In Conclusion

May 25th– We left Krakow by coach and began our journey to our final destination: Berlin. Krakow to Berlin is a seven-hour drive, so that is not much to report from the bus. Once we arrived in Berlin, we has no time to waste. We quickly hoped on their metro and went down the Brandenburg gate to walk to the Bundestag. The Bundestag is where the German parliament meets, and one of the workers there gave us a guided tour. Our guide was excellent, and seemed to know everything there is no to know about the magnificent building. The most interesting part of the building is its connection to the past—especially WWII. Up until then I had been a little skeptical of how Germany handled the war and their Nazi past, and no country would want to focus on something so awful. However, I was quick to discover that Germany is handling the war in a respectful way, without glorifying it. The Bundestag features testaments to the war, such as the Soviet graffiti that has been left on the walls. The most interesting part of this is that it is in the middle of their workspace, and even the building has been remodeled since then, the German people have decided to preserve it. For me that was the most interesting part, and they preserved something reminding them of their defeat, which is not something most countries would not be willing to do. Nevertheless, what amazed me the most is the monument in the basement, to those elected democratically in Germany. There is even a box for Adolf Hitler, despite what later happened under his rule. The box had to be filled with concrete however as it was kicked in more than once. Despite his box, the years 1941-1945 are missing, as a mark of the dark times and Germany and the utter lack of democracy during those years. The Bundestag is a central building for German democracy, and yet in it sits a reminder of the dark times they once faced, perhaps to remind them of the importance of freedom in society, and what happens when it is taken away. After the tour, we made our way to an authentic German restaurant for some pretzels.

May 27th

Another day exploring how Germany remembers the war, today focused on the resistance however. Despite the overwhelming Nazi power in Germany, there were resisters, even high in the Nazi ranks. We made our way to the Bendlerbloc-Von Stauffenberg Memorial at the site of the German Resistance Museum to learn about the July 20th, 1944 plot to kill Hitler. On July 20th, 1944, Claus Von Stauffenberg and other high ranking Nazi officials attempted to assassinate Hitler with a bomb. Von Stauffenberg planted the bomb and then returned to Berlin, believing Hitler to be dead when hearing about the explosion later on. However, as all other attempts to kill Hitler has failed in the past, this one had too. Hitler had somehow survived and the resisting officers plan to take power in berlin (Operation Valkyrie) was foiled shortly thereafter. Stauffenberg and those immediately assumed guilty were executed in the courtyard of what is not the museum that night, and a witch-hunt that resulted in the deaths of family members and people unrelated to the attempt followed. The memorial is centered outside the museum, and is in the exact spot the men were shot. The museum is incredibly detailed, and features stories of resisters from all lifestyles. From the church, the army, the public and even the Jewish community, the museum pays tribute to those who lost their lives attempting to stop the Nazi party. It is clear that in constructing these places the German people made no attempts to glorify anything, and the men are by no means made out to be heroes. Rather they are shown as people who just attempted to stop it for a number of reasons, not necessarily because they did not agree with it. After the resistance museum, we walked over to the Soviet memorial in the Tier garden. The memorial is dedicated to the soviets who fought in Berlin, and later captured it. It also serves as an example of Germany’s acceptance of their part in the war, as they allow the victors to construct memorials in the city. We then made our way to the Holocaust memorial that sits right next to the Brandenburg gate. The memorial is made of various sized concrete steels, and is a maze in itself. The intention is to show how fast people disappeared in the war, and how one second someone would be there and they next would be gone without a trace. It is interesting to walk through, and as the ground changes and the steels grow bigger, one gets a sense of uneasiness, such as the Jews in Europe would have felt during the early years of the Nazi regime. It is a simple memorial, but that does not take away from its power. We ended the day at the former Hitler bunker, located about a block from the Holocaust memorial. Rather than preserve it as an exhibit, it is a parking lot. The Germans decided not to preserve it, and one cannot blame them for giving him nothing better—as he did not deserve it. It is a stark contrast to the German resistance museum, and gives a vital look into how the Germans treat the war and their Nazi past, they do not ignore it, but they by no means glorify it or give it no more attention than they feel it deserves.

May 28th

Today was focused on one of the most complex relationships of the war, the Soviet and Germans. We rode the train out to the Soviet cemetery, which differed from every cemetery we had seen thus far due to its lack of single graves. It is still a powerful place however, as it houses a statue carrying a child and stepping on a swastika while impaling it. It was there we discussed operation Barbarossa, and how it is believed to have ultimately cost Hitler the war. Though originally the Soviets and Germans were “allies” in the sense they had a non-aggression pact, but that soon faltered when Hitler decided to invade Russia. Hence, Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler assumed the Soviet Union would fall as Poland had, and decided to invade and conquer planning on a swift victory. He found anything but that with Stalin and the red army. The red army had more people, and despite its initial struggles eventually pushed back the Germans and took Berlin. Hitler’s invasion forced the Soviets into an unlikely alliance with the allies, and thus gave him a two-front war with his enemies coming at him from both sides. The Russians, though eventually successful suffered mass causalities during the war, with both civilians and soldiers dying at unprecedented rates compared to their fellow allies. The Soviet Cemetery houses the remains of about 5,000 soldiers who fought for their freedom and helped win the war, and stands as a testament to the enormous sacrifices Russia made during the war.

