“I still keep a suitcase in Berlin.”

IMG_7776Out of all of the cities in the program, I was the most excited for Berlin.  My family has German roots, I took German language classes at Ohio State, and my focus of study the past semester was the Nazi Regime.  Having studied Berlin’s past and present during my first two years at Ohio State, I felt that I would learn more from Berlin than some of the other cities.  I was not disappointed.  As I write this post I am sitting in a hostel near Alexanderplatz, a hub of transportation and shopping in the Mitte district of Berlin.  I will be sad to leave this city in the morning, but I know that I will return in the future.


The sun setting on our first night in the city

The sun setting on our first night in the city

I absolutely fell in love with this city.  Every aspect of Berlin left me wanting more.  Being surrounded by the language, and being able to pick up some of it, was extremely satisfying.  Navigating on yet another public transit system was challenging, yet very rewarding.  The walls and buildings here are covered in graffiti, but the graffiti didn’t make me anxious or alert like it would in Cleveland or in Chicago.  In Berlin, graffiti is part of the city.  Here it is viewed as art rather than a signal to move to a more populated and well-lit area.  It gives the city character.


My favorite thing about European cities is being surrounded by history.  I definitely found this in Berlin, but the history around me was much different than that of London or Paris.  It is not unusual for buildings in London or Paris to be hundreds of years old.  Many of the structures in Berlin are more reminiscent of the 1970’s or 1980’s.  The city looks much younger than other cities we visited, but there are still structures like the Brandenburg Gate or Berlin Cathedral Church that gives it the feel

A piece of the wall still standing at Potsdamer Platz

A piece of the wall still standing at Potsdamer Platz

of an old city.  Berlin was subjected to 363 air raids during World War II.  As a result, a massive number of buildings were destroyed.  Following the war, Germany was divided into four sections.  Berlin was also divided into four sections. When the Berlin Wall was put up in 1961 the city was split into East Berlin and West Berlin.  The country of Germany was also split into an East and West side.  Walking through the streets today I sometimes have a difficult time figuring out if I’m on the East or West side, but several pieces of the wall are left standing as a reminder to the city and its visitors.  In addition, different colored pavement and brick runs along the old boundary of the wall.  Plaques are placed along this line which read, “Berliner Mauer 1961-1989.”  Last night on my way to my hostel I had to cross this line.  Thirty years ago I would not have been able to casually roll my suitcase over that line.  The city seems to have come a long way since the end of the war and since the reunification of 1990.


Memory Void at the Jewish Museum

Memory Void at the Jewish Museum

What was most interesting to me about Germany is the manner in which it handles its dark and complicated past.  In France, the museums refer to the Germans or the Nazis as being responsible for the horrors of the war.  They seemed to quick to place blame on Germany and they do little to acknowledge their hand in the Holocaust.  They reduce Vichy to seem like it was just a few bad apples who made poor decisions.  After being disappointed in the French, I was anxious to see how Germany would present the events of the war.  In contrast to the French museums, the German museums didn’t obviously try to manipulate the way visitors viewed their part in the war.  The history was presented in a matter-of-fact manner.  It neither took nor placed blame.  The German museums very bluntly stated exactly what had happened without loading the presentation with emotion.  I found this to be a constant theme through the museums I visited during my time in Berlin.  Even the Hamburger Bahnhof, a contemporary art museum I visited, had a section dedicated to “Die Schwarzen Jahre” (the black years) which places art praised and denounced by the Nazis side by side for viewing and critique.  The Germans present the facts, and allow others to form their own opinions and questions based on those facts.  As a student of history I greatly respected this approach.  With their dark history I can’t imagine it would be easy to take the blame, but they are working to move forward rather than dwell on the past.  Most notable to me is that the schools require their students to visit a certain number of war or Holocaust related sites during the time they are in the school.  To me, this is a prime example of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past).  By including their more recent past in school curriculum, Germany is acknowledging the problems of the past and working towards a stronger Europe through their youth.


As I leave this city and end the program, I carry with me a deeper understanding and appreciation for all sides of World War II and the struggles to rebuild and deal with the aftermath.  I have seen and heard perspectives and methods of coping that could not be done justice in a text book.  I’ve been reminded how our history doesn’t necessarily define us, but helps us to grow and move forward.  I’ve opened myself up to new experiences and ideas, and I think this will greatly help me when I return to Columbus to start my junior year at The Ohio State University.  I cannot express how grateful I am for the experiences I’ve had over the last three weeks.  I’ve gained more academically and personally than I could have ever imagined.  I will leave Europe a more confident person with friends who are more like family, and professors who have become mentors.  This adventure was truly once in a lifetime and I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned to impact my community and my future approach to historical study.  My expectations were shattered, but what I ended up finding was so much better.


