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EUROPE IN RUINS

As a consequence of World War I, old empires broke up and modern national states were created. Pacifism and the idea of European integration gained increased support but faltered in the face of rising nationalism and totalitarian aggression.

World War II is often described as a “total war”; abandoning the distinction between soldiers and civilians. Millions of people fell victim to mass execution, deportation, starvation, forced labour, concentration camps and bombing.

Map floorplan third floor museum

WORLD WAR I

1914, a turning point for Europe. Politically, economically and culturally Europe had reached the peak of its global power.

Yet, the outbreak of World War I, the first industrialised mass war, caused unprecedented destruction on the battlefield and in societies at large. These four years shook Europe to its foundations, dragging it into a global conflict as never seen before.

This catastrophe was the trigger for the most murderous century in European history, and its traumatic effects had a profound impact on European memory.

TOTALITARIANISM VERSUS DEMOCRACY

As a consequence of World War I, old empires broke up and modern national states were created. Pacifism and the idea of European integration gained increased support but faltered in the face of rising nationalism and totalitarian aggression.

Parliamentary democracy flourished all over Europe, whereas the Soviet Union became the first Communist dictatorship. However, by 1939 the majority of these democracies had failed and most Europeans lived under authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, which forcibly controlled public and private life and limited individual freedoms.

The Nazis came to power in 1933 and established a totalitarian regime that saw Aryan Germans as the biologically superior master race, destined to dominate Europe. Jews were blamed for Germany’s problems and accused of plotting to take over the world.

WORLD WAR II

World War II is often described as a “total war”; abandoning the distinction between soldiers and civilians. Millions of people fell victim to mass execution, deportation, starvation, forced labour, concentration camps and bombing.

Under Nazi rule, millions were murdered through systematic social and ethnic cleansing. In both its scale and bureaucratic form, the genocide of the European Jews became an unparalleled event in history. Caught in the cross-fire between Nationalism Socialism and Stalinism, the war had a particularly brutal character in Central and Eastern Europe.

THE HARVEST OF DESTRUCTION

An estimated 60 million people died in World War II, nearly two thirds of them civilians. Numbers alone, however, fail to convey the full extent of the personal tragedies involved or the catastrophic impact of these events on various groups of people. The objects assembled here tell the human story behind these events and challenge us all to consider how people come to terms with trauma and loss on such a scale.