On Tyranny. Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

by Nora Krug and Timothy Snyder
Oct. 1, 2021 until Jan. 30, 2022

Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century was published in 2017 at a politically charged time. Shortly after Donald Trump was elected US president, it caused an international stir. By looking back at important democratic moments in European history (1918, 1945, 1989) and against the backdrop of important current political events in the USA, the historian makes clear that a vigilant civil society is needed to resist authoritarian threats. Resist group pressure, defend institutions, beware of slogans, check facts: Snyder’s precise behavioral suggestions encourage to ask questions and to initiate political discussions—in the best case, they inspire to act in the spirit of a democracy able to defend itself.

Nora Krug, too, deals with historical experiences and today’s political conduct. The prizewinning illustrator and artist keeps searching for traces the National Socialist period has left behind. Now she has illustrated Snyder’s appeal to act and has added an artistic perspective to his strategies against populism and authoritarian leadership. She combines her drawn and handwritten graphic stories with photographs and archival items, thus creating a completely new approach to Snyder’s theses.

The exhibition presents excerpts from the illustrated edition of On Tyranny and provides at the same time an insight into the creative process. On view are original drawings and collages as well as items Nora Krug has found at flea markets and in antique stores. In addition, one exhibition chapter is devoted to the making of her book Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, in which Krug embarked in 2018 on a literary-graphic search for traces of her own family’s past. The presentation stretches as an intervention over several levels of the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism. Interwoven with the historical exhibition, On Tyranny invites to examine Snyder’s Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and become active oneself.

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century – twenty stations in the exhibition

To each of Timothy Snyder’s lessons, Nora Krug created graphic stories and added documents. Her illustrations, historical photographs, and exhibits are spread out over twenty stations and interwoven with the NS Documentation Center’s permanent exhibition. For the exhibition On Tyranny, the Stuttgart architect’s office Demirag Architekten developed special furnishings that combine artistic motifs of desk and easel. Timothy Snyder’s texts receive a stage as does Nora Krug’s artistic analysis of his theses. Thus, distributed over the floors, numerous small islands of privacy were formed within the documentary and matter-of-fact historical exhibition of the Munich Documentation Center that encourage individual and associative approaches to this special collaborative work between author and artist.

Lesson 1: Do not obey in advance*
Lesson 2: Defend institutions
Lesson 3: Beware the one-party state
Lesson 4: Take responsibility for the face of the world
Lesson 5: Remember professional ethics
Lesson 6: Be wary of paramilitaries
Lesson 7: Be reflective if you must be armed
Lesson 8: Stand out
Lesson 9: Be kind to our language
Lesson 10: Believe in truth
Lesson 11: Investigate
Lesson 12: Make eye contact and small talk
Lesson 13: Practice corporeal politics
Lesson 14: Establish a private life
Lesson 15: Contribute to good causes
Lesson 16: Learn from peers in other countries
Lesson 17: Listen for dangerous words
Lesson 18: Be calm when the unthinkable arrives
Lesson 19: Be a patriot
Lesson 20: Be as courageous as you can

*Lessons from: Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny Graphic Edition. Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Ten Speed Press California-New York, 2021

Nora Krug

Nora Krug is a German-American illustrator and author whose work was published, among others, in The New York Times, The Guardian, and Le Monde diplomatique. She has received several fellowships and prizes and teaches as an associate professor of illustration at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Her book Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home was an international bestseller.

Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder teaches history at Yale University and ranks among the most eminent intellectuals of the USA. On Tyranny was translated into more than forty languages and has sold almost half a million copies in the USA alone. Professor Snyder is a historian and expert in Eastern European history.