Auf Wiedsesehen,




As I stepped onto the bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau I attempted to mentally prepare myself for what I knew would be one of, if not the most, difficult day of the program. However, no amount of meditation could have possibly prepared me for what would happen once I stepped through the gates of a place where so many had lost their lives to the cruelty of the Nazis.


Immediately I was startled by the amount of tour busses in the parking lot.  For a moment I forgot I was also there for a tour.  The entrance was located next to various snack bars and a place to buy books and small souvenirs.  I was shocked by the amount of people standing near the entrance.  I could barely walk there were so many people.  The amount of school children running around and playing near the entrance confused me.  Were they too young to comprehend what had happened just meters away?  Was it a cultural difference?  Why did their teachers not even flinch at their behavior?  I never found an answer that sat well.


The entrance gate to Auschwitz I (photograph taken from auschwitz.org)

The entrance gate to Auschwitz I (photograph taken from auschwitz.org)

I had seen countless photographs documenting the camp, especially of the entrance gate to Auschwitz I which reads, “Arbeit macht Frei.”  In English this means “Work will make you free.”  Something I hadn’t considered was the fact I had never seen a color picture of the site.  The black and white pictures I had seen in school had given me a much more antiquated picture of the camp in my head.  Around the gate I could see green grass and sunlight shining through the leaves of the trees.  The buildings in Auschwitz I were much more fortified than I had pictured.  At one point it crossed my mind that it was almost pretty, which made me feel absolutely sick to my stomach.  I lifted my camera to capture the image of the gate, but after I took the picture I felt guilty and incredibly disrespectful.  For the rest of the visit I kept my camera in my bag partially due to the guilt I was experiencing, but mostly because I felt I needed to see through my eyes rather than the lens of a camera.  The group began to cross through the gate and I felt my stomach begin to tighten up.  As I heard the gravel shift under my feet it was difficult to get the image of the 1.1 million lost lives out of my head.


Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was guided.  Our guide was very informative, but it was clear he had a script he was required to follow.  Polish nationalism was evident in his presentation.  He talked about Nazi terror, but did not mention other parties involved in running the camp.  He also made a point to stress that Jews were not the only victims.  In addition, the script was filled with emotionally charged words and phrases.  For example, the word “murder” was used often and a few times the guide asked us to imagine walking down the path knowing we would never see our families again.  The museum clearly wants its visitors to view the camps as a site of Nazi terror against the people of the world rather than as the site of the Holocaust most people tend to think of it as.


Two tons of human hair taken from inmates of the camp (photograph taken from auschwitz.org)

Two tons of human hair taken from inmates of the camp (photograph taken from auschwitz.org)

Similar to my experiences at Omaha and Utah Beach, it was difficult to picture Auschwitz I as it was while it was open.  I felt somber, but when we walked into the main exhibit of Block 4 I lost my composure entirely.  Before we walked in our tour guide informed us the room was one of two where picture taking was not permitted, and that we would know why when we stepped inside.  I was the fourth person from our group to step inside the room.  A glass panel stretched over the entire wall.  After a few moments of staring I realized I was looking at a mountain of human hair.  Our tour guide informed us that when the camp was liberated by the Soviets, they found seven tons of hair.  Only two of those tons are on display for visitors.  During the years the camp was open the hair was used to make fabric that was then used to make uniforms or to line boots to make them warmer.  The tour guide emphasized the fact that the Nazis had essentially harvested what they needed before sending these people off to their death.  The rooms that followed displayed massive piles of glasses, shoes and kitchenware.  However, it was the hair that affected me the most.  The other piles were devastating to look at, but the hair is part of the body.  Over 7 tons of hair had been taken from people.  A business was made off of the hair of people who were killed.  I couldn’t look away.  I couldn’t stop the tears. I wanted nothing more than to throw up.


The inside of a brick barrack (photograph taken from auschwitz.org)

The inside of a brick barrack (photograph taken from auschwitz.org)

We continued the tour in Auschwitz II.  We walked along the unloading platform and walked the path that so many took to their death after failing the selection process.  The huts seemed to stretch on as far as I could see.  The guide shared that there had been plans to build two more sections of barracks, but the war had ended before they could be constructed.  We walked into a barrack used as a temporary holding area for women.  Each “bed” had three levels and each level had to hold 8-10 people.  The building was made out of brick, and there was no real air ventilation.  There were about twenty of us in the building, and I was still warm.  I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for the victims of the camp.