After the cometary, we headed to the German-Russian museum, which offers an unprecedented look at the battle in the east and how it truly devastated Russia. The museum focuses on the Russian civilians, and how the Nazis imprisoned many of them in attempts to end communism. The museum is very Russian- centric however, and tends to avoid how Stalin treated his own people, but that is a point for another time. Rather it places the blame on the Germans, and how they decimated Russia during their invasion. Overall, it was not my favorite museum, but I left appreciating the sacrifices of the Russian people in order to help the allies win the war.

May 29th

Our final day in Berlin was spent at the Wannsee house, a spot where it is said that the Final Solution was officially determined. Though there is no definitive proof that this was determined here, it is still an eerie feeling to walk through the place where Hitler and other officials may have decided to murder the 11 million Jewish people living in Germany. The museum is small, but has a grander purpose: the intentionalist v. functionalism debate. The museum takes a intentionalist perspective, and therefore highlights the idea that the mass murder of the European Jews as Hitler’s goal from the beginning. This is highlighted in excerpts from his speeches in the early 1920s which blame the Jews for the loss of WWI, as well as the concise timeline showing the rise of fascism and the ultimate creation of “death factories” for the Jews. This view is something that can be ignored, however it is not the only explanation behind what ultimately became the final solution. There is also the functionalist view, which is the idea that the final solution came about after a series of failures by the Nazi regime and was not the original goal, but the reaction to what they faced as they attempted to answer the so-called “Jewish question”. I personally believe neither is right over the other, and when one looks at the final solution there are elements of both theories, and what should be focused on the is systematic murder of 6 million people. The regime had the goal of ridding Europe of the Jewish people from the start, but whether they had the goal of murdering all of them is unclear. Making it seem to be the result of troubles normalizes it in a sense, as it makes it seem that they would not have turned to this had things worked out. However, this cannot be normalized; it must be treated as abnormal so that it does not happen again. What must come out the debate is that people died, and no matter what ultimately determined their fate, they must not be ignored or become simply the byproduct of theories.

On a lighter note, our final stop in Berlin was the Olympic stadium. Having never seen an Olympic stadium before, I could not help but smile knowing the incredible events that happened there. Including the world record and full gold medals earned there by fellow Buckeye—Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens is a personal idol of mine as I also run, and his performance at these Olympics is nothing short of legendary. Despite Hitler’s racist regime watching, Owens went on to win four gold medals and only annoy Hitler, as he was proved wrong. Seeing where Jesse Owens once ran was nothing short of incredible, and knowing he shared my passion is what makes him someone worth looking up to for me. I took quite a few pictures with his sign, in starting race position of course.

After our day out, we reconvened for our final group dinner. It was full of German food, beer, and many laughs as we reflected on all we had learned—and the bonds we had forged throughout the semester. It amazes me how vibrant Berlin is, for a city divided just under 30 years ago. It is diverse, it is colorful, and yet it is still healing. Germany has by no means had an easy past, and its presentation of that blew me away. They accept responsibility for what they did, and they own their history in effort to teach others. Berlin holds years of history. From Soviet graffiti to the Berlin wall, it stands as a testament of the ability of people to bounce back from bad times, and even though Germany is still a country healing from its deep wounds, it is a country that has managed to showcase both the worst of humanity, and even the good as they attempt to right their wrongs and open their past to educate the world—no matter how painful it is.

This trip has brought me new insight into the war, and how it is treated in a global context. I have learned about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Though I may be leaving where it happened, I can now understand why it has such a global impact, and why is it still studied even today. It was a truly incredible experience, and I cannot begin to describe how this trip has affected me in ways I have not seen yet.  Not only has it given me 22 new friendships, but it has made a better historian—and that is truly a gift in itself.

