BERLIN (AP) — Joy and despair, punishment and denial, devastation and rebirth: a new exhibition in Berlin delves into 12 European countries' experiences in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
Ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender May 8, the show that opened Thursday at Berlin's German Historical Museum offers a snapshot of the impact of defeat, victory and liberation in Germany, the surrounding countries it occupied or annexed, as well as Norway, Britain and the Soviet Union.
Personal stories of heroes, villains and victims; photos, videos, posters; and objects such as a Danish bride's 1946 wedding dress made of silk from a British parachute illustrate the process of building the future.
"After the war ended, practically all the countries that were affected by the war faced a new beginning," curator Maja Peers said. "None of the countries, neither those that had suffered for years under German occupation nor the allies, were in a situation where they could return seamlessly to pre-war life."
To start with, nations faced the task of how to deal with Nazis and their collaborators. A Dutch poster demands quick punishment for Nazi collaborators and a bulky cabinet from Denmark is full of information on "traitors."
But the exhibition also notes that it took German society decades to address many aspects of the Nazi past, and contains artifacts such as an Austrian conservative party's 1949 election poster fishing for votes from former Nazi supporters.
"We are far from saying that there was a zero hour or an empty sheet from which there was a new beginning," co-curator Babette Quinkert said. "We look in every country at where there is continuity, what were the effects, where are the breaks."
The show is part of low-key commemorations of the war's end in Berlin, which also include an open-air exhibition at six locations depicting everyday life after the fighting ended.
Visitors are greeted by radio recordings from the 12 countries announcing the end of the war, juxtaposed with pictures of people's reactions: a crying boy, soldiers celebrating, liberated prisoners.
A central room detailing some of the grim statistics of the war in Europe — 45 million dead and at least 20 million children who had lost one or both parents — leads into sections on each country, with tiny Luxembourg and the Soviet Union getting equal attention. Peers said curators wanted to let visitors choose rather than imposing a "hierarchy" of nations.
Presenting the exhibition, organizers faced repeated questions over why they left out countries further afield such as Greece and Yugoslavia that also suffered Nazi aggression, at a time when Athens has revived calls for German reparations.
"We had to limit ourselves to a certain number for space reasons," Peers said, adding that the first priority was Germany's immediate neighbors.
Each section is illustrated by the stories of three people representing part of their country's experience — people as diverse as Norwegian collaborationist leader Vidkun Quisling; Pierre Godfrin , who survived the 1944 Nazi massacre in Oradour-sur-Glane, France; and Katharina Brandstetter , found at a home in Austria by U.S. troops and believed to be the child of a forced laborer from eastern Europe.
The show examines the period up to around 1950, by which time the 12 countries had taken very different ideological and economic courses.
In the west, a camping kit from Norway illustrates that nation's quick return to prosperity, while new governments in Denmark and Britain built up the welfare state.
Across the Iron Curtain, Poland faced the daunting task of rebuilding a nation that was devastated — a set of tablets to sterilize water illustrates the dangers that lurked in the ruins — and shunted westward, forcing many into new and unfamiliar homes. Germany was stripped of its eastern regions and later divided in two, a split symbolized by a cart used to transport new western mark banknotes in 1948.
Still, a French medal commemorating the 1950 proposal to found the European Coal and Steel Community, an early forerunner of the European Union, points to a happier future.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was particularly moved by a dress in France's national colors, made by a mother for her daughter to wear when her husband returned from the war.
"This beautiful dress was never worn," he said. "Yet a friendship grew between France and Germany, a friendship that is the foundation of Europe."
The exhibition, "1945. Defeat. Liberation. New Beginning," runs until Oct. 25.