Blog 4:

The German-Russian museum

On may 2nd, 1945, the German army fighting to defend berlin officially surrendered to the Russian army. General Wielding was forced to agree to an unconditional surrender by Soviet General Chiukov. While many see this as the end if the war this surrender only ended the battle of Berlin. The rest of the nazi forces in southern Germany had yet to surrender.
So on may 8th, 1945 representatives of the German army, air force, and navy met with General Zhukov in Karlhorst Courthouse to sign the official document that ended the war entirely.
From 1945-49, Zhukov used it as an administrative office, after that it was turned into a museum with the original layout of the room and documents still preserved as it was on may 8th.
The museum is very pro-Russian. To this day it is half controlled by Russia, and it gets to decide was is held in the museum. The name of it is very telling of the German-Russian relationship after the war. Until 1994 it was named the Surrender Museum, or Capitulation Museum depending on translation.
Once you step inside the museum repeats that it’s heavily favorable to the soviet side. It sights uncountable amounts of atrocities the nazis committed while sweeping through the Eastern European countryside. Murders, rapes, mass killings, and personal story audio tapes are shown describing the horrors of the nazi regime. This museum is accurate in accounting for these crimes. The endless stream of horrific stories is both moving and informative to the tragedy Russia faced in WWII. The museum, however, lacks to mention the equivalently horrible treatment the Russian soldiers dealt to the civilians of east Prussia and east Germany, displaying the pro-Russian bias of it.

All and all it was an informative and interesting museum, but in being partly owned by Russian authorities, it is heavily biased to ignore the realities of actions of the soviet troops


Coming to terms:

We all know it is difficult to accept shame. Admitting your wrongdoing and can easily be replaced with blaming other factors and that appears to be, from my experience in France’s museums, their attitude in coming to terms with their role in the deportations of their own citizens to concentration, labor, and death camps controlled by the nazis.
Caen was the first museum where I noticed this motif. That museum never even mentioned Vichy France. In lieu of calling it a collaborating government, they chose to say Vichy France was a “Free France”and the rest was “Occupied France”. Never in this museum was the deportation of Jews mentioned or referenced.

The second place I noticed this was in Paris with the placement and style of the holocaust memorial/Shoah museum. To begin with, France did not decide to dedicate and recognize it’s role in the holocaust until the 1960’s under Charles DeGaulle. And even with that, the memorial is left in a corner of where the river splits. As Tess gave her site report in front of it, we could still barely recognize what the low to the ground white rock was meant to memorialize. The rest was left underground and unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to see inside. In front of that were several trees and bushes as if to hide it’s view from the street. If I wasn’t being led by the group I would’ve simply walked past it without even noticing it. The Shoah is equally buried out of sight within the city. To Paris’s credit, it’s within its historically Jewish district, which seems appropriate. Except for the fact that it’s not a widely traveled to area of Paris. There is only street parking and it is not advertised at all. Yes, France has built a museum dedicated to remembering how hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to camps by French hands, but it is almost hidden within a district that has very little traffic, activity, and tourism. It’s not even on a major road or given it’s own block. The Shoah is in between two smaller side streets and pushed up against another building. There is almost a sense of reluctance to memorialize the horrific truth about what happened to French Jews. With no garden, grand entrance, or lawn for this museum it would be easy to dismiss the Shoah as the significant and impactful memorial it is. The armed guards protecting it are the only indications that its important.

As I walked through the museum, I was deeply moved by the honesty and shocking truth about France’s role in the holocaust. In seeing the inside the museum it was easy to see the France has owned up to it’s role and is deeply sorrowful for it’s actions, which is commendable. But that sorrow and shame of their role is seemingly not wanting to be known to the public. In keeping the Shoah and the memorial in enclosed and out of the way areas it seems as though France doesn’t want you to see that shameful side of the country’s history.


Seeing the Bayeux tapestry, the Normans have a very prideful attitude towards their rich medieval history

Starting with the tapestry, it’s a 70 meter long (that’s roughly 210 feet) embroidery depicting the story of the Battle of Hastings and the last successful invasion of England by William the Conquer. The origins of the tapestry are unknown, but latest research suggests it was done by a Scottish Benedictine monk that previous lived in Mont St Michel (also in Normandy). It was created to tell the story to a mostly illiterate population with pictures. The drawings appear crude but upon further examination the depictions are almost impossibly detailed story for 1077, when it was made.
The tapestry is protected behind a thick glass wall with moisture and heat sensitive sensors and no photography is allowed, so sorry but I don’t have any pictures of it. Google it. The little town of Bayeux is very protective and very proud of the history this clothe holds. That history is reflection by the museum it’s held it. It’s not held in a new, modern building. It’s in a simple, local building that looks as though it could have simply been renovated to accommodate the tapestry. This is telling of the mindset of the town. Simplicity, and respect for the past. Not wanting to modernism to quickly, they’re perfectly content preserving the “small town” appearance of the museum.

