Holocaust exhibition in Wiesbaden tells grim but important story

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Photographic reproductions of business letters dating back to the early 1940s, blueprints, and black and white snapshots of factories and the people who worked there aren’t, at first glance, compelling material for a museum exhibit.

But, it’s the very banality of these old photos and documents that makes the traveling exhibition, titled “Industry and Holocaust: Topf & Sons –Builders of the Auschwitz Ovens”, so compelling. The traveling exhibition is currently showing at Wiesbaden’s Stadtmuseum am Markt, or sam, a museum near City Hall and the Market Church. The original factory site in Erfurt, Thuringia has served as a place of remembrance since 2011. 

By means of some 30 panels, an audio installation, and a looping photo display, the exhibit tells the story of Topf & Söhne, a family-led enterprise founded in 1878. The company was active in several lines of business, including the manufacture of heating systems, brewing and malting facilities, and the ovens used for incineration in municipal crematoriums, an area in which it rapidly established itself as a market leader.

When the Schutzstaffel (SS) of the Nazi Party came knocking in search of assistance in building increased-capacity ovens to expedite the disposal of bodies, the company obliged by manufacturing the infrastructure to their exact requirements. Their specialists were sent on site to oversee construction and troubleshoot issues. They also designed the ventilation systems for gas chambers. Their assistance to the regime lasted throughout World War II.

The issue as to whether or not the company was aware of the grim use of its products is not in question. In 1942, the company applied for a patent for a “continuous-operation corpse incineration oven for mass use.”

While the exhibition’s not easy to take in, it brings to light the fundamental questions of the Holocaust, including the levels of the complicity of those indirectly involved in some of the darkest deeds committed by humanity.

Holocaust tourism is nothing new. Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam attracts over 1.2 million visitors annually, and 1.4 million make it a point to take in the horrors of Auschwitz.  Visiting such sights is a compelling and highly personal affair to be taken advantage of whenever on tour. But as I, and I’m sure many others, often find it difficult to switch gears from such a weighty topic as the Holocaust to a more lighthearted frame of mind, I appreciated an exhibition I could contemplate in my own time without the need to rush off and see the next sight.

The exhibition can be viewed from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except on Mondays through Jan. 27, 2019. An accompanying program consists of lectures, guided tours and film screenings. Adult admission to the museum costs five euros, students pay three euros, and children enter for free. (It’s also worth noting that on the first Saturday of each month, admission to both the Stadtmuseum am Markt and the Museum Wiesbaden is free.) The address of the Stadtmuseum am Markt is Marktplatz 3. 

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