The bus ride home from the camp was very quiet.  The Holocaust has always been a subject of interest for me, so I was anxious to see how being in the camp would change my perspective. Even though I was in the camp, I still can’t quite fathom how humanity was capable of carrying out such destruction.  I can’t wrap my head around the amount of life that was lost.  After standing on the railroad tracks where so many said goodbye to their loved ones for the last time I realize that the horrors of the Holocaust were larger than I could have ever imagined.  Walking through the camp is a very personal experience, and it left me speechless.  I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to pay my respects in such a solemn place.

Not Just a Number

When studying the history of war, it is easy to think in terms of numbers.  It’s cleaner, and there is a lesser chance of emotion clouding your analysis.  In a manner of speaking they allow you to desensitize yourself.  In books, war is often presented in statistics.  For example, approximately 156,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944.  By the end of June 11, more than 326,000 troops had crossed the English Channel.  I read a great deal in preparation for this trip, but the difference between reading and being there is that when you close the book, you can walk away.  Being in Europe, you can’t turn away.  The memory and consequences of the war are everywhere I turn.  Numbers make it easier to try to comprehend the enormous manpower, effort, and sacrifice that go into war.  However, I am quickly learning that easy isn’t necessarily better.


Standing on Utah Beach was haunting.

Being on Utah beach didn’t feel real.


Walking into the sites of D-Day was incredibly haunting.  I stood where so many made the ultimate sacrifice, but if there had been no markers I would never have realized where I was standing. The beaches looked just like any beach, which made them all the more haunting.  It was as if the tide had washed away all evidence of what had happened.   Omaha and Utah beach both seemed almost peaceful.  I appreciated the opportunity to be able to stand there and take it all in, but it didn’t have the effect on me that I had expected.  I was expecting to be overcome with emotion and sadness.  Instead, these things hit me where I least expected it: in the  three cemeteries


We visited the German, American, and British cemeteries (in that order) during our time in Northern France.


Grave markers for unknown German soldiers were a common sight in the cemetery.

Grave markers for unknown German soldiers were a common sight in the cemetery.


The German cemetery was very well manicured and appeared much older than it actually was.  The German cemetery was the least individualized out of the three I saw.  There were grave markers rather than headstones, and 2-3 men shared a marker.  On the marker was written a name, and the dates of birth and death.   A large mound was placed in the middle of the cemetery to represent the old burial mounds.  The mound was topped by a cross and the figures of what I believe to be Mary and Jesus. There was a small visitor’s center, but it was across the road and its style was slightly outdated.  As in life, the Germans seemed to be almost mechanical. Even in death, they didn’t seem to be their own person.



The American cemetery was the most moving for me.  Before entering the cemetery, we went through a Visitor Center which detailed the war and the lives of those who fought it.  The exhibition centers on the themes of competence, courage, and sacrifice.  The walls were covered with the names of fallen soldiers and their life stories.  There was a section of the museum where you could search for specific people by name to see if they were in the cemetery or where they were located in the cemetery.  Most striking to me was the room of sacrifice near the end of the center.  Until that point I was able to maintain my composure.  To enter the room, you must pass through a tunnel.  As you walk through the tunnel, you can hear a voice announcing the names of those who were lost. The reading of names is still audible as you enter the large white room to read the stories of a few who exemplify sacrifice.  As I read and viewed the pictures of the fallen soldiers, the gravity of what I was actually viewing began to set in.  The American cemetery seemed more geared towards keeping the memory of the fallen soldier alive rather than laying it to rest like in the German cemetery.  Each person was given their own headstone.  As I moved into the cemetery I could see that Christians had a cross, and Jews had a star of David as their marker.  Each marker was engraved with a full name, rank, division, home state, and date of death.  On the back of the headstone was the dog tag number of the deceased.  The three Medal of Honor recipients had their information written in gold.  On the stones of the unknown was written, “Here rests in honored glory a Comrade in Arms known but to God.”

It was an honor to be able to visit the graves of fellow Buckeyes.

It was an honor to be able to visit the graves of fellow Buckeyes such as John Fry.