The people also love the story of the tapestry. The first night we arrived, Justin, Stav, Becca, Matt, and I were at dinner, and the waitress told us that people in medieval costume were at the museum for the night. She highly in outraged us to go, so we did. Upon arriving at the museum, there were two Normans guards in full knight outfits. We talked to them for a while and one of the guards said that the towns people reenact the battle every year. Last year over 5000 people came, and it gets more popular every year. Several “maidens” welcomed us into the entrance and a Norman archer led us through to the tunnel where the tapestry is.

The Imperial War Museum

May 12th- now the trip has actually started. The whole group is here and it’s time for our first scheduled adventure. Stop one is the imperial war museum. The first thing we did was stop by a memorial outside the building that was covered in flowers, pictures of soldiers, and poppy wreaths in light of VE Day having just happened. But these weren’t for British soldiers, it was soviets. Something unlikely to be seen in America was a memorial for the 26 million soviet soldiers and citizens killed during the war. The brilliant cast iron and stone sculpture looked sort of like a maiden bowing her head as she lifts a bell over her shoulders. Here Laura gave her site report on the blitz of London. Her report was echoed repeatedly within the museum about the fortitude of the English to stand strong against the Germans. Every citizen was, for the most part, under threat of having a 500-1,000 pound bomb dropped right on their house, destroying their entire lives if not taking them. But the English stood tall in keeping on with their daily lives despite the constant bombings held by Nazi Germany for 50+ days.
Now, once in the museum the first thing I notice is a vastly greater appreciation and reverence for the First World War. A brand new WWI exhibit had just opened in time for us to see it. In America, WWI is often glazed over (in my opinion far too easily and quickly) in America. That’s relatively understandable as we were fighting in the war for only the latter part of the last year of the war. But in England a far greater respect for the war can be seen in this exhibit. The loss of life changed on a horrific scale and Britain had to suffer 4 years, and 700,000 deaths to learn that lesson. The theme of the museums display of the war was just that, it was a horrible lesson to be learned. None of the exhibits glorified or patronized the war. Riddled with gasmasks, signs with bullets holes, and reminders of the conditions of trench warfare such as a display of how muster gas works showed their attitude towards the war. It was a grim, hellish reality check to the nation as to just how powerful and destructive the entire continent had become. I don’t believe America learns that lesson until Vietnam, maybe even Iraq/Afghanistan. This was my favorite exhibit of the museum, by far. I even bought a book on the art of WWI, of which they had several pieces displayed.
Next was WWII, which likewise to the WWI exhibit, differed greatly from how it could be shown in the states. America has a very triumphant and patriotic image of WWII, but for England it was a very long, very demoralizing war that effected the home front. The museum very heavily focused on the home front in England, admiring the courage and tenacity each citizen had in aiding in the war effort. As far as the war itself goes, the museum displayed mostly the mechanics of it, leaving the humanity of it to the home front exhibit. It showed tanks and planes, artillery and mobile vehicles, but never got into the soldiers sacrifice of the war. This varied from the WWI exhibit. It really didn’t pay much tribute to actual fighting the Brits did in North African and mainland Europe. I found the exhibit almost incomplete.
Finally, there was the holocaust museum. This part almost solely focused on the death during the war. This brutally graphic exhibit focused on the prelude of German anti-Semitism in mainland Europe in the beginning. The museum really worked hard on the displaying the history of hatred towards the Jews in Europe in an attempt to rationalize how it happened in Germany in the 1930s. The end part of the holocaust exhibit then depicted the horrors of the mass subjugation and killing of the Jewish population. It used about half personal witnesses and quotes from those who experienced it, and about half harsh facts, data, and numbers to explain it all. It was a saddening and enlightening experience going the IWM. In conclusion, England mostly appears to focus on the home front during the war. They have great appreciation for how the country stuck together and stay dedicated to the war effort. In my experience, the English seem to not pay much attention to the actions of the soldiers themselves which made the WWII exhibit appear rather incomplete.