Cologne's National Socialism Documentation Centre was founded by a resolution passed by the Cologne city council on December 1979 and has become the largest regional memorial site in the whole of Germany for the victims of the Nazis. Since 1988, it has been housed in "EL-DE Haus", the EL-DE building, named after the initials of its owner, Catholic businessman Leopold Dahmen. This building was the headquarters of the Cologne Gestapo (secret police) between December 1935 and March 1945. In the final months of the war, several hundred people, most of them foreign forced labourers were murdered in the courtyard of the building. With a touch of historical irony, the EL-DE building remained largely unaffected by the ravages of the war.
The NS Documentation Centre (NS-DOC) is dedicated to the commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime, as well as research and educational work about Cologne's history during the Nazi era. The former Gestapo prison was opened as a memorial site on December 1981. Some 1,800 inscriptions and drawings by prisoners have sur-vived on the walls of the ten cells. The Gestapo prison memorial site is one of the best preserved prisons from the Nazi era, representing an historical asset of national and European importance. Since June 1997, the permanent exhibition in the EL-DE building has presented political, social and community life in "Cologne During the Nazi Era."
This exhibitions addresses themes such as the seizure and machinery of power, propaganda and the "ethnic community," everyday life, youth culture, religion, racism, the genocide of Cologne's Jews and its Sinti and Roma population, and opposition, resistance, war and society during the war. In addition, temporary exhibitions present local and national aspects of the Nazi regime. The centre also stages more than 130 events each year. The museum's educational department and the Information and Education Association against Right-wing Extremism (ibs) also run educational and teaching programmes.
The NS Documentation Centre sees itself as an important research centre. This is supported by the library, with literature on Cologne under the Nazis, general Nazi history and right-wing extremism. It is also the task of the documentation department, with its extensive collections of photographs, posters, artifacts, documents and witness statements, which are organized into databases and made accessible. Numerous research projects deal with Jewish history, contemporary witness statements and interviews, forced labor, the police, youth culture, the press, clubs and organizations, various victim groups and commemorative activities, such as the Cologne artist Gunter Demnig's project "Stolpersteine" (Tripping Stones). Among the major current research projects are the history of the Holocaust, resistance, the Gestapo, the Nazi system of Gauleiter (district overseers), urban planning, public health policies and the Hitler Youth movement. The results of the research projects are published in a series of writings in book form, a workbook series, a series by the Information and Education Association, and the center's Internet page.