18. /19. CENTURY

Nazi Rule and War – Oberammergau 1933 – 1945

4.4. - 8.11.2015

An Exhibition by the Oberammergau Archives and Oberammergau Museum to mark the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War

The Village under the National Socialists

Although the development of Oberammergau during the Third Reich was in many aspects exemplary, there were also the typical characteristics of NS rule. The exhibition shows how national socialist politics effected the political, economic and social system of the Upper Bavarian, catholic village and increasingly dominated it. The initial influence was from job creation programs and military build-up: there were numerous construction programmes such as the flood control of the Ammer River, the settlement in St. Gregor and the construction of the barracks, through which Oberammergau became a military base. Through the mechanisms of repression and dictates life in the village became increasingly conform. As early as the preparations for the 300 years anniversary Passion Play in 1934 the government attempted to use the play for National Socialist ideology, culminating in a propagandistic visit by Adolf Hitler in 1934. As a holiday region, Oberammergau was of course also visited by Jewish families. However from 1935 onwards the “Aryanisation” of tourism and the discrimination and finally the forced displacement of the Jewish citizens became here – as in the whole region – reality. Simultaneously there were restrictions against church based and secular resistance.

The War Years

The war had an even more dramatic influence on the demographic structure. Construction workers from other parts of the country and soldiers of the Wehrmacht were followed by forced labourers, evacuees and remigrants. For example in May 1940, 200 mostly elderly repatriates from South Tyrol arrived, having been forced to leave Italy. They lived here in conditions similar to a compound. Oberammergau was also a place to where manpower was assigned, first in agriculture and forestry, later in tunnel building and armament production. In 1943 manufacturing plants of the aircraft company Messerschmitt were relocated to here. The interests of the strategic armament industry soon dominated village politics and monopolized the scarce resources. A total of nine armament industries were located in Oberammergau, the electrical company Osram even used the Passion Play Theatre as a warehouse. Towards the end of the war Werner von Braun came to Oberammergau with a team of 400 technicians and rocket experts.

The End of the War

The end of the war and the surrender of the village to the Americans by the Deputy Mayors Alfred Bierling und Melchior Breitsamter passed off largely peacefully. The military and the SS had already left and Oberammergau had arranged with the Wehrmacht commander in Garmisch that the village would not be defended. A futile attempt by several young officer cadets to defend an antitank barrier against the Americans resulted in the death of seven people.

Carved in Wood

Especially impressive for the visitors is the fact that all this is not only documented with photos, documents, film and interviews with witnesses from that time, but also particularly in the exhibits of the Oberammergau woodcarvers of this period. In 1934 in the workshop of the retailer Gg. Lang sel. Erben crèche scenes, Saints figures and Passion Play souvenirs were being carved, however by 1940 more and more arm and leg prostheses were being made. The NS aesthetic influenced the earlier styles - the glorification of war - then the adaptation to the changing demands, then later predominantly the experiences of war, imprisonment and personal suffering were carved in wood.


Production of arm and leg prostheses in the workshop of Gg. Lang sel. Erben, early 1945. Photo: Florian Lang

Lectures and events discussing particular themes from the exhibition will be held in German language:

Oberammergau und das Kriegsende 1945, Lecture by Ludwig Utschneider (teacher of German and History at the Erzbischöflichen Realschule Schlehdorf and the author of the book "Oberammergau im Dritten Reich - 1933-1945", Wednesday 29.4.2015, 8 p.m. Kleines Theater


Verfolgte in der NS-Herrschaft als Gäste im Ammertal, Lecture by Father Thaddäus Schreiber, of Ettal Monestary, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Father Rupert Mayer SJ and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thursday, 2.7.2015, 7 p.m. , Oberammergau Museum


Südtiroler Umsiedler im Deutschen Reich und die Situation in Oberammergau, Lecture by Stefan Lechner, Südtiroler Landesarchiv Bozen, Friday 9.10.2015, 7.30 p.m., Oberammergau Museum

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