Over the course of the month we visited many, many museums, each of which had its own narrative of the war to tell. The Churchill War Rooms wanted to show that Churchill was an exceptional man of the people and a crucial asset to the People’s War. The museum did this by showcasing Churchill’s everyday routines and hobbies thus making him more average and relatable. The Caen Memorial Museum in France pushed forward the idea that the French resistance was so effective that the Allies were not really needed to liberate the country… The Schindler museum in Krakow clearly laid out the Polish narrative of collective victimhood; our guide continuously made clear that there were good Polish people and bad Polish people, good Jews and bad Jews, and that overall Poland suffered as a whole. But the German museums I found the most interesting because they did not seem to push any sort of narrative at all. They were all very objective and fact based leaving the visitor to interpret the information as such. This objective perspective also seemed to really embody Germany’s collective memory of remorse – we did it, and we are sorry.
To me the objectivity was their way of taking responsibility. Sticking to the facts leaves no room for twisting the story into something it wasn’t. German museums were much wordier and held many less pictures; pictures tend to evoke more emotion than words do and leave more room for subjective interpretation. The Topography of Terror was probably the most word-heavy of the museums we visited in Berlin and the pictures that it had were often placed in a very calculated way – pictures of tormented Jews were often
placed in close proximity to pictures of Nazi officers doing everyday tasks or having fun and in this placement a sort of tension and discomfort was created. The museum displays were also hanging from the ceiling. If someone touched them or if the air conditioner was blowing, they would begin to sway. This also created feelings of discomfort and even made me feel as though I was going to pass out while reading them.
As I visited more museums in Berlin, I began to notice that many of them seemed to use this method physical discomfort through layout and
architecture which I found most interesting. The Jewish Museum of Berlin used tilted floors and dark, empty rooms with 24m high ceilings to create feelings of discomfort and loneliness that the Jews may have felt while in isolation and under oppression. These rooms reminded me of the “sunken place” from the movie Get Outif you are familiar with the film.
Overall, I thought that the German’s most effectively conveyed the message of WWII. The factual perspective exuded a sense of honesty and responsibility that none of the other museums in any of the other countries seemed to acknowledge, especially not Poland and France. I so appreciated seeing that the Germans took this viewpoint because, honestly, I was little nervous to see what they’d say.