A Monument to Hate

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SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES

Theo Junker stands inside the memorial he built on his farm to honor Adolph Hitler and the men who fought for Germany during WWII

The setting is deceptively serene and inviting. Deep in the woods of southern Wisconsin, past the antique malls and strawberry fields of Highways 12 and A, a retired farmer stands above a pond and keeps watch over a dozen ducklings and geese. But hanging on a wall behind the gentle 87-year-old man, taped in white lettering on a granite façade, is a haunting welcome to a startling shrine. “Honorary Hall for Adolf Hitler: Before You Pass Judgment, Give Careful and Equal Consideration to Both Sides.”

This is Theodore Junker’s life’s dream — a temple of sorts that reaches up a high hill, with brick steps leading to a large landing where visitors can admire — or be repulsed by — Junker’s proclamations about “those German and other European heroes” who perished under the tyranny of “Allied persecution and genocide.”

Erecting a monument to one of history’s most reviled figures is only part of Junker's dream. In doing so, he also wants to teach the truth as he sees it: that Hitler did not start World War II and did not despise other races; that the Nazi regime was not a stifling dictatorship; and that there was no extermination of the Jews. If anyone suffered, Junker says, it was the Germans and the rest of Nazi Europe.

“How can it be that in America, today, when you can get papers, everything, just like that — how can it be that people don’t know the truth?” says Junker, who grew up in a German enclave of Romania and served in the Waffen-SS during the war, then came to the U.S. in 1955, worked as a janitor and handyman in Chicago and became a citizen some five years later. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night and it would hit me. Because for 60 years it was taught one way. I said a long time ago I would do something about it, but I was farming and never had the time. Now I have no fear and I can do this. I said, if I could bring seven people over to the truth, I will have succeeded. I have many more now.”

It took Junker three years and $200,000 of his own money to erect the memorial, which was completed rather quietly until it was noticed recently by the local papers. Not surprisingly, it has elicited a storm of outrage, so much so that the grand opening set for June 25 was canceled on Thursday after police warned that Junker, and his shrine, could be targeted. Sugar Creek Township Chairman Loren Waite calls Junker “a mixed-up old man ... I hope he’s just confused.” Jewish and anti-hate groups warn that Nazi sympathizers have been known to populate the heavily German areas of southern and southeastern Wisconsin, and decry Junker for rewriting history and teaching evil.

“If Hitler was so right, then why did [Junker] have to come over here to do this?” said Eileen Dempsey, 65, who lives just down the road from Junker. " We knew he had leanings and that he was putting up something back there. But we didn’t know the extreme. If Hitler was in control now, Ted wouldn’t be able to do what he’s doing now, to have the freedom to do it.”

Junker, whose own four children are split on his monument (his wife died in 1993), admits to the conflict. Among the first sights at the memorial is a large rendering of the First Amendment. Behind a vast concrete deck that looks over the pond and features a towering American flag is what Junker hopes will become something of a museum to Hitler. Inside, the vast room is sparse. A long table sits at the entrance and nearly empty bookcases rest against either wall; Junker plans to fill them with writings that illustrate his personal and political beliefs. But it is behind a curtain — one he until recently kept shut — that his real prize sits: a granite pedestal holding two portraits of Hitler, alongside a declaration that Hitler was a caretaker who united a great land and “provided direction for the future.”

Though the official opening has been called off, Junker insists the museum is open to anyone. Junker says he has no fear of being targeted, and that if he is attacked, he will gladly die an old man “who lived his life’s dream."

But who will actually visit his dream? Junker imagines both Nazi sympathizers as well as people who make the long trip to Sugar Creek simply to show how much they hate the idea of a Hitler museum. Either way, Junker says, he’ll greet them with his ready smile and firm grip. “This isn’t about hate,” he says. “Take hate out of it. It’s about understanding.”