Reichstag building

Wansee House

A night out in Berlin

Memorial to Van Stauffenberg




Poland and the War

May 22nd

Our time in Paris had ended and we began the journey to our next destination: Poland. We arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport and after some confusion; we were on our way to Brussels, Belgium. There we had a layover where many others and I bought some authentic Belgian chocolate before hoping on the plane to Krakow. I had no idea what to expect from Poland. Whereas London had been very familiar for a city dweller such as myself, and I spoke enough broken French to get by in France, I had no knowledge of the Polish language or even currency system. This appeared to be quite alright as the landing and arrival at the hotel went off without a hitch. After getting settled, we headed down to the town square/park area to hear my classmate Morgan give her site report. Morgan’s report focused on the area known as the blood lands during WWII—which of course included Poland. These areas were called the blood lands due to the number of civilians murdered by occupations and the war. Poland was a special case as not only the Nazis, but also later on the Soviet Union occupied it. Morgan highlighted that the Polish population suffered a great deal under the Nazis, especially as Polish Jews were targeted. What perhaps stood out to me the most was the fact that the Nazis did not intend to eventually “Germanize” the people of Poland they deemed fit, but instead planned to kill all the Polish citizens and use the land as living space for the German population. This was new information to me, and I found myself even more disgusted with the Nazi regime—something I did not think I could be. Poland is the site of many Nazi concentration camps, including the death camp Auschwitz (which we visited later on), which only contributed the number of civilian deaths. Up until Poland, we had seen the good in the war. The allies’ triumphant struggle against the great forces of evil and their eventual victory over fascism and hate. Yet with Morgan’s report, she highlighted Poland’s struggle and thus the worst parts of the war. The indiscriminate killing of civilians and the subsequent suffering of a brutalized and broken nation. This idea of the suffering stuck with me throughout Poland, and left me struggling to understand how the nation survived despite the Nazis’ goal to wipe the population out. Despite the heavy matter of the site report and what I knew we would learn in the next couple of days, the group explored Krakow and enjoyed the culture the town square had to offer. We had dinner (including traditional pierogis) in the town square while listening to street performers and enjoying the view of the magnificent church across the square.

May 23rd

We started the day at the Krakow War museum in Schindler factory (where the story that the movie took place is based off). The museum is different from those in London and France as it focuses exclusively on Poland and Krakow during the German occupation. It follows a chronological order from 1939 to 1945, and features a lengthy section on the treatment of Jews in Poland. It is in my opinion the best museum we visited, as it is detailed and I truly struggled to find a bias. One can argue that it focuses exclusively on the Germans and how the Poles became victims, but granted that is what happened I felt it was all but appropriate. The most striking part of the museum is a room in which no one is prepared for and honestly, it knocked the wind out of me. The room is found right after the 1939 section and is representative of what happened as soon as the Germans entered and how the Poles found themselves thrown into the Nazi ideology and utterly surrounded by the propaganda. The walls are lined with newspaper headlines and from the ceiling hang three Nazi flags that one must walk through to continue exploring the exhibit. As I weaved through the flags, I found myself a little sick to my stomach. They had been forced upon me, and I felt uncomfortable being around such a known symbol for hate. I can only imagine the Polish citizens felt something similar in 1939 when the Germans took over their country and begin spreading Nazi propaganda like wildfire. The room is truly uncomfortable as even the floor is covered in swastikas. The museum does an incredible job immersing you in those years, especially with this room and the ghetto exhibit. When the Germans arrived, the Jews were not deported immediately, but moved into ghettos. The museum has a sense reconstructed them as it has walled in that part of the exhibit so that you have to walk isolated for the duration of it, just as the Jewish people were totally isolated from the outside world, you are isolated from the rest of the museum. The exhibit is filled with personal accounts and pictures of what life was like, but that was not what shocked me the most. What got me was the shape of the wall—tombstones. The Nazi’s surrounded the Jewish people in the ghettos with tombstones, as if to let them know what soon awaited me. Upon reading that I found myself struggling with a question I still cannot answer: How could this happen? It appears the more I learn about the true cruelty of the Nazi regime the more I cannot understand how the world ever got there. Though the museum left me with many questions, it did help me understand one thing: Poland in itself was a causality of the war. The people and in turn the culture were massacred, and what we saw in Krakow was remnants of what had once been—especially since the Germans destroyed monuments and anything remotely “polish”. Especially with the Jewish population, which never truly recovered and is left a small fraction of what it had been. I learned that Poland suffered not one but two occupations in the war and directly after, leaving it with a decimated population and no real unique world identity. I left the museum understanding what the war had done, and how the Polish people’s suffering cannot be ignored when studying this period.

After this, we yet again found ourselves in town square for lunch. After more pierogis, a group of us made our way to the castle despite the rain. Having never seen a castle before I was quite content (it was the site of the German government during WWII, so it even tied into the trip). It came complete with a dragon statue that breathed fire, which of course provided all of us with a much-needed laugh.

