Israel's Vice Prime Minister Shalom stands in
Israel's Vice Prime Minister Shalom stands inReuters

A new museum will open in Munich Thursday on the former site of the Nazi party headquarters. For many, it is a long overdue reckoning with the German city's status as the "home of the movement."

The inauguration also coincides with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Munich by US troops at the end of World War II, and of Adolf Hitler's suicide the same day in a Berlin bunker.

Aging American veterans and Holocaust survivors will join political leaders for a solemn ceremony at the new museum, a modern white cube built among a few surviving neo-classical buildings in what was the Nazis' organizational nerve centre.

Museum director Winfried Nerdinger admitted to AFP that it had taken Munich too long to face up to its toxic legacy as the birthplace of Hitler's party, a fact long shrouded in shameful silence.

"Munich had a harder time with this than all the other cities in Germany because it is also more tainted than any other city," said Nerdinger, the son of a local resistance member. "This is where it all began."

The key aim, Nerdinger said, of the "Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism" was to address how Munich, which prided itself as a hub of tolerance with its thriving arts scene and sprawling beer gardens, could see its civic spirit so perverted.

The four-floor exhibition offers explanatory texts in English as well German, and period photographs and videos documenting jackboot marches and the city's utter destruction by Allied bombing.

A chilling video graphic portrays the city's Jewish community as points of light, with more and more extinguished as the deportations to the
concentration camps increased.

Nerdinger noted that he intentionally avoided displays full of crisp brown uniforms or giant swastika flags, saying he had no desire to showcase the Nazi "aesthetic."

Instead, visitors find such artifacts as hand-scrawled sonnets found in the pocket of resistance member Albrecht Haushofer, who was executed just before the war's end. 

Edgar Feuchtwanger, a 90-year-old Jewish native of Munich who returned from his adopted home in Britain for the ceremony, said he was pleased the museum was finally opening.

"I suppose it's a difficult legacy to come to terms with, isn't it? People always ask me, 'What did people think then? How could they have fallen for all that?' And I have to say to them: Hitler seemed dramatically successful, he seemed like a magician. And then when the rabbit came back out of the hat they didn't notice or didn't want to notice." 

"I think it's an important thing to tell people what was going on and that it never be forgotten so it is never repeated," he stressed to AFP.

Constructed through joint funding from Munich, the state of Bavaria, and the German government, the museum will open to the public on Friday May 1.