Berlin: Remembering the Facts

After bopping around Poland for a few days, the comrades and myself then travelled to Berlin on May 26th. The historical journey leading up to our arrival in Berlin really set the stage for the sites and museums that we visited there. In London, the history of WWII was portrayed very much the same as it is in America, as this history was written by the victors. In France and then Poland, that history became a little bit different, coming from the perspectives of two nations that were occupied by Nazi Germany. After visiting Poland, where the people seemed very much in denial of their own role in the Holocaust and World War II, Berlin felt like a breath of fresh air. However, this feeling was short lived.

At first, it felt as though the German portrayal of the history of World War II aligned almost exactly with what we learned in our Spring studies of the topic. But then the closer we read into the information presented to us, it became clear that something was missing. The German presentation of World War II is very matter-of-fact. Every museum that we visited seemed to lay out a very objective story, void of emotion, but full of reality. The German Historical Museum was the most notable in this sense. The museum was filled with information about the end of World War I, through the modernization and “Americanization” of Germany in the late 1900’s. However, I felt as though the information was fragmented and sometimes hard to follow. No section about the war seemed to be missing, but the museum did not tell a complete story. It merely presented the facts as though they were sufficient in telling the narrative of Germany during the war. A mere presentation of the facts is definitely not sufficient when telling the story of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany. This feeling that something was missing from the narrative also troubled me when we visited the Wannsee House. The exhibition inside did a tremendous job of telling the story of the Third Reich and the top Nazi officials who met there in January 1942. However, even the room that focused specifically on those individuals neglected to explain just how they arrived at the positions that led them to the Wannsee Conference.

The many sites and buildings that we visited in Berlin serve as a reminder, not just to Germany, but to the rest of the world, of the tragic events that occurred there during the 20th century. The German government, down to the reconstruction of the Reichstag building, has put in place many measures that will, hopefully, keep any official from gaining the power to commit such acts again. While the structure of the government is ultimately the path that Hitler used to gain power, it was not the only factor that allowed him to consolidate the Third Reich under his command. What seems to be missing from the German historical record is the political, emotional, and social environment that produced a leader such as Adolf Hitler. These aspects are just as important, if not more so, than the methods Hitler used to gain power. After all, it was the people of Germany, not the structure of the government or the Treaty of Versailles, that produced a leader powerful and depraved enough to begin the Second World War.

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