May 24th

I knew today would be hard before we even left, and everyone had been emotionally preparing himself or herself for what we knew to be a tough site to see: Auschwitz-Birkenau. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the biggest Nazi death camp and the site of 1.5 million murders—mainly Jews who were murdered as part of Hitler’s final solution. I knew the site would be tough to stomach, as one can never truly understand the reasoning behind the Holocaust, and so far seeing sites dedicated to it had only left me more confused on why it had to happen. We started the tour at Auschwitz I, which was more a concentration camp than a death factory as its Birkenau counterpart. Originally started as a camp for political prisoners, Auschwitz was later converted to a death camp to aid in the extermination of Europe’s Jews, especially those from Hungary in 1944. The barracks for the most part are closed off, and all but one that are open have been converted to exhibits. We followed our guide from room to room, and saw the true horror that took place in a place now very desolate. The worst part for me was seeing what had left behind by the prisoners after they were murdered, and the room filled with the artifacts shocked me. At Auschwitz, they have a room filled with two tons of human hair, and it estimated that it came from about 32,000 people. That is only a small fraction of the people of they died there, and still it was enough to make me sick. As I held back a terrible nauseous feeling, our tour guide showed us the items confiscated from prisoners such as luggage and shoes. As I looked at a pair of children’s shoes, she said something that I felt truly echoed the belief of the Nazi regime, that “everything in the camp was valuable except for human life”. The prisoners were murdered and even then were still exploited, from hair to shoes the Nazi’s made them less than human in life and death. After that room, we went over to bunk 11, the prison for prisoners. In here, we saw cells were human beings were left to suffocate or starve, and rooms where they would undress before being murdered outside the barrack. Bunk 11 had been preserved and was cold, dark and had a weird scent to it. It was uncomfortable and frankly horrific to see, as the whole camp was. We finished our tour of Auschwitz I at the crematorium. As we walked through the former gas chamber and passed the ovens where the corpses would have been burned I found myself completely numb, feeling too much to totally comprehend it all. I felt disgusted, remorseful and utterly somber all at once, with the question of how something this horrific could happen running through my mind the whole time.

We then moved to Birkenau—the actual death camp where Jews and many others were murdered almost immediately after arrival. The SS conducted selection on the platform, and 70-75% of every arrival group was sent straight the gas chambers regardless of ability to work or anything else. Those who were old, sick, young, weak or even just climbed out the wrong side of the boxcar never stood a chance. We walked down toward the platform and stood in front of a boxcar similar to the one actual people would have been transported in. It was much smaller than I imagined, and could not understand how 80 people could fit in there, or how humanity could actually be that cruel as to force that many people in there at once. Birkenau housed four crematorium, and could in turn burn corpses 24 hours a day, as we walked toward them, I thought of all the people who walked this road and never came back. People who had been picked for no reason and sentenced to death because one man decided so. People who had been the victims of a senseless tragedy and one the most horrific events of the 20th century. They had no suspicions; they did not know they would be killed in one of the most inhumane ways possible at the end of that road. When we reached the ruins, I felt more than I had before, including anger. Anger at the Nazi’s for attempting to hide their crimes and destroy the camps, for trying to escape punishment for the terrible evil they committed. I quelled the anger for the time, as the people who died here deserved more than hateful vibes. I walked along the memorial and read the inscriptions, reminding the world that what was done there must never be forgotten.  Birkenau is a somber place, and it has a sobering effect on those entering. A feeling of despair and hopelessness hangs heavy in the air despite the number of years since its operation. Yet, life goes on around it. The town surrounding it has since expanded and people drive by, run by, and walk by on a daily basis. Even though it may stand desolate and empty, as it should, Birkenau remains full of one thing: lessons for humanity. It stands as a testament to the great evil that humanity is truly capable of, as a monument to those who lost their lives there and as a reminder to the world to never let anything such as the Holocaust happen again. I left understanding that these things do not just happen, and in order to prevent senseless disasters such as the Holocaust from happening again, people must be willing to understand that no one population can be scapegoated for the world’s problems and that personal opinion cannot shape policy. People must be vigilant when they say “never again” and know that preventing the dehumanization of one group before it begins is the best way to prevent anything as tragic or unnecessary from happening again.

The castle in central Krakow

Gate at Auschwitz one

Room full of Nazi flags in museum

Mon temps en France

May 13th

We started the day a little too early for my taste at 4 A.M. It was worth it though as we got to the ferry around 8, and then proceeded to cross the English channel. Despite my sleepiness throughout the crossing, I was still aware of the path we were traversing. Coming from England, we traced the path of the allies on the eve of D-day. Our experience was obviously a little different given our private room in the ferry, but looking out on the channel gave me a better visualization of the actual D-day preparation. The English Channel was huge, and I could not imagine the sheer volume of boats that would have crossed in those proceeding days as the German soldiers once described it as boats as far as the eye could see. The sheer magnitude was a little easier to understand after looking out on the water.

We arrived in Bayeux, France later that day. Despite my very rusty French, I found myself quite comfortable with ordering food and reading any necessary signs. The town was quite picturesque and reminiscent of the opening scene of Beauty of Beast. Though that is not what we were there for, it was nice nonetheless.

May 14th

Bayeux day two. We made our way over to the Caen Memorial museum , a museum that emphasizes peace by featuring exhibits on war. A few things I noticed as soon as we arrived were:

  1. The Russian flag is missing outside (despite the other allied flags being displayed outside the entrance to to the museum)
  2. There is a strong focus on Liberty, but not equality throughout the museum (even in the quote inscribed on the front)
  3. The stones (with inscriptions) some countries (including Russia, France, England and the U.S.) has placed outside to memorialize the fight against fascism all to some degree mention freedom, with the allies especially focused on their decision to fight for France’s freedom.