During my time in the cemetery I had the honor of planting an Ohio State University flag at the grave of Private John O. Fry Jr.  Fry was a student at the university, and died on July 27, 1944. He was a recipient of the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.  I’m disappointed that so far I haven’t been able to find more information on him.  Being face-to-face with his grave really put things into perspective for me.  So many of these men were my age when they died.  Fry went to my university.  These people are buried across an ocean, and many of their families are unable to visit their graves and gain closure.  It’s overwhelming.  Everywhere I turned there were more headstones.  I left feeling solemn and saddened, but much more appreciative for the life I have.




Families of fallen soldiers had the option of engraving stones with a message. I found this one particularly striking.

Families of fallen soldiers had the option of engraving stones with a message. I found this one particularly striking.

The last cemetery we visited was British.  There was no visitor center, and while beautifully manicured, the cemetery didn’t feel nearly as formal as the other two cemeteries.  The British cemetery is not exclusively British.  There are many graves belonging to people of other nations.  To me this expresses that at the end of war, all parties have lost their sons and brothers.  In death there shouldn’t have to be separation between nations.  All lost their life fulfilling their duty to their country.  These headstones are intermixed with the British stones, but they are all different shapes depending on the nation, and the inscriptions were different than the ones on the British stones.  The British stones included a name, rank, division, date of death, age, religious symbol, and in some cases a message from the family of the deceased.  The stones belonging to the unknown said “A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War known unto God.” The messages from families were gut-wrenching.  They ranged from short biographies to bible verses to the simple “Forever in our hearts.”  Many messages were signed with “Love Mum and Dad” which for me really drove home how young these men were. Surprisingly, a large number of Germans are buried in this cemetery.  Also surprising was the decision to refer to the war as the 1939-1945 War.  I had never heard or seen it stated that way.  Why would they decide to refer to it in that way instead of as World War Two or The Second World War?  Calling it the 1939-1945 war makes it feel almost antiquated to me, like the 12 Years War or 30 Years War.  I haven’t found an answer to this yet, but I intend to keep researching.


21,222 German remains are in the German cemetery at la Cambe.

9,387 American headstones are in the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

4,144 Commonwealth burials and 500 graves of other nationalities are in the British cemetery.

These are the numbers.  Private John O. Fry Jr is one of those numbers.  He was also a Buckeye, and more importantly a person.  I will never view the numbers the same way again.



The group standing on Omaha beach

The group standing on Omaha beach

First Stop: UK

Preparing for a trip of this scale, it felt like a lifetime away.  In class we talked about our travels in the abstract.  The fact I was finally in Europe didn’t set in until a nice man with an Irish accent asked if I was queing for coffee.  After a few jet-lagged days in Dublin I made my way to London Heathrow airport.  After a bit of confusion with the ATM, I made my way to the underground with the other seven students who were on my flight.  In a city like London you can’t afford to keep your head down

The Comrades attempting to catch the Tube at London Heathrow Airport

The Comrades had to work hard to catch the Tube at London Heathrow Airport.

and follow the crowd.  If you aren’t aware of your surroundings you will get lost. The underground rail system, the Tube, is incredibly overwhelming at first glance.  However, it becomes easier with time. The system is made up of about 13 lines.  As long as you know which stop you want to get off at it is fairly simple to navigate the station.  If you have to change trains it gets a little more difficult.  I had to practice a lot during my time in London, and by the end of the week I felt like a pro. I also quickly learned that even with a group, you have to know where you’re going.  There is a very good chance you can be separated, and in that situation you’ll want to know how to get around.  I’ve never been more thankful for my sense of direction and my pocket map than I was in London.


I really enjoyed seeing the Churchill War Rooms, the HMS Belfast, and Bletchley Park.  Each of these sites was far different than I had imagined.  I was really

Ben and Jon hearing from people who used to work with Churchill at the War Rooms.

Ben and Jon heard from past employees of the War Rooms.

impressed with the scale of the museums associated with these sites, and with how well everything was presented and preserved.  I was expecting small museums or no museums that would take maybe an hour to get through.  Every site surprised me with room upon room of artifacts, recreations, and panels of text.  The amount of weapons, uniforms, papers, and many other objects on display was startling.  I especially liked the Churchill museum within the War Rooms.  Going into the museum I didn’t know much about Churchill outside of his part in the war.  They split up the museum by period of his life, and

Winston Churchill taking a phone call

Winston Churchill is taking a phone call.


