For the conceptual work on the new permanent exhibition at the House of the Wannsee Conference, the aim was to create a narrative that, given the demand for accessibility and a “Design for All” approach, would be as low-threshold and comprehensible as possible for both individual visitors and participants in the Memorial Site’s educational programmes. We – the team of curators – started out with five questions, which we asked from the visitor’s point of view: Where am I? What happened here? Why is this relevant? What does it have to do with me? As well as: What awaits me in the exhibition?
The content of the new permanent exhibition focuses on the meeting at Wannsee and how it fits into the process of exclusion, persecution and murder of European Jews. An important goal of the exhibition is to make it clear that at the time of the meeting in January 1942, mass murder had already been underway for months. To this end, the focus will be on the involvement of individuals and institutions in these crimes.
A new narrative
A particular curatorial challenge was, on the one hand, to take post-war history into account and, on the other hand, to enable the educational staff, in view of the often very high number of visitors, to start guided tours from very different points in future and therefore work in as many rooms as possible with exhibits from the National Socialist period. For this reason, we decided against a chronological tour in favour of combining chronological and thematic as well as in-depth narrative strands oriented to the architecture of the building.
The right half of the house, which comprises four thematic rooms, now offers a compact overview of the evolution of persecution and murder policy until 1945. Starting with The Invitation (Room 1), the prehistory of the meeting at Wannsee is told, taking into account political and ideological developments before 1933 (Room 2). After the visitors have studied the meeting itself and the surviving minutes (Room 3), this is followed by the development up to the end of the war in 1945, with an outlook on the situation of the survivors after the war (Room 4). The role of the institutions or persons who took part in the meeting at Wannsee is told in an integrated way in this first part of the exhibition.
In the left half of the house, visitors can then delve deeper into aspects concerned with collaborating in crime. The starting point for the narrative here is the “Final Solution File”, in which the minutes of the Wannsee meeting were found after the war (Room 5). Two large thematic rooms then deal with the role of institutions (Room 6). The involvement of society and individuals is also examined (Room 7). Furthermore, both rooms shed light on how involvement in crimes was dealt with in the post-war period. Such historical cross-sections can be used as a starting point for guided tours aimed at specific professional groups, such as administrative employees, police officers or members of the armed forces. Finally, visitors can familiarise themselves with the debates about the Wannsee Conference after 1945 and the efforts to create a place of remembrance (Room 8), before the exhibition ends with a reference to the present (Room 9).