The museum beings just after WWI and explains how Europe had changed after the war. The museum highlights the world financial crisis and ties it into the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. With this, it jumps right into Nazi Germany and its expansion in the late 1930s. While it discusses the effect Nazi Germany had on Eastern Europe in the early years of the war, it truly focuses on the French occupation and onward. As I walked toward the period marked “1940” I noticed that it said I was entering France in the dark years. This gives the impression that the French label this period as a stain on their history, and that they still struggle with acceptance of their surrender and subsequent occupation. Despite this hint of acceptance, they are quick to deflect blame to the Germans—especially when it comes to the Holocaust. The museum had a detailed and extensive Holocaust section, however it focused heavily on how the Germans led it and appeared to ignore the collaboration between the French Vichy police and Nazi Germany to deport and exterminate their Jews. The exhibit ends after the war in Europe, and has a relatively meager and small section on the conclusion of war in the Pacific. However, one can understand that decision, as the French did not participate in the pacific theater. The museums focus is WWII, and anything post 1945 is crammed into one side in a bare-bones model. Rather than go into detail about the cold war, the museum simply highlights the differences between the U.S. and Soviet Russia. The WWII part is well done, but shows the reluctance of the French to accept their complacency under Vichy rule and how they prefer not to look back on those so-called “dark years”.

May 15th

Our first stop on this morning was Utah Beach. Utah is one of the bridges that the allies landed on during the Normandy invasion and it was exactly what I would have expected from it. The barbed wire and rusting fences reminded gave an idea of how the beach would have looked that morning. Although nothing can give me an accurate idea of what it was exactly like to land that morning, I can appreciate the bravery of those who ran headfirst into German fire that morning. Post-Utah, we found ourselves in St. Mere Eglise an eclectic little town with a paratrooper hanging form the church. What I found most striking about Bayeux and the surrounding area was the sheer amount of war memorials, museums and monuments. It seemed no matter where you went there was mention of the allied landings, almost as though it had become a part of the culture in Normandy. Perhaps because none of the fighting took place on our shores we do not get a true sense of the impact of D-day, and by mid-day, I felt I had one. We ended the day in the first of our three cemeteries in France- the German cemetery. Strikingly simple, the Germany cemetery has no ornate headstones or monuments, rather just two soldiers per grave and a small museum detailing the process of reburial. The soldiers buried there were for the majority young men, and the more 20 year olds I saw the bigger the knot in my stomach grew. It is hard to believe people my age were dying for something so truly vile, and that their future was ripped away from them due to the miserable ideas of fascism. Perhaps the simplicity is part of German’s goal to not glorify the war, or maybe it is just out of respect to the French after their rocky history—after all, it is their land. Either way it still has a way of evoking emotions, especially with the stories in the museums. The one I found most poignant was not from a German solider, but from a fellow buckeye who details his wish to return home and see his young daughter yet again. As one can gather, he does not return home and instead dies in the post-Normandy battles. Why this is displayed in a German cemetery one can only speculate about, I like to think it is to remind those visiting that these were real people fighting and in the end, the lives lost were not just statics. For a place filled with life stories cut so short, it certainly spoke volumes as I walked through it.

May 16th

Another long day. We started at what I have found to be my favorite place so far on this trip—Pointe Du Hoc. Aside from being breathtaking, Pointe Du Hoc was of strategic importance during WWII, and the place I found myself learning the most. Pointe Du Hoc was the location of the German guns that could reach both Omaha and Utah, and where the Army rangers would find themselves in the early morning hours of June 6th. The pointe part is all too true, as it located on actual cliffs. The rangers had to swim ashore, climb these cliffs, and disable the guns—all while facing German gunfire. What struck me about this place (and what I wrote a good five pages in my journal about) was what these men would have been feeling when they arrived. The museum and all the information posts make them out to be heroes (and there is no doubt but they are), but they had no idea they would be. The men assigned to Pointe Du Hoc did not know how history would remember them, and were willing to give their lives if only for the sake of freedom. They went down as heroes because they did what needed to be done of them, regardless of fear and potential consequences. History has a tendency to glorify the individual, and at Pointe Du Hoc, it was instead the group that made all the difference. In contrast, Omaha saw the performance of the individual. Those who took charge when all the plans had fallen apart and led the invasion because they had no choice but to press on. Seeing Omaha only made it even more difficult to understand the magnitude the invasion, as it was large, rocky and in perfect site of German guns. The victory at Omaha and subsequent liberation of the Normandy area is owed to men who only wanted to protect the ideas of freedom, and were willing to give anything to do so.  Our last stop was the American cemetery. There, we planted flags at the graves of the Buckeye 12 (mine was from Chicago—much like myself) and then proceeding to wander the grounds. Unlike the German cemetery, the American soldiers were given their own graves, and each featured a hometown on it. It is however very uniform, unifying those who fought for Europe’s freedom. It is beautiful, right along the coastline and filled with monuments. As I was walking through, the Star-Spangled Banner began playing and all I could think of was the verses and their significance throughout the war. The men who liberated France were fighting for the worlds freedom, and thus in a way for the land of free. Honestly, it was an incredible experience to think about how the allies all had the same goal –world freedom—despite being different in so many other aspects. Perhaps that is why they were successful, they all had one goal to unite behind, and one worth fighting for at that.

