The unique exhibition on the theme of forced labor during the Nazi era was opened on July 1, 2014 at the Royal Summer Palace at Prague Castle. The international traveling exhibition “Forced Labor. The Germans, the Forced Laborers and the War” will be shown until October 31, 2014.
Over 20 million people were taken to Germany and the occupied territories from all over Europe as “foreign workers,” prisoners of war, and concentration camp inmates to perform forced labor. The aim of Nazi Germany was Europe’s domination and exploitation. Occupied territories were plundered and millions of men, women and children were deported to the German Reich.
On Tuesday, July 1, 2014, the exceptional traveling exhibition “Forced Labor. The Germans, the Forced Laborers and the War” was opened at the Royal Summer Palace at the Prague Castle. The opening ceremony was attended by witnesses of forced labor, representatives of cultural, academic, and educational institutions, experts from NGOs, as well as diplomats and leaders of both the Czech Republic and Germany. Among the distinguished guests was the First Lady of the Czech Republic Ivana Zemanová.
The opening started with a speech by Hynek Kmoníček, Director of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Office of the President, who pointed out the deeper meaning of the exhibition: “Let this exhibition be more than just a reminder of the past,” he stated.
In his greeting, the German Ambassador in Prague, Detlef Lingemann, praised the historical responsibility of Germany. “Dealing with our history, remembering the victims of Nazi crimes and caring about their memory has become for us Germans a part of our identity. This is also emphasized in the comprehensive exhibition on forced labor under the Nazis, which people will be able to visit from now on here in Prague,” mentioned Lingemann, in his speech.
The introductory speech was given by the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic, Daniel Herman. He supported the extension of the traditional concept of culture. “It is a culture of self-reflection, respect and recognition of the injustice that was perpetrated on others. It is the responsibility of every society. The organizers of the exhibition and all its supporters deserve thanks for their important work,” said Minister Herman.
“The injustice of the Nazi system of forced labor in post-war Germany was long denied. Yet this does not apply since 2000,” claimed Günter Saathoff, Director of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (EVZ), which was responsible for the compensation of Nazi victims and initiated and funded this traveling exhibition. “This history used to divide us, it stood like a wall between Germans, Czechs and other nations. Now we are united in a common memory and we are dealing honestly with this injustice,” said Günter Saathoff.
A pivotal role regarding the compensation for Czech victims of Nazism and care of their legacy was taken up by the Czech-German Fund for the Future (ČNFB). “Even though it was a long journey, at last the recognition of the injustice and the reparation for victims have created a strong foundation of trust between our two countries, which enables us to look jointly into the future,” said Director of ČNFB Tomáš Jelínek. The fund promotes understanding and cooperation between Czechs and Germans and it contributed to the organization and financing of this traveling exhibition in Prague.
The exhibition “Forced Labor. The Germans, the Forced Laborers and the War” allows a deeper insight into the inhuman system of forced labor. “It is a sign of real confidence and immense honor that the exhibition is held at the Prague Castle. Prague suffered greatly under the German occupation of Prague, and thousands of Czech women and men were transported in the German Reich because of forced labor. This exhibition is created not only to pay homage to these men and women, but also for a more peaceful and humane future,” said Jens-Christian Wagner, Director of Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial and the leader of the exhibition project.
Forced laborers were put to work everywhere – whether at construction sites, in arms factories, agriculture, crafts and private households. Every German – whether a soldier in the occupying army in Poland or a farmer’s wife in Thuringia – came in contact with them. National Socialism’s racist ideology was reflected in all aspects of relations with forced laborers. Nevertheless, it still provided space for free conduct. Whether a forced laborer underwent humiliation and abuse or encountered some remnant of humanity depended to an extent on the attitude and conduct of every individual. The unique traveling exhibition also explores this subject.
“It is perhaps the greatest paradox of my life, but forced labor saved me from the gas chambers of Auschwitz,” said Dagmar Lieblová, Holocaust survivor and President of the Terezín Initiative, in her final word at the opening.
The exhibition is organized by the Prague Castle Administration, created by the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, in cooperation with the Czech-German Fund for the Future, initiated and financed by the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (EVZ). It is co-organized by the Forum 2000 Foundation. The event partners of the exhibition also offer an extensive accompanying program, which includes interviews with survivors, discussions with experts on the topic of forced labor, film screenings, cultural events, and educational programs for schools.
The Prague exhibition is held under the patronage of the President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany Joachim Gauck.
Opening hours: Monday–Sunday: 10.00–18.00
Admission: 80 CZK
More information about the exhibition can be found on the following website:
The photographs from the exhibition opening can be found here.