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Rommel: A Mythical Figure - A Special Exhibition at the Haus der Geschichte
A man observes several portraits of Erwin Rommel in Stuttgart, Germany. Photo:EFE / Norbert Foersterling.
STUTTGART.- A universally familiar figure, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891 – 1944), probably the best-known German soldier of World War II, is immediately identifiable by his characteristic leather coat, dust goggles, and Knight’s Cross as well as his resolute pose. His reputation is legendary: not just German, but also American and British veterans of the North African battlefields revere him to this day. Rommel, the “Desert Fox”, continues to be the patron of many German Federal Army barracks and a cult figure of movies throughout the decades, and even of computer games today.

A legend – a cult figure – an icon – a hero. As a myth, Rommel is apparently highly contradictory: a fabulous officer, a popular hero, a daredevil, a strong-minded Swabian, a strategist of genius, a chivalrous soldier, a fair fighter, an enthusiastic Hitler supporter, Hitler’s General, a war criminal, a resistance fighter, representative of a “clean” Wehrmacht, the German Armed Forces of WWII, and, finally, a sacrificial victim of Nazism.

The “Myth of Rommel“ was, last but not least, a fabrication of Nazi propaganda: “I ... would strongly advise that now, as soon as the battle for North Africa has been decided, Rommel be elevated to a kind of popular hero”, wrote Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in his diary in November, 1941. Erwin Rommel willingly – and successfully – lent himself to the exercise. With the most modern media available at the time – film, photography and radio, and even with the support of war opponents – Rommel was turned into a veritable icon: Great Britain and the USA, too, rendered homage to Rommel, the hero.

The myth was able to survive the war because the Field Marshall was connected with the military resistance against Hitler, who forced him to commit suicide. The man’s image has variously changed over the last 60 years – but the myth Rommel remains.

With its “Rommel – A Mythical Figure” exhibition, the Haus der Geschichte (History Museum of) Baden-Württemberg presents the first major event ever on Erwin Rommel: numerous Rommel family objects, photographs, and films, some of which had never been seen by the public before, bear witness to Erwin Rommel’s private and professional military life as well as to the genesis and the development of the “myth of Rommel” to date.

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