The past never fails to fascinate me. I have a particular interest in the period spanning from the 1920s until the end of the Cold War. Being the wife of a British soldier living and working in Germany, the very reason I am posted here in Germany has its roots in this time in history. So my interest is personal, as well as academic.
When I heard about a museum in the neighbouring city of Dortmund that dealt with the history of the area during the Holocaust, I felt compelled to visit. The Resistance and Persecution Museum Steinwache is a former police station and jail that became infamous during the Nazi era as a place of imprisonment and torture, mostly on political or racial grounds. Amazingly, despite the mass destruction caused by Allied bombings, the prison stood unscathed. The building itself, preserved in its original form, now not only houses the many exhibits but also an integral part of the exhibition in itself.
The first room you encounter is the registration room. Once the prisoners first stop , this is now the visitors first experience of Steinwache.
Each cell in the prison is dedicated to a specific time or topic. A few of the cells have been knocked together, but they are still incredibly small spaces. The museum uses this to great effect by presenting some very stark images on a large-scale in the smaller spaces. Some of the images used did, literally, stop me in my tracks.
The exhibition begins its narrative in the late 1920s and demonstrates very well how insidious the rise of the Nazi regime was. A series of cells walks through how Hitler drew in the big industrialists of the time; how propaganda was used to sway the average citizen; how anyone in power who didn’t toe the line was removed and replaced. The facts and figures are interwoven with personal stories and images from Dortmunds past.
Several cells have been restored to their original form. The isolation cell had a very uncomfortable feel to it, two of my children didn’t venture past the door. I could touch each wall with arms outstretched and counted five paces from the cell door to the rear wall. No bed, no blanket, no company, no kindness.
Despite the difficult subject matter, much of the exhibition is testament to hope, bravery and survival. Several cells detail the activities of the Resistance movement in the Dortmund area. Working class women and young people were particularly active. The museum holds a range of literature, printing presses and forged papers employed by those involved. The audacity and bravery of those involved in Resistance action is almost beyond comprehension.
The museum is located just behind Dortmund Train station, and you have to look quite hard to find it. The unobtrusive exterior of the prison is at odds with its content, but that only makes the experience more powerful. I cannot really say this museum makes an enjoyable day out, but it is certainly a worthwhile one. And I strongly believe that all of those who passed through Steinwache, and the events that created it, should be remembered and remain relevant. Some individuals who lost their lives here are remembered by the Stolpersteine. laid at the door.
The museum is free to enter, but welcomes donations. All exhibits are in German but an English language guidebook can be obtained at no cost.