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Germany/Russia: War crimes exhibit stirs controversy in Munich

Munich, 21 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - A war crimes exhibition in the German state of Barvaria is the center of political controversy.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Munich reports the exhibit, which opens Monday at Munich University, consists of hundreds of photographs of German soldiers participating in massacres and other crimes in the Balkans, the Ukraine and Belarus. There are also excerpts from letters sent home by soldiers.

Our correspondent says the exhibit intends to contradict a long-held belief in Germany, that, while war crimes were committed by the Gestapo and the SS, the army was "clean." Many share the feelings of a woman who told a tv interviewer: "I don't want to hear that my father and uncles might have been involved in war crimes."

The ruling right-wing Christian Social Union describes the exhibit as a "leftist exhibition disparaging the honor of the German soldier." The party is urging a boycott of the exhibition. CSU members of the Munich city council will not be attending the exhibit. Instead, the party has organized a protest march through the city to the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Officials from the opposition Social Democrat party tell RFE/RL the exhibition is not meant to suggest that all Germans who served during the war were involved in war crimes. However they say Germans need to know that some of their countrymen were involved in the atrocities.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, has been on tour since March 1995. It has already toured 16 cities in Germany and Austria and attracted around 110,000 visitors. It will go to another seven cities by the end of this year and more have booked it for next year.

The director of the exhibition, the historian Hannes Heer, says that in some cities rightwingers claimed that the exhibition's photographs were faked. The charges were withdrawn when legal action was threatened. There have been other protest marches, bomb threats and other demonstrations against the exhibition.

Heer says: "this is n-o-t an exhibition against the Germany army." The average soldier, he says, was not involved in these crimes - but, people should realise that some were. He concludes: "we cannot hide ourselves from the truth."