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Project Germany: The past, the present, and peace

Museum a tribute to history's famous, obscure peacemakers

Owner: World history is world theatre

by Rita Forbes and Valerie German

A cross of nails is displayed at the  Friedenshistorisches Museum.
A cross of nails is displayed at the
Friedenshistorisches Museum. The museum
features peace efforts from groups
and individuals worldwide.

We stumbled off the train at the Austrian-German border, weighed down by heavy luggage, and scanned the few people standing on the platform. How would we recognize Thomas Wechs, who had offered to meet us at the station?

“That’s him!” Valerie said. “The one waving the American flag!”

Sure enough, an elderly couple stood across the tracks, holding a small American flag, which they waved majestically as we approached. Herr and Frau Wechs greeted us warmly and drove us through beautiful scenery and picturesque towns to their Friedenshistorisches Museum, or Historical Peace Museum. During the summer months, they live in the adjoining house.

Thomas Wechs founded the museum 28 years ago. It was originally located in the town of Lindau, but ten years ago organizational changes were made. Rather than compromise his vision, Wechs decided to finance the museum privately and moved it to his summer home in Bad Hindelang, nestled into the Alps.

The museum’s purpose is encapsulated in the title of Wechs’ book, Friede ist Möglich (Peace is Possible). Wechs said a state official once summed the museum up as “a valuable addition to the conception of history.” Too often, history is viewed as a series of wars. Wechs wants to complement this perspective by focusing on those who have pursued peace.

Exhibits feature the peace efforts of individuals and groups from around the world, throughout two thousand years of history. Alongside well-known figures such as Gandhi, Florence Nightingale, and Oskar Schindler (of Schindler’s List fame) are obscure individuals. We learn that the tradition of conscientious objectors reaches back to Roman times, when Marcellus the Centurion was executed in 298 A.D. for his refusal to fight in the emperor’s army. Dutch social worker Truus Wijsmuller, also previously unknown to us, organized the rescue of over 10,000 Jewish children to England during World War II.

A mountain background looking over the Friedenshistorisches  Museum
A mountain background looking over the Friedenshistorisches
Museum helps foster in visitors the hope that peace
is really possible.

We spent two days in Bad Hindelang, giving us time to peruse the museum and reflect on its message. Herr and Frau Wechs treated us with gracious hospitality for the duration of our stay. We were served three delicious homecooked meals, including the famous Bavarian weißwurst and an Austrian specialty called Schmarrn.

Visiting the museum, with its inspiring historical presentation, was both an educational and an enjoyable experience. So was talking to our hosts.

In correspondence with Thomas Wechs before our trip, we had asked a question relating to Germany “becoming a peaceful nation.” When we arrived in Bad Hindelang to interview him, he had a message to get across. The German people always wanted peace, he said.

“World history is also world theater,” Wechs said. “As you know, in theater there is a curtain and a stage. The audience only sees what takes place before the stage, not behind it. National Socialism was very clever. They acted out plans for a peaceful world for the German people.”

Just two short years before provoking World War II, Hitler spoke publicly of peace in Europe and unity with the neighboring country of France. But behind the scenes, he was already preparing for war.

“It is proof of the German people’s peacefulness that Hitler knew the people did not want the war,” Wechs said. “He would not have needed to concoct this entire theater if the people had been enthusiastic like they were in World War I. That nonsense would not have been necessary.”

Like everyone else, Wechs is fully aware of the evil that occurred in the war. But he also knows about the good. He is dedicated to educating others about the people and groups who worked for peace, in the face of great personal danger.

In the idyllic setting of the Alps, surrounded by stately mountains and calm pastures, while becoming acquainted with the uplifting stories of those who have made a difference, optimism comes easily. Perhaps peace really is possible.

Information about the museum is available (in German only) at www.friedensmuseum.de

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