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“Nothing has gained us more trust than our resolve in confronting and grappling with our past”

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the opening of the exhibition “Wilhelmstrasse 1933 –1945: The Rise and Fall of the Nazi Government Quarter” in Berlin.Article published in the B.Z. newspaper on Sunday, 17 June 2012

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Wilhelmstrasse is a street in Berlin which even today – more than sixty years after the end of the Second World War – evokes memories of the Nazi reign of terror.

It was from here that the National Socialists’ heinous policies were overseen, from here that a horrific war of aggression spread to engulf Europe and the world, from here that an unrelenting campaign of annihilation was directed. Hitler at the old and new Reich Chancelleries, Heydrich and the Gestapo at the Prinz Albrecht Palace, Goebbels at his Propaganda Ministry, Göring at the Reich Aviation Ministry, and von Ribbentrop at the Foreign Office: not only did all of them reside on Wilhelmstrasse, but their atrocities have since been inextricably bound to the name and location of this street.

It was from Wilhelmstrasse that the Second World War was unleashed upon the world. And at its end, the war came full circle, striking back at its point of origin with full force: Wilhelmstrasse too bore the consequences of the Nazis’ aggressive megalomania, as the bombing raids, tank barricades and street fighting of 1945 destroyed the street.

What lessons can we draw from this history?

The buildings and architecture of this one-time centre of power have been destroyed or otherwise disappeared. But their history endures and the memory of Wilhelmstrasse is still alive. And it should remain so, for perhaps nowhere is the direct connection between unfettered megalomania and utter ruin more palpable than on Wilhelmstrasse in the heart of Berlin.

And no one else has made more apparent than the Nazis just how swiftly trust and stature can be squandered. That is why one of the most pressing tasks faced by the young Federal Republic of Germany was to win back the world’s trust in our country and its people. This was our only path back to the international community. It is a good thing that we succeeded in this journey, step by step.

Nothing has gained Germany more lasting worldwide trust than our resolve in confronting and grappling with our past.

The Topography of Terror exhibition and the special exhibition opening this week, “Wilhelmstrasse 1933 – 1945: The Rise and Fall of the Nazi Government Quarter”, are beacons of a dynamic culture of remembrance. At precisely the site where the Nazi regime once made its decisions, the special exhibition offers a vivid overview of the Nazi apparatus of persecution and terror.

I would be very pleased if as many people as possible, both Berliners and visitors to the German capital, were to see this exhibition.

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