Last Stop: Berlin

Sam Husk

Comparative blog


My main question entering Berlin was how the Germans would acknowledge their country’s horrific acts during World War II. I was curious to see if they would go out of their way to make sure they denounced Naziism, or if they would show denial in citizen involvement under Hitler’s reign.


On the first day, we visited the Topography of Terror, a museum built at the site of Nazi police headquarters during the war. This museum discussed much of the terror the Nazis inflicted on Jews, gypsies, Romas, and other outcasts. Yet, much of its focus was on the SS and SD, the military police and security service, rather than Hitler. It provided an extensive discussion of the faults of each branch, but only mentioned Hitler’s name a few times throughout the exhibit. I still ponder what I should interpret from the frequent absence of his name throughout the museum. Are the Germans trying to distance themselves from Hitler out of shame? Do they not acknowledge what Hitler did? Or do they subscribe to the argument he was not as directly involved in the mass murder of millions during the war?

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Brandenburg Gate

We also went to the German Resistance museum, where we learned about Claus von Stauffenberg’s assassination attempt in 1944, and heard numerous stories of German resistance throughout the war, whether it be from prisoners, religious groups, youth leaders, or Jews. I thought this museum brilliantly illustrated all those who were against the Nazi regime, without denying the involvement or approval from the majority of German citizens during the time.

Checkpoint Charlie

Chairs of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Potsdam

These two museums, along with all the others we visited throughout the trip, taught me an important fact about the study of history. While the facts remain the same, the inclusion of them is critical to how people interpret the past. At the Topography of Terror, they included far more detailed descriptions of police action in their museum than the faults of Hitler, leading one to believe that the police were mainly at fault despite Hitler being leader. Absence of details allow people to push narratives differing from fact, even if they did not mention something untrue. It demonstrates how crucial it is to incorporate all the facts, allowing visitors to fully judge the historical effects of past events.

Olympic Stadium

A Sobering Experience

Interpretive Blog


Poland was a wild couple of days. From exploring the charm and openness of Krakow’s city square, to visiting Auschwitz and the Schindler Museum, and being evacuated from our hotel the first night, I experienced a whirlwind of emotions.


Auschwitz-Birkenau was a gut-wrenching and gripping experience. Seeing the camps for myself really put into perspective the genocidal campaign the Nazis executed against Jewish people. I was astonished with the collection of victims’ hair that was displayed in the museum. When I first saw it, my stomach dropped. I had the same feeling when I saw the pictures of starving, bony, suffering children when I first visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. While I knew about the horrific events of the Holocaust, both exhibits sparked a reaction in me that was like: “wow, this is really messed up.” The vastness of the site changed my visualization of the Jewish experience at Auschwitz. By seeing how prisoners arrived on train, walking in their footsteps toward the gas chambers, and seeing how millions of Jews were packed into small living quarters throughout the site, it illustrated the massive organizational campaign the Germans took just to demolish Jewish people.

Schindler Museum

Schindler Museum

Schindler Museum


On the second day, we visited the Schindler Museum, which was dedicated to occupied Krakow during World War II. It stressed the destruction Germans brought to the city of Krakow and its residents. Both Jewish and non-Jewish Poles suffered, and Jews were often moved to ghettos separate from the German parts of the city. At times, the museum misled in its attempt to push Polish national innocence. Our tour guide mentioned how there was not much Polish people, including those of her ancestors, could do to save people during that time. She also mentioned how Poland was a “Catholic country,” subtly downplaying the amount of Jewish suffering that occurred. Yet, we learned this semester that not all Polish people were innocent bystanders under Nazi rule. Pogroms in towns such as Jedwabne, located in eastern Poland, decimated the Jewish population. Non-Jewish Poles carried out acts of violence against their Jewish neighbors, yet Polish memory is often silent on this event, blaming most horrific events on the occupying Germans. Their absence of national sovereignty during the war is used as a shield from accountability. as they are focused on maintaining their independence and morale with a unified national message.


My Poland experience is twofold. I learned of the destruction and hate brought by the Nazis on occupied Polish lands against Jews and Polish citizens. I also gained a sense of their national pride, sometimes even to a fault, when it comes to their history grappling with the Holocaust during World War II.


Deciphering French Selective Memory

Historians Blog

My final project in Spring semester was a study on Paris under the occupation. Parisians suffered increased intervention from the government in their daily lives, including the German occupying forces. The Memorial de Caen provided a comprehensive exhibit dedicated to World War II, which enhanced my understanding through its display of war’s effect on a nation and its people. It also corroborated my research on specific topics such as how French citizens bore food shortages and the prisoner of war camps.

United States Naval Monument Utah Beach

The Memorial de Caen also showed that France has a problem truly assessing the character of its occupation. I found significant facts omitted regarding the French Jewish experience during World War II. The museum seldom acknowledged that the Vichy collaborationist regime played an active role in Jewish suffering, ignoring the 38,000 who were rounded-up by French police and deported to Auschwitz in 1942, including 13,000 men, women, and children detained during Operation Spring Wind in July of that year. This was the largest round-up of Jews that occurred in France.

Remnants from bombing at Omaha Beach

I found a general absence of accountability throughout France with regards to the collaboration. My experience at the Memorial de Caen exemplified the issues in gaining an unbiased historical account of a country’s experience during war. France praised resisters who fought against German occupation, but this clouds the reality that many French citizens were either collaborative or appeased the Vichy regime, including those who actively carried out violence, such as the French police. The evident French difficulties with honesty positioned me to be more attentive to how the U.S. handles dark moments in our history, such as how we grapple with slavery or Native American removals. It demonstrates the challenge nations have in balancing pride while accepting truth and faults.


An American’s Coronation Experience

Contemporary Blog

With the coronation last weekend, British pride was apparent throughout London. Patriotism surrounded lawns, and people packed pubs packed to watch the first coronation in 70 years. I thought of presidential inaugurations with the parade routes and extravagant rituals.

British royalty draws fascination from many around the world, mainly due its history and lore. Yet, it often seems the royal family is more like a reality TV show, with people obsessing over their appearances at major events, and family drama dominating front-page headlines. To me, the pomp and circumstance all seemed a bit silly, and we left after about 45 minutes of watching on the big screen at Hyde Park. While the King still maintains influence, he has no real governing power. I wonder how many people truly took part or even cared about the festivities. Tube trains ran on a normal schedule and were packed even while the coronation was in progress. I saw people on their morning jogs and bike rides around the Lancaster Gate neighborhood (near our hotel) and Hyde Park despite the crowds. Most businesses continued to stay open. We were still able to walk around much of this fascinating city, enjoying its art galleries other attractions, which were open throughout the day. While I may not have been as “impressed” by the coronation festivities as others, London was a terrific experience in my first trip outside the U.S.