For my STEP project I travelled to Europe to continue studying World War II through the History Departments “History of World War II Study Program.” I had the opportunity to see the places in Europe that I learned about in my spring semester classes and continue to learn more about them in person at the actual site. These sites included the museums and memorials and locations where the fighting took place.
Being able to see the beaches of Normandy, cemeteries, some of the best museums in the world, and concentration camps has really opened up my eyes academically and helped me develop a better understanding of World War II. The experience has really left me with a personal touch to the individuals who fought the war. It was one thing to learn in classes about how many people died in certain battles, but seeing the cemeteries with graves for the individuals who fought and died really was astonishing and something no text book could ever teach. With World War II, everyone “knows” about the holocaust. Reading and seeing footage of a concentration camp does not even come close to the emotions and realizations that visiting a camp does. I read a book on the Auschwitz trials in a class and thought I had a good visualization on what the camp would look like and be like when I visited it. This was not the case at all. The camp was so systematic and terrifying to know what happened at the site and left me with a feeling of hopelessness that people could kill thousands of people.
The new understanding and appreciation I have on World War II has really helped me while I teach other people on the topics. I worked at a museum last summer and am currently working at a museum again this summer. I have noticed a huge difference in the approach I take to discuss war and our collection to visitors that I would not have gained had I not been apart of this study abroad.
The program itself is partly responsible for my transformation. Professor Steigerwald did a wonderful job at combining prerequisite classes that covered the same materials. I have never had such an in depth understanding and knowledge on a topic until now. My classmates on the trip were also partly responsible for my transformation. I realized how big the world really is and how little of it I have been able to see. The people on the trip really made a big difference and I would not have had such a wonderful time with any other group than the group that I was with. Everyone in the program had to take classes at OSU before departing for Europe. We all got to know each other a lot in the semester before studying abroad. During classes at Ohio State, we saw some parts of the group three or four times a week. Then, once in Europe we all lived together and saw each other everyday for almost a month straight.
During the academic side to the trip, I developed a greater appreciation for the soldiers who fought the war. I learned that I am really proud to be able to say that I am an American and that as an American, I saw all the sites that are associated with World War II that were available to be seen. Another thing that contributed to my view of the world changing happened at Point du Hoc. I overheard another tourist say every American should see this. I have to say that after seeing everything on this trip, I agree. Americans do not have as easy access to the sites as Europeans do and most will never see the beaches, cliffs, or sites for the D-Day Invasion, or other historical sites we got to see on this trip. Point du Hoc was the location were the rangers assaulted on D Day. To assault the position the rangers had to climb the cliffs. It was unbelievable to see the cliffs in person and know that Americans climbed the cliff and took the position.
Another event that contributed to my viewpoint changing was visiting the cemeteries. I was able to see the American cemetery that overlooked the beaches. I was also able to see the Germany, Soviet, and British cemeteries. The American cemetery was very similar to Arlington. I really liked the British Cemetery. I had the opportunity to visit it without anyone else on the grounds. This created a very nice peaceful environment that no other site on the trip had. I was able to leave with a very personal touch that the British created in the layout and even messages on the graves. The British allowed family’s to include a personal message on the graves. These messages combined with the ages of the soldiers really showed that they were not numbers but individuals who died at such young ages and that most were the same age as me.
The last place that was transformational was Auschwitz. I had the opportunity to talk to Professor Steigerwald after seeing the camp. We discussed what the camp left me thinking about and the history of the holocaust. The main thing I remember was being able to say that I was glad I could not imagine the camp accurately and that no one really can. This inability or even imagine a camp to kill people was really the only thing that I thought about and how anyone could come up with a design to kill people.
The change in perspective I have gained on war and World War II has really helped me gain a greater appreciation for the men and women who fought in World War II and all other wars. I was able to see how many people in the world think of the individuals who fought in the war as numbers who fought for their countries but to families and friends they were perhaps their entire world. I have been using the knowledge and experience I gained from this experience at work in a museum setting. I will continue to use what I learned in my future academic settings and classes and in my professional settings. This trip really expanded my horizons and was a great experience. I have developed a broader understanding of just how small Moon Township that I grew up in really is and also how small Columbus is. I did not realize just how young the United States is compared to the cities and towns I visited and how our buildings and history here at home do not compare to the countries of Europe. It was amazing to see the details the cathedrals had and to know that they were hand made without any power tools. It was also disappointing to know that modern day architects and construction sites have better tools and resources but do not make buildings to last or look as beautiful. I am looking forward to traveling more and getting out of my comfort zone more often after seeing that the world is a big place and that there is a lot of interesting places, things, and people that I can and should visit.
Here is a link to my blog posts for the History of World War II Study Program: http://u.osu.edu/wwiihistorytour/author/kaminski-212-2/