Photo fury hits war tour

November 19, 1999


Indonesian Muslim students rally on the streets of Jakarta to protest against a

thawing of Indonesia's relations with Israel under new President Abdurrahman Wahid REUTERS A controversial exhibition depicting crimes committed by the Wehrmacht, the German army in the second world war, has been temporarily closed and an international tour indefinitely postponed after historians showed it contained a number of errors.

An independent group of experts will examine the details of the exhibition, which uses photographs and other documentation to argue that the Wehrmacht willingly committed atrocities.

This challenges the widespread notion that, unlike Hitler's elite SS, the regular army was not involved in crimes or participated only under duress.

The closure follows claims by Bogdan Musial, a Polish historian at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, that at least nine of the photograph captions are untrue.

One picture, called The Pogrom at Tarnapol, claimed to show Wehrmacht soldiers next to a mass grave but is in fact a picture of a massacre perpetrated several days before, apparently by the Soviet secret police, wrote Dr Musial and two colleagues in the academic journal of the Munich Institute for Contemporary History.

Another photo claiming to show an execution by German soldiers in fact shows troops wearing Hungarian helmets.

The allegations have cast a cloud over the credibility of the exhibition "War of Extermination - Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941-1944", which prompted violent demonstrations by right-wing groups and counter left-wing protests in nearly every German city in which it has been shown.

"It is possible that this loss of credibility could ultimately damage the overall argument of the exhibition," said Jan Philipp Reemtsma, sponsor of the Hamburg Institute for Contemporary History, which is responsible for the project.

He said the display would be closed for at least three months while a panel of historians examine the pictures and their captions. The international tour, due to start in New York on December 2, has been postponed.

Mr Reemtsma also indicated that historian Hannes Heer had been suspended as academic head of the project. Dr Heer went on German television to defend his thesis. He said the discovery that a few of the 801 photographs

in the exhibition were misattributed did not discredit his overall theory that the Wehrmacht was a criminal organisation.

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