Lately, in the context of Remembrance Day here in the Netherlands, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the different ways in which World War II is being remembered today. For us, being occupied by Nazi Germany during the war has become a foundation myth of our identity, and most Dutch novels, films, and even musicals (Soldier of Orange, based on the book of the same name) about the war centre around the two main protagonists in that myth: the evil collaborators and the virtuous members of the resistance. You can even pretend to be a member of the underground press in an escape room in Nijmegen, racing against the clock to escape discovery by the Nazis.
A few weeks ago I was in Berlin on a lightning visit, accompanying a friend who was passing through on her way to a conference. I spent half a day there by myself and took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Die Schwarzen Jahre: Geschichte einer Sammlung. 1933 – 1945 at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. It was an excellent overview of a topic that interests me very much, the Nazis’ famous exhibition of degenerate art (Entartete Kunst) that called for an attack on modernist art, mostly expressionist and abstract pieces. The Bahnhof Museum displayed artworks from the original exhibition, and provided a context by featuring works that were made after the war as a response to Nazism, works that exemplified the Nazi standards of art, and works that had been made in secret and were only shown to the public after the war ended. It was extraordinary to me how arbitrary the criteria that deemed a piece to be degenerate seemed to be. I took a few photographs in the city (sadly there were no cameras allowed inside the museum); Berlin at this time of year is decked out in turquoise and gold.
I went to Berlin last week, keen to soak up as much history as I could–and I think I succeeded pretty well.