These men were hard at work.

started with WWII and ending with his childhood. The WWII section included clothing, old letters, audio from speeches and a massive hour-by hour timeline of “A Day in the Life of Winston Churchill.”  It

The plaster mold used to make Churchill's wax figure

The plaster mold used to make Churchill’s wax figure was on display.

was interesting to see how much had been saved, from a lock of his baby hair to the plaster mold used to make his wax figure for Madame Tussaud’s.  This site was highly interactive.  There were stations where you could pick up a telephone and listen to the voices of the people who worked with Churchill, watch films, touch

screens with explanations or games, and touch screen table where a visitor could choose a day and read what had happened in relation to the war.  All of the rooms in the War Rooms, and rooms in all of the sites we visited, were set up to look as if you were stumbling upon the in the 1940’s.  This set up included mannequins posed in conversation or study. I appreciated being able to see these rooms being “used,” but a few of the mannequins were a little cheesy for my taste.  More than once I was startled.  Unfortunately, my allergies got the best of me and I wasn’t able to enjoy everything to the extent I had originally hoped.


My favorite day in London was the last day.  I took the day to myself, and it was incredibly liberating.  I had to find my own way around, but I went where I wanted

The old London meets the new

The old London meets the new at the Tower of London.

when I wanted without worrying about accidentally leaving someone.  It was the most time I’ve spent with myself in a while, and I loved every second.  The time spent on the Tube and waiting in lines gave me a lot of time to think.  Being able to plan a day for myself made me feel much more confident.  I started the day with a trip to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels.  I also visited the armory and wandered around the grounds for a while.  There were a lot of school trips, so around lunchtime it became

The best pizza I've ever eaten was at Union Jack's.

The best pizza I’ve ever eaten was at Union Jack’s.

too crowded for my taste.  I made my way to Covent Garden from the Tower.  I had been there once before, but I was so jet-lagged I can’t remember it well.  Covent Garden is somewhat similar to an outlet mall in the sense that a lot of it is open air and there are many different kinds of stores.  I watched some street performers and realized I hadn’t eaten lunch.  I finally got a table at a place called Union Jack’s.  I ordered a lemonade and their “Margaret” pizza.  It was one of the best meals of my life.  After lunch I enjoyed some excellent pistachio gelato while people watching.  In the evening I went down to Piccadilly Circus and attended a performance of The Phantom of the Opera.  The show was absolutely breathtaking, but I do wish that the space between rows had been a little bigger.  Every aspect of the show was so well orchestrated I was slightly overwhelmed.


I was by myself for almost the entire day, yet I can’t imagine a better way to spend my last hours in London.  I fell in love with the city.  To see how elements of the past were worked so well into the thriving and increasingly modern city that is London set the tone for what is shaping up to be quite the adventure.

A visit to Trafalgar Square

More to come from Normandy!



Leaving on a Jet Plane…in 3 days

Hi there!

My name is Bailey Cole.  I’m from the greater Akron area.  I just finished my sophomore year at Ohio State majoring in History.


As a History major I love stories, and I love knowing why and how things
happen the way they do.  I love to read, and books can provide you with a great deal of insight, but there is something so special about being able to
physically immerse yourself in history.  The opportunities this program
provides to do just that are incredible.  I am so fortunate and thankful to have the support of my family and the awesome OSU faculty.

I can’t put into words how excited I am to leave for the program.  This will be my second time across the Atlantic, and my first time in a country where the primary language is not English.  I came across the WWII program almost by accident.  My freshman roommate saw a notice about it in the Honors&Scholars newsletter, but she had class during the info session.  She asked me to go for her and take notes.  A year and a half later I’m the one
printing out a boarding pass.  Thanks for that, Cassidy. I owe you one.

I was first introduced to WWII in my 8th grade English class.  My teacher, Mrs. Painter, assigned Night by Elie Wiesel.  We watched a series of documentaries to supplement the reading, and from then on I was hooked. How could something as horrible as the Holocaust happen, and on such a massive scale?  World War II, especially the actions on the German end, became the ultimate “Why/How” for me as I continued my education.  I am most excited about the Polish and German legs of the trip for this reason.  I am really looking forward to being able to just BE in these places, especially Auschwitz-Birkenau, and let the histories speak for themselves.  I will stand where so many lost their lives, and I hope this will be an experience I carry with me for the rest of my life.

I am lucky to have the opportunity to travel outside of the program dates.  On Friday I will leave for Dublin, where I will meet up with 11 other WWII students.  After we end the program in Berlin I will travel to the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and Ireland.  My family is German and Irish, so I am very excited to have the opportunity to return to the countries my great-great-great grandparents emigrated from.

This trip is going to be a once in a lifetime experience, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with everyone back home!

Until London,