Memorial museums for Nazi victims in Germany are characterised by three features:
Memorial museums are usually located either at the actual site of Nazi crimes or at locations that are otherwise related to the crimes and that contribute to understanding these crimes. The respective story at the site of the event, as well as the remembrance of the victims, is preserved, documented, and communicated at memorial museums.
In the memorial museums overview, the sites are assigned to the historical crime complexes.
Publicly accessible exhibitions at memorial museums address the history of the crime perpetrated at the respective locations.
Since the liberation from the Nazi regime, historical sites and building complexes have often undergone extensive changes. They are frequently derelict, demolished, or reconstructed. Without an explanation, the sites are not comprehensible in their current state. Information boards and historical nature trails explain the authentic traces of what past events at such sites.
If possible, exhibitions are located in historic buildings that have been converted into modern exhibition structures that have retained much of their previous condition. Some of the extensive camp grounds, which may include barracks, places of work and special murder sites, are also explained through open-air exhibitions.
A further characteristic of “working memorial museums” is that the institution continuously provides mediation services and is available as a contact partner in the quest for answers to historical questions, especially with regard to the fate of individual victims.
This is in contrast to monuments, which are not continuously cared for.
The scope of institutions is large, ranging from small, voluntary initiatives and facilities with only a few full-time employees and which are primarily of regional importance, to large memorial sites with dozens of permanent and freelance employees that are known worldwide.
Memorial museums for the victims of National Socialism can be distinguished from monuments and museums, as well as from memorials with other historical references:
The memorial museums for the victims of National Socialism in Germany commemorate the victims of comprehensive political, racist, and socio-economic persecution. The criminal regime of National Socialism also differs from other state crimes in terms of the number of its victims.
In contrast to memorials, contemporary history museums have the task of explaining history in an overview or broader context. Their depiction is not tied to historical crime scenes. Their goal is not to tell the story from the perspective of the persecuted and thereby honour them.
A large number of monuments commemorate the victims of National Socialism, be it in the form of sculptures, panels, or artistic ensembles. The best known are the Stolpersteine (literally stumbling stones), of which more than 75,000 now commemorate victims of Nazi persecution throughout Europe. Monuments can also stand on the grounds of memorial museums. However, in the case of monuments there is usually no operating institution that could provide historical information or offer educational services. Memorials, thus, are not included in the memorial museum overview.
Memorials in Germany that commemorate victims of state crimes in the Soviet occupation zone and in the GDR are not listed, nor are memorials dedicated to individuals, especially politicians such as former Federal Chancellors.