When we stepped through the door of our first class for the WWII program, we became historians. As historians, we need to describe and assess the sources given to us. The one question that we, as students of this particular study abroad program, have to ask is how has Germany dealt with the consequences of WWII and the Holocaust? As we went to a variety of locations in Berlin, it became clear that Germany was asking this same question to itself.
One of the first few sites we visited was the German Historical Museum, which presented the events of post-WWI, the interwar period, WWII, and post-WWII. The Museum itself had plenty to offer, portrayed this small part of the nation’s history accurately, and addressed the issue of the descent to dehumanization confidently. However, my only gripe with the Museum, and this seemed to be one many of my classmates had, was the layout of it.
Another museum we went to later that same day was the Topography of Terror Museum. This Museum is on the site of buildings that housed the Gestapo and SS headquarters. The central institutions of the Gestapo and SS in Nazi Germany and how they committed crimes throughout Nazi occupied territories was the focus of the exhibition, while also giving attention to the many victims of the Nazi regime.
View within the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
One of my favorite sites in Berlin was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial is comprised of numerous concrete slabs with varying heights that are arranged in a grid pattern. As you make your way towards the middle of the Memorial, the ground starts to decline. This is due to the sloping foundation on which the Memorial is built on. With the increasing height of the slabs, this creates a confusing and uneasy feeling. Though the Memorial is outdoors, it can enclose you from any other sights or noises. The only feeling of comfort you can receive while in between the slabs is when you look up to the sky and you get a sense hope.
Thank you to those who have read all of my blogs. Auf wiedersehen!
The Main Square in Kraków.
While I am looking towards going to Germany, I am glad that Kraków, Poland was a part of our program. Buying food and souvenirs in Kraków were not as blow to the wallet as it has been in previous cities. Kraków also provided many beautiful sites to see and adventures to have. On the first day, the whole Study Abroad group went the Main Square, or Rynek Główny, where we all decided to break into smaller groups to eat dinner. Many of us tried a well-known Central and Eastern European cuisine called pierogi. The Square itself is one the largest medieval town squares in Europe. Despite the food and the man-made structures, these are not the main reasons why that I am glad we went to Kraków. The main reason is a serious one and should be treated as such.
As students, we are always taught certain topics in our history classes and to analyze the consequences of these topics. However, I believe being in a location of such historical significance can further enhance a student’s understanding on a topic. Physically being at the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps made me have a sobering experience about the Holocaust. However, it did leave me with some questions that irked me. We know the despicable political party that was the National Socialist, how they came into power, and with Hitler, enacted policies that discriminated against anti-Semitic and other groups in Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied territories. These policies were based on their twisted Aryan supremacy ideology and in 1941 culminated in the Holocaust; a horrific genocide in which around two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe, along with the Roma people, people with disabilities, and other groups, were persecuted, sent to concentration camps, and murdered. Though we walked through the camps, and saw them with our own eyes, it was hard for me to imagine how one human would let another go through unspeakable atrocities. How would anyone live with themselves after personally witnessing such death and destruction? And how could they come back to the camps day after day?
Crematoria II in Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
As the Soviet Red Army approached Poland in November 1944, the SS scrambled to remove any evidence of the atrocities committed at the Auschwitz concentration camps. They destroyed many written documents, plundered goods stolen from the prisoners, and demolished many of the camps’ buildings. Among these buildings were crematories II and III in Birkenau. They have remained untouched ever since and were shown to us in our guided tour. Looking back at it, I am glad we got to experience the camps because they serve as a reminder to us and future generations of the atrocities that happened there and give us a responsibility to ensure such atrocities on this scale is not repeated.
Thank you for reading this blog. Do widzenia.
A watermill in Bayeux.
Bayeux, France was a nice change of pace from London, England. The quiet and peaceful town was full of shops and restaurants, ready to please any local townspeople or tourists. Bayeux was one of the first major towns liberated by the Allied forces after the Normandy Invasion. The town is also home to the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England in the 11th -century.
One of the better museums our study abroad group went to while staying in Bayeux was the Caen Memorial Museum. The Museum was built in 1989 and contains two main sections: one focusing on World War II and another on the Cold War. Our main objective was the WWII section, which started us off descending down a spiraling staircase. This indicated the falling infrastructure of France and other countries following WWI. Once we hit the lower level of the section, the magnifying glass was on top of France.
After Nazi Germany defeated France on 6 June 1944, France was split into a territory occupied by the Nazis and the newly formed Vichy France, under the control of Marshal Petain. The new puppet government went down a path of collaboration and offered little resistance. Petain believed the defeat was the result of plotting among “anti-French forces”, embodied by Jews, communists, and foreigners. He sought to bring the nation together; by excluding those he considered responsible for its defeat, and relying on traditional values: work, family, country, piety, and order. Europe falling under Nazi control was an apparent belief in Vichy France and fueled the collaboration between the two countries.
Revolution Nationale poster designed by R. Vachet in 1942.
In 1942, R. Vachet followed this trend when he designed a propaganda poster, Revolution Nationale. The poster depicted a house tumbling down under the Star of David on the left while the house on the right stands firm and peaceful with a resting French flag perched on top of it. This poster paints a clear picture on how the collaborative French state under Petain viewed the Jews as a faulty people. Alongside this poster were Petain memorabilia and other objects that made it obvious who and what Vichy France saw as enemies and its future corruption. With different plaques at other museums, like the Musee de l’Armee in Paris, stating that the French Resistance had a bigger role in liberating France than it actually did creates a disillusionment of the history these museums portray.
On to Poland now! Au revoir!
Greetings all. I am reporting from the English Channel, heading towards Bayeux, France. For the past five days, my comrades and I have been in London, England visiting and learning about the different sites pertaining to World War II. When we arrived in London, I was kind of overwhelmed. How so many people could live in compact space was astonishing. However, after getting acquainted with the Tube, the difference of how cars are driven, and adjusting to the other customs of this country, everything started to make sense.
One thing I definitely noticed about the British character was how they pay homage not just to fallen heroes but also innocent civilians. Civilian deaths from World War II almost doubled military deaths. This was due in part to strategic bombing, which is an aerial attack on cities, harbors, workers’ housing, and railways. Nazi Germany used strategic bombing on the Londoners during the war. Great Britain later used the same tactic towards the Nazis in Germany.
As my comrades and I visited the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, something stood out to me. Right behind the sculptures of the seven Bomber Command aircrew, is a message. It states, “This Memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of 1939- 1945.” Though some people may miss this statement given where it is placed, I believe it serves a strong purpose in striving to acknowledge future relations between the British and the Germans. I also admired the sculptures of the aircrew themselves: How they are looking out to the horizon after an air raid, reflecting on their actions gives them life. Some look like they are proud, one tired and another seems to be questioning what just happened.
Unfortunately, this is where today’s blog will end. Until next time. Cheers!