Finishing our trip with Germany seemed only suiting. We discussed, in Poland, the historical narratives that were depicted in each countries museums throughout the trip. England really pushed the “People’s War” agenda, while France, in bold font, highlights the contributions of the Resistance. Even Poland, had a particular theme throughout its many sites – victimhood. Poland, of course, rightfully deserves this title but nonetheless, themes of collaboration during the Nazi occupation were absent in all their museums. Each country had an agenda and left out certain events that would tarnish this image. Germany, on the other hand, put its worse face forward. Germany does not hold back on its dark history and promotes peace by highlighting their many mistakes even in the various metro stations.
The first site, where this was evident, was the tour of Bundestag – the house of parliament. The building, called the Reichstag, houses the Bundestag parliament. During our tour, we learned that no Nazi governmental actions actually took place in this building, due to the Reichstag fire in 1933. However, the approaching Soviet forces believed the building to be a prime objective during the Battle of Berlin. Thus, the Red Army forces fought valiantly to capture it and their enthusiastic triumph can be seen by looking at the Soviet graffiti and bullets that cover the walls of the building. The Reichstag makes no move to cover their past, including their defeat. When the new building was constructed following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the architecture decided, instead of removing the graffiti, they would preserve it.
The only fallacy in the historical narrative, that our group noticed, was the tendency for the narrative to take an intentionlist approach. While in the Wannsee House, the location where the Final Solutions was supposedly put into action, the narrative follows that Hitler had a decisive impact on the actions leading up to the Holocaust. Throughout the museum, it would say, “decision already made at the highest level before the conference.” To me, this seems like a way to push atrocities off the whole community onto a scapegoat. While Hitler was by no means a good man, he was only human and could only carry out his mischievous deeds through massive support.
After our tour, we discussed the importance of acknowledging both sides of the argument. Functionalist state that there was a build up to the final solution – with no preconceived idea. The final solution was the result of error and adaption to policies meant to rid the Jews from Germany and did not begin as mass extermination. It is important, as a historian, to not focus completely on Hitler. It is important to study the various reasons inside and outside of Germany that lead to the mass extermination of Jews and other groups.
Germany was the last stop for this amazing program. Our last dinner together felt like a family meal – full of inside jokes and immense laughter. For some, the journey through Europe was far from over but nonetheless, the group was splitting ways the following day. We had grown and learned together throughout the trip. While I am sure our friendships will continue upon our arrival back in the states, the last day was bittersweet for all. This trip taught me what I hoped for and more. This program really strengthened the foundations of my undergraduate education in military history. I am forever thankful to all the donors who made this experience possible.