obersalzberg Institute and author of “Hitler’s Berg” (Hitler’s Mountain).]

Earlier this month, the Bavarian Monument Protection Agency reported that the Bavarian government had used stones from Adolf Hitler’s alpine retreat on the Obersalzberg to construct a small, roadside chapel, Wegmacher Kapelle, near the town of Berchtesgaden.

Richard Nemec, the agency spokesman, said the stones had been preserved despite government orders to obliterate remaining vestiges of the Nazi presence in the area. He spoke of a “damnatio memoriae” — a damnation of memory.

Since 1945, the Germans have become masters of dealing with the Nazi-era victim sites, or Opferorte, such as Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. They restore them with accuracy and sensitivity: watchtowers, barbed wire and crematory ovens, along with historical exhibitions and places for meditation and prayer.

But perpetrator sites, or Täterorte — places where the crimes were conceived but not necessarily perpetrated — have presented a more complex set of challenges. How should they be preserved, if at all? Who should visit them? For what reason?...

For decades, the Obersalzberg has seen a steady stream of “Hitler pilgrims” from across Europe as well as the United States. They light candles, erect shrines and carve symbols into surrounding trees amid the ruins of Hitler’s former residence, the Berghof, on the Obersalzberg. Local officials claim that the frequency of this lurid tourism has diminished.

With the new revelations, the Bavarian Monumental Protection Agency has taken an important step in bringing transparency to one of Germany’s most consequential perpetrator sites. Beyond the mea culpa for the wanton destruction of historical structures, Nemec announced the agency’s intention to evaluate which surviving Nazi-era structures should be placed under monument protection. Their prime candidate should be the Berghof ruins....

By taking responsibility for the ruins, the Bavarian government could make an important contribution to historical preservation while reclaiming the site from Hitler pilgrims — with the full understanding, of course, that they can always worship in ethereal isolation in the Wegmacher Kapelle.

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