May 17th

We spent the morning at the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts William the Conquerors accession to the throne of England after in 1066. It was detailed and for those interested in medieval history had to be fascinating. I enjoyed the connection to England even in a place as small as Bayeux. Next, we went to the 360 theater in Arromaches, France. The theater depicted the D-Day landings in a 360 manner—meaning the Allied forces surrounded us as they came to life on the screen. I could not help but wonder if that is how the French felt when the Americans came in, surrounded. What has truly been the most amazing experience in Bayeux has been understanding the French perspective of the war, and how they suffered under the Nazi regime and how they later viewed the liberating allies. The French had suffered under the Nazis, and though I am sure they were thankful to be liberated, they had to have mixed emotions about the allies. Bayeux and the surrounding areas have done an astounding job of explaining the French emotions toward the pre-invasion allied bombings and has left me with a deeper understanding of how people experienced the war differently.  Our last stop of the day was the British cemetery—our final cemetery related to the D-Day landings. The British cemetery was a little different from the others in the sense that every headstone was personalized. That in itself was enough to remind anyone of the true cost of war: the people lost. The graves that struck me the most were again those closest to my age, as many had messages from parents and talked about the futures lost. It is hard to believe kids my age were dying for people they had never knew, but for them it was for something much more—the future of freedom in the world. By the end of our time in the cemetery I felt I understood the true gravity of the stats in the books, and that the lives were lost in the fight for France’s and thus Europe’s freedom were individual human beings with futures who willingly gave them up to help others.

May 18th

Our last day in the Normandy area was spent at Mont St. Michel, an island community on the Normandy border. It is made up of a cathedral dedicated to Saint Michel, and a small village surrounding it. The tour of the once religious site (and later prison) was beautiful, but the view out of the bay area was even better. Mont St. Michel was built into the mountain, therefore making it unique in its construction and architecture. It had beautiful roman arches and scattered gothic architecture. My favorite part of the island however was the small village surrounding it. In that village I found the best crepe I had in all of France, and got a sense of just how small the village is as there was only one street to walk along. Not meant for cars, Mont St. Michel is great for pictures and a history lesson or two. Even the weather could not dampen the incredible view.

May 19th

We left Bayeux and made out way to Paris throughout the morning. Driving in I could see the Eiffel Tower, and thought about my high school French teacher telling us to visit Paris at sometime during our lives. I could not wait to go out and explore the city, but first I had something a little more important to do. The group and I found ourselves at the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation. Here I gave my site report on the struggle of the French to accept their hand in the annihilation of the French Jewish and foreign populations. The site is dedicated to those deported during the Nazi occupation of France, but not specifically to the Jews. It is within that, I saw the struggle of the French to accept what they did, and furthermore how to integrate the Holocaust in the French Jewish experience even now a days. The memorial is on the sien, and is underground. It has a claustrophobic feel, and the words on the walls are all written in red. Walking though it I got a taste of what the trip to Auschwitz might feel like: overwhelming. After exploring the memorial, we took to the streets to explore the city. We walked down to the Eiffel Tower despite the rain, and caught a beautiful sunset on the way. As soon as we got to the Eiffel tower, we threw up an O-H-I-O and waited to see it sparkle. Seeing the tower lit up at night was breathtaking, and we soon decided to head up to the top. From the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can see the whole of the Paris metropolitan area. As I stared awe-struck with the tower sparkling behind my classmates and I, I realized I was checking another item off my bucket list. The first night in Paris was one to remember

May 20th-

Our free day in Paris. I started by pushing myself very far from my comfort zone and exploring the catacombs. I have never been one for death and things as such, but the catacombs are worth the while. We spent a good hour down there looking at the skulls in the intricate arrangements, and I wondered how 6 million people could be buried there. The most interesting part of the catacombs was the sign above the entrance to the mortuary that said, “Stop! This is the empire of Death”. It seemed appropriate for what we soon entered. Though it took me a minute to adjust to what I was seeing, but once I did I enjoyed it. The resistance also used the catacombs during WWII, so I thought that unintended connection to the trip was cool. After the catacombs, a couple classmates and I made our way over to the museum of contemporary art. There I spent a couple hours wandering through the paintings and enjoying the view of Paris. My last museum in Paris was the D’orsy, where I found Van Gogh paintings. The museum had a special exhibit on painters and the night sky, and I enjoyed looking at the connection between the paintings and the artist’s struggle to find some kind of religion or meaning in the world. I ended my night with an Indie Rap concert in the smallest bar I had ever been too. Despite the size, the artist put on a great show and I was a fan by the end of the night. My free day in Paris did not involve learning so much as just enjoying the culture, and I would not have spent it any other way.

