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World War II Sites

Germany's darkest days began with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Hitler led Germany into war in 1939 and perpetrated the darkest crimes against humanity, murdering 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. To gain perspective on the extent of the horror, it’s possible to visit sites around Germany that document the atrocities.

Upon his election, Hitler set about turning Obersalzburg into the southern headquarters for the Nazi party and as a mountain retreat for its elite. Located in the Bavarian Alps, the enormous compound included luxurious homes for party officials. Today you can walk through the extensive bunker system while learning about the Nazi’s takeover of the area. Not far from Obersalzburg you’ll find the Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s private home. Designed as a 50th birthday gift for Hitler by the Nazi party, the house is also known as Adlerhorst (Eagle’s Nest). It’s perched on a cliff, seemingly at the top of the world. The house’s precarious location probably saved it from British bombing raids.

The Nazis organized nationwide book-burnings, one of which took place in Berlin on Bebelplatz. On an evening in May 1933, Nazis and Hitler Youth gathered here to burn 20,000 books considered offensive to the party. Today there is a ghostly memorial of empty library shelves sunken in the center of the square.

Masters of propaganda, the Nazis staged colossal rallies intended to impress the German people. Hitler considered Nürnberg so quintessentially German he developed an enormous complex here, the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, to host massive parades, military exercises, and major assemblies of the Nazi party. The Congress Hall, meant to outshine Rome’s Colosseum, is the largest remaining building from the Nazi era. It houses a Documentation Center that explores the Nazi’s tyranny. At the Nürnberg Trials Memorial you’ll see where the war crimes trials took place between November 1945 and October 1946. In this courthouse Nazi officials stood before an international military tribunal to answer for their crimes. The Allied victors chose Nürnberg on purpose—it’s the place Germany’s first anti-Semitic laws passed, decreeing the boycott of Jewish businesses.

The KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau is a memorial and site of the former notorious death camp. Hitler created Dachau soon after taking power, and it became the model for all other camps. Tens of thousands of prisoners died here. Today you’ll see a few remaining cell blocks and the crematorium, along with moving shrines and memorials to the dead.

Bergen-Belsen, another infamous concentration camp, is where Anne Frank perished along with more than 80,000 others. The starving and sick prisoners lived in abject squalor, deliberately neglected by their captors. A meadow is all that remains of the camp, but it is still a chilling place to visit. The documentation center shows wrenching photos of unburied bodies and emaciated prisoners.

In fact, nearly anywhere you are in Germany, you should be able to visit a concentration camp: Others include Buchenwald, Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen, and Dora-Mittelbau.

Updated: 2014-03-11

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