Recognition

Recognition

An Interpretive Blog of Germany

Meg Brosneck

After visiting France and Poland and finding only denial of past antisemitism, Germany was a breath of fresh air. I’d heard that modern day Germany had done well in acknowledging the sins of its past, but the museums and memorials we visited exceeded my expectations.

A photo of the Empty Library memorial. The memorial is a room filled with empty bookshelves in the ground, covered by a sheet of glass. In the background is Humboldt-Universität.

The Empty Library memorial

The Germans have dedicated many museums to educating people on the corrupt actions of the Nazis. The Topography of Terror Museum, for example, was devoted almost exclusively to their murderous actions. Just by walking through Berlin, one is likely to stumble upon some kind of memorial to the victims of the Nazis’ actions: for example, “The Empty Library” in front of Humboldt University of Berlin, dedicated to the books the Nazis burned in May of 1933.  But the Germans went further than just recognizing the Nazi leadership’s role in the terror; they make clear that average citizens played a large role in the terror too. 

An image of the Archive art installation. It is a brown hallway with multiple hanging lights on the ceiling, and the walls are built of tiny boxes which each have a label on them to show which member of the German parliament they represent.

The Archive of German Members of Parliament

Many of the museums specify that most citizens supported the Nazis. Even the German Resistance Museum, dedicated to those who stood against the Nazis, stated that less than one percent of the population resisted. The majority were complicit. In the Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament, there is an art installation called the “Archive of German Members of Parliament” which showcases the names of every member of the German parliament throughout the 20th century. Many are Nazis, and Adolf Hitler is included. This exhibit includes those names to emphasize that those Nazis rose to power under the electoral system of the Weimar Republic; it was the German people who elected and brought them to power, and that needs to be remembered so it won’t be repeated. This open acknowledgment of the past is honorable. It’s not easy to admit the horrors of your country’s past—many countries refuse to—but this recognition is the only way a country can move forward.

I find myself comparing Germany to the US, where it is becoming more and more difficult to discuss our country’s shameful past of imperialism, slavery, and genocide. We have a lot to learn from Germany, and I can only hope one day we’ll follow their example.

Text from the wall of the Topography of Terror museum. It reads "The willingness of most Germans to adapt meant that many not merely shared the aims of the Nazi leadership but also actively supported them - often at the price of denouncing others to the Gestapo."

From the Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin

Seeing History Firsthand

Seeing History Firsthand

A Historian’s Blog of Poland

Meg Brosneck

Two brick buildings surrounded by grass. On the right side of the photo is a rocky and muddy path, and towards the bottom it connects to another path made of wooden planks.

Barracks at Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Poland is a beautiful country to visit, but its beauty was not the reason for our visit. The main reason belonged to one of the most horrific places in history: Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Three wooden bunks stacked on top of each other. The wooden planks making up the “mattresses” are cracked and old, and the walls are made of decaying brick. There is a window in the back.

Bunks in the barracks

Though the story of Auschwitz is well-known in history classes, the true scope of its horror cannot be understood without visiting the location itself. Some of the buildings were transformed into museum exhibits. Most of these are on the main camp, and they were the first places we visited. While they included some important photos and explanations, the most important exhibits came from the Holocaust victims’ personal belongings. Entire rooms are dedicated to displaying the pots and pans, shoes, or suitcases a fraction of the victims had brought with them. They are all that remains of entire families. The Nazis collected everything the Jews had to sell or distribute after they murdered them. While the physical items were horrible to look at, nothing came close to the room filled with several tons of human hair. The Nazis shaved their victims heads and sold their hair as a product, and Auschwitz still has some of it behind glass cages. No pictures were allowed.

A largely empty, concrete and brick courtyard between two buildings. There is a wall at the far end with flowers in front of it as a memorial to the prisoners the Nazis executed there.

The Death Wall

We continued through the rest of the camps and walked along the muddy roads where over a million people suffered and died. This explained more than any textbook ever could. We saw the buildings the Nazis forced the victims to build and then sleep in, four to seven people crammed into each tiny, cold, muddy, wooden space. We walked through the courtyard in which they executed countless people. Most of the buildings were well preserved, and our tour guide was marvelous in his explanations of what happened at each facility. Downstairs, in the basement of the infamous Block 11, we saw the standing prison cells the Nazis would cram four people inside all night. There were no pictures allowed and we were rushed through the sites, but that location impacted me more than any others. You can read all of the books you want, view all the images in existence, but until you stand in front of the torture chambers yourself, it will not sink in. This is why preservation of these sites is so important; they are physical proof of what happened and irreplaceable sources for historians and the public alike. 

Unrest in the Streets of France

Unrest in the Streets of France

A Contemporary Blog of France

Meg Brosneck

An image of Karl Marx on a concrete wall. Below him are the words “En Marx!” In black ink. There is a railing in front of the image.

An image of Karl Marx found in Bayeux

There is political and civil unrest in France, and one does not have to be a French native to understand this: it’s visible everywhere you look. Within an hour of arriving in Bayeux, France, I’d already stumbled upon a graffitied image of Karl Marx. I kept an eye out for more of this sort of imagery for the rest of my time in France. While I was never able to see an actual protest in person, just looking at the walls of buildings around allowed me to see how else the French showed their displeasure. Most of the graffiti centered around President Macron recently raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. However, this was far from the only topic presented. I found countless stickers placed on various bridges and lampposts opposing France funding wars, French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin’s laws, and several generalized “anticapitaliste” and “antisexiste” ones too. They were all leftist in belief.

A blue sticker on a guardrail with red text at the top which says “de l’argent pour les retraites et les salaires.” Below this text is a crowd of black figures. There is white text over them that says “pas pour l’armee ni pour la guerre”

“Money for pensions and salaries not for the army nor for the war”

Through merely observing these writings as I walked through the streets, I was able to learn much about the state of politics in France. The people, in general, are restless. I could not have ignored this anger even if I tried; it’s painted on the walls, streets, and everywhere you look. Even if I had managed to ignore all of that, I couldn’t get away from the people themselves. Walking home on my last night in France, a homeless woman stopped me and introduced herself. Though she first tried to speak in French, she switched to English when she learned I understood it better, and she began to recount her story, She fumed about police corruption and injustice and told me all about how people in charge ruined her family’s lives and took away their homes. She blamed them for her siblings’ suicides. She spent several minutes speaking about the importance of women standing up for themselves and encouraged me to tell others the same. It was a strange but telling interaction about the current state of French politics. There was less of a heavy public divide between the right and left wing. As far as I could tell, there is no French equivalent to the widespread Trumpism present in the United States. The outspoken majority of the French, old and young, lean towards the Left.

A green dumpster with white writing on it. The writing has “64 ans” crossed out with an arrow pointing towards “60 ans”

“64 years —> 60 years”

Point of View

Point of View

A Comparative Blog of English Sites

By Meg Brosneck

 

Our journey began in England with three central locations: the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War Rooms, and Bletchley Park. Each of these covered WWII in unique ways, and visiting all three offered a chance to compare the different viewpoints of the war.

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