May 21st

My last day in Paris started at the Museum des les Invalids, a military museum in Paris that has a heavy emphasis on the war. What I found most interesting at the museum was their mention of the colonies that were forced to fight in the war. Before going in, we were introduced to the idea of “France liberating France” and I immediately noticed holes in this idea. If they mean the colonies that fought with the allies while France was under occupation, it is not France liberating France, as they were for the most part not considered French. The colonists only became Frenchmen when they were needed because there were no other options, but the rest of the time, they were merely part of the empire—but not French. Though the French liberated Paris in the sense that De Gaulle rolled in first, they did not liberate the nation on the own. The museum appeared to have gaps about Vichy and the French occupation, and merely focused on the good. I would have liked the museum to talk more about the fighting happening in Europe, and not just that in North Africa. Though the museum was somewhat disappointing, the next location was not. We stopped at Shakespeare and Co. a bookstore that was run by Americans before and during the war. Despite resistance, it stayed open until the owner’s deportation, and served as a haven for all those not wishing to be brainwashed into believing the Nazi ideals. I picked up a copy of my favorite book and appreciated the sentiment there, as well as the fact that writers such as Fitzgerald would have once been a part of the scene at this small intimate place.  To end my time in Paris, I attended Mass at Notre Dame. Though I understood none of it, I still felt it was a worthwhile experience to see the culture difference in a place as strange as religion. Overall, Paris was a lovely place and full of vibrant life—and history. It was easily my favorite place on our trip.

Mont Saint Michel

American Cemetery in Normandy

Cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc

The Eiffel tower at night


(P.S. there is a lack of photos because I dropped my phone in the toilet)


Statue of Queen Victoria outside Kensington

The Royal Air Force Museum

Bletchley Park

Churchill war rooms


Big Ben and I

This last week in London has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I started this trip with my dad in London on May 5th. After flying over on an early flight, we made our way to Paddington station. In transferring lines, I caught the hang of the tube and became quite the expert by the end of the second day.

May 6th– My dad and I visited the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Despite not going through the Tower of London, I did explore Tower Bridge and enjoy the London skyline. My dad and I then enjoyed lunch on the Thames. Afterwards we worked our way to Buckingham Palace and people watched for a little while.

May 7th– My father and I visited Big Ben and wandered around the parliament and Westminster abbey area. Though not visiting any of these attractions, I thoroughly enjoyed the Instagram opportunities. We later had dinner at the Maze grill restaurant owned by Gordon Ramsey to celebrate the commencement of my trip.


May 8th– Beginning of Trip

I met with the group for my WWII Study abroad tour around 2pm. Knowing no one well, I felt a little concerned about the upcoming trip. Having mastered the Tube a couple days ago, I used my newfound knowledge to navigate us around the system down to Big Ben and inti Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was stunning. As I wandered around it, I could not help but reflect on how long it had been there. The abbey was built in 1065, making it more than a thousand years old. As the site of England’s coronations, it holds cultural significance.  It held queens, kings, saints and even famous English authors. We walked through and viewed each individual chapel and memorial site. My favorite by far was St. John the Baptists’ Catherdral, as it was intricately decorated and had a strange sort of peaceful feel. I went onward toward the authors memorials. Seeing the lack of women was disappointing, but not enough to deter me from enjoying the memorials. Shakespeare’s was the largest and of course my favorite. I took a moment to reflect there, as his works are what inspired me to major in English. After the Abbey, a group of us went and found a local pub. Having never had pub food before London I can say that the food and the culture were different, but enjoyable. In America, things are always so rushed, as the restaurants consistently check on you all throughout your bill and never hesitate to bring the check. In London, they believe in eating slow and enjoying your meal and company.  The pub has a string social presence in British culture, and as I sat there with my classmates, I felt I understood it. I had always thought pubs and bars to be similar, but clearly, they serve different purposes. Later that night almost the whole group met up at a pub and talked until it closed. A good way to bond with people is of course over food and I feel that first night really proved it.

May 9th– Day Two in London

The WWII part of the WWII tour began today. The group started at the Churchill War Rooms. The War Rooms are located in an underground bunker right in central London. Churchill originally refused to move underground in effort to keep the people calm and willing to carry on uring the war, and further prove that the enemy was not winning—even if they were. Eventually a bomb fell on his home residence and office and forced him underground into his secret bunker.  Yet he still refused to sleep there most nights. The bunker itself is a maze, and full of cramped living quarters and of course non-natural lighting. I have never thought of war as glamorous, but this reminded me of the harsh reality and the sacrifices they made. Staying underground for hours—maybe even days at a time– could not be good for a person, but there was a war to be won so they did what they had to do. Churchill would even broadcast from the bunker, which I found similar to Franklin Roosevelt’s well-known Fireside Chats. I also learned that Churchill had many quirks, including conducting his business in the bath—a fact I probably could have lived without.  The War Rooms featured a Churchill museum that detailed his life. The museum was interesting in itself, but had too many interactive displays for my taste. The War rooms were fascinating, however, as they were preserved just the way they were left down to the sugar cubes in the command room and the cigarette butts in the ash trays. After making my way through the entire underground bunker, I felt I had much better understanding and even appreciation for the efforts made by the a British during the way. Even during the blitz, the war effort was not diminished and they remained committed to winning and keeping the morale of the people up.

