Arriving in Berlin, I again had few expectations for what the city would be like and I had an overwhelming curiosity on how this country would portray and remember its involvement in WWII. All around Berlin, there seem to be reminders of the war. If not through historical sites, there are plenty of monuments and memorials to commemorate the war. Even in the Bundestag, where the legislative Branch of Germany’s government carries out business, there are remnants of the walls from war period which were covered in graffiti by Soviet soldiers who captured Berlin signaling the end of Nazi Germany. Germany does not seem to be intent on forgetting about this war, which is a rightful mindset. The country uses the war as reminder, so that these events never occur again and to recognize their past as an example. I do believe these constant reminders can prove to be somewhat detrimental to German identity.
As far as German portrayal of the war, there was nothing that appeared as if Germany was trying to downplay any portion of the conflict based on the sites we visited. At the German Historical Museum specifically, I got the impression that the Germans were owning up to everything that was done in the war. The section on WWII was packed with information and when it began to focus on the concentration camps, there was information on multiple groups of people including some that I had previously never seen mentioned as victims of the holocaust, such as black people and middle easterners. After going through this exhibit it was almost as if I could hear the people who put the exhibit together saying ‘Alright, we’ve mentioned every group affected, talked about every occupied country, explained how Hitler came to power. We’ve said it all. No one can say we’ve left anything out’. This exhibit showed, in multiple ways, the general outlook towards German history. It had an expansive, overpowering section on WWII that flowed into postwar conflicts with soviet occupation and the division caused within the country and further slowly branched out into advancements in German society. This all showed the way in which German identity has been clouded by the events of the war. Even though so much progress and good has come out of this country, there seems to be a real question of how to be proud of a country with such a negative period in history.
On our last day of the trip, we traveled to Potsdam to see the Wannsee House where the Wannsee Conference was held and plans for the Final Solution were discussed. The Wannsee House overlooked a picturesque lake and the area around was overwhelmingly beautiful. It didn’t seem at all fitting that in such a beautiful place, such horrible things could be planned. The museum in the old house characterized the actions of the Nazis as being widely intentionalist rather than functionalist. In other words, it expressed that the Nazis were always planning to exterminate those that were not identified as Aryan from the beginning of their seizure of power rather than being the result of a series of events within the Nazi party. We discussed as a group, the ability for both schools of thought to be correct in understanding the events of the Holocaust and the way in which so many things are more complex than they may seem on the surface.
As I sit in my room back in Kansas, reflecting on this trip and reviewing all the stories that I have told my friends and family, I am astounded by how much I have done and learned in such a short amount of time. This trip enabled me to see the realities of WWII, the people and places it touched, and its effects across the European continent. Most importantly it allowed me to see the events of this war through the perspectives of other countries besides America. WWII had been raging for over 2 years before America’s involvement and to see the memory of the war from countries involved from the beginning, truly enhanced my knowledge of WWII as a global war. Because of this trip, I was able to see places, I never thought I would see with twenty-two other remarkable students. I am so thankful for all those who helped to make this trip a reality for me as it was truly an experience I will carry with me for a lifetime.