The Development of the Silent Heroes Memorial Center

Since the 1990s there has been growing public interest in the life stories of people who helped Jews facing persecution during the Nazi dictatorship. Inspired by the Against Oblivion—For Democracy association, a comprehensive research project “Rescuing Jews in Nazi Germany 1933–1945” was conducted between 1997 and 2002 under the direction of Professor Wolfgang Benz at the Technical University of Berlin’s Center for Research on Antisemitism. Films such as Schindler’s List and numerous publications also heightened interest in this subject. In the German Resistance Memorial Center’s permanent exhibition, a section on help for victims of persecution was already prepared in 1988 under the academic direction of Prof. Peter Steinbach.

Journalist Inge Deutschkron, who experienced the persecution firsthand, was instrumental in the process started in 1999 to expand a student project into the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind at Rosenthaler Strasse 39 in the Mitte district of Berlin. During the Nazi era, mainly blind and deaf Jews were employed in this workshop under the protection of the brush manufacturer Otto Weidt (1883–1947). After diverse efforts, such as that of then German president Johannes Rau, the building at Rosenthaler Strasse 39 was purchased in 2004 with funds from the German government and the Berlin Class Lottery Foundation that had been earmarked not only for the expansion of the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind, but also for the establishment of a central Silent Heroes Memorial Center.

In April 2005 the German Resistance Memorial Center was commissioned with the conceptual and organizational planning of this new museum. The Silent Heroes Memorial Center was opened on October 27, 2008.

This first permanent exhibition, occupying a very limited space, was devoted to rescue attempts by Germans in Germany and the German-occupied territories. It was to be expanded in a second step to include help for persecuted Jews in the German-occupied territories. In 2015 an expansion within the available space at Rosenthaler Strasse 39 proved impossible. A solution to the problem emerged through a relocation of the Silent Heroes Memorial Center to the premises of the German Resistance Memorial Center at Stauffenbergstrasse 13–14 in Berlin-Tiergarten. A considerably enlarged permanent exhibition on rescues and attempted rescues by Germans went on display there in February 2018.

In a second expansion phase, it has now been possible to install a permanent exhibition on the rescue of Jews all over German-occupied Europe, in conjunction with the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center and many European partner institutions. It opened in October 2020.

The new Silent Heroes Memorial Center exhibition was planned by the exhibition architect Ursula Wilms and the Ulm-based design office Braun Engels, and installed under their direction. The exhibition content was prepared by a team of curators under the direction of Prof. Johannes Tuchel. With the support of many institutions and individuals from across Europe and Israel, they developed the very first comprehensive overview of the resistance against the National Socialist persecution of the Jews.