That evening, we met in the hotel restaurant for a guest speaker—Michael Hanscomb. Mr. Hanscomb spoke on his experiences during the Blitz and what it was like growing up in wartime London. It seems that the people grew used to it, as at one point he mentioned his brother collecting shrapnel from a bomb after it had landed. This truly struck me as representative of how London adapted to the bombing: it became part of their routine. He also talked about my new favorite intelligence operation—Operation Mincemeat. British intelligence created a person out of nothing (using an unclaimed corpse from the morgue that was disguised as a high-ranking British officer) to trick German forces into removing troops from Italy before the Allied invasion of Sicily. It honestly reminded me why I picked up an intelligence minor as it was successful and I can only hope to plan something as intricate and helpful one day.

May 10th

Our free day in London. Rather than doing the tourist attractions, I and two other classmates embarked on a journey to the Royal Airforce Museum. After two train transfers and three zones, we ended up in the suburbs far from the hustle and bustle of Bayswater. I come from a family of pilots and airline workers, so it only felt right to visit a museum solely dedicated to aircraft in war. Though I am in no ways an airline expert, seeing the different types of aircraft used during war was fascinating. I loved taking pictures to send to my grandfather—a former Navy and United pilot.  At the bomber wing, where we met a former Halifax WWII pilot. He agreed to take a picture with us and we each thanked him for his service, as he aided in the allied war effort. Despite knowing practically nothing about Allied air efforts a year ago, the trip through the museum proved I had learned just how crucial air support was to the Allied victory. We grabbed lunch in the suburbs and made our way back afterwards. That night the group met up at The Swan pub later and stayed just talking and bonding until close. I had never closed down a pub before, so in a sense London has been full of new experiences.

May 11th

Back to what we came here for—WWII from the European perspective.  We took the train to Bletchley Park, the center of MI6 and ULTRA intelligence during WWII. What struck me the most about this place was just how intricate the network of secrets were. Our tour guide mentioned that maybe five people TOTAL knew what was happening all over the park and that everyone more of less did their job without question for fear of being labeled a problem. The huts were small, dark and cramped—not an ideal workspace in the least. Yet it was here Alan Turing and many others managed to crack the German enigma code. This was monumental for the allies, as it allowed them to find U-boats in the Atlantic and route around them. This in turn helped the Allies win the Battle of Atlantic. Bletchley Park was quiet, and it was hard to believe it was at once a center of intelligence. Seeing where it all happened was more of less an opportunity for me to geek out. Though I am miserable at math, Intelligence work  is where I one day hope to end up so seeing the enigma machines and how they had to work out the codes on a day to day basis was a great experience.

May 12th

Our last full day in London. We began our day at the Imperial War museum. In this comprehensive museum, the first floor was dedicated solely to WWI, and even had a mock trench. I am a visual learner, so the trench display helped me understand exactly how it felt to be there in WWI, especially with the holograms and giant tanks above or next to me. The second floor was devoted to WWII, and had not only British artifacts but Nazi propaganda as well. Despite this trip being based on WWII, I spent the most time on the third floor, which housed the Syria and War on Terror exhibits. These exhibits are relevant to today, and highlighted how modern conflict has evolved into more randomized attacks than the alliance or territory based wars of before. The Syria exhibit highlighted what has happened in the country since the war began, and how the destruction has affected people’s daily lives. Even with the time difference and even the cultural differences, I saw a similarity to the Blitz. Though obviously they are not the same in a multitude of ways, the Londoners and Syrians had one thing in common. They both accepted the destruction around them and went on with their lives. The exhibit photographs show people surrounded by destruction, still living their lives, carrying on despite the war raging around them. The exhibit left me with a deeper understanding of not only the phrase “History repeats itself” but the unbreakable nature of the human spirit. I finished my last night in London with a Jack the Ripper tour, which I could write a novel about, but will not as learning about serial killers is not for everyone.


As I sit on the ferry on the way to Normandy, I can say that London truly taught me a lot about the war, humanity, and even myself. That I can be self-sufficient even in foreign countries, and that learning about and recognizing patterns in history is the best way to keep the world moving forward than backward.


Pre-Trip Thoughts

Hey guys!

My name is Sarah. I’m a second year Political Science and English major with minors in History and International Relations. I am originally from Chicago, Illinois, so traveling far from home is nothing for me! I am most excited for Germany as I have been ~attempting~ to learn it all semester. I hope to one day have a career in international relations, so studying something as large scale as a war is the best way to prepare for it in my opinion. I’m excited for this next month and cannot wait to detail all I learn on this trip.