View from Wansee House

View from Wansee House of everyday life near the historic site 

Berlin is an interesting city from culture to architecture and overall atmosphere. Berlin has remnants of art and buildings that are hundreds of years old next to buildings and locations from World War II and memorials and sight markers in between everything. This mix of old and new and how the city has formed is a lot different than other cities we have stayed in over the past several weeks. Both London and Berlin were subjected to urban remodeling from the bombings of the Blitz in London and the many bombing runs on Berlin. Even with both cities suffering terrible loses from the war they both developed differently since it ended.

The mix of buildings is not what makes Berlin Berlin. The people who live in the city make it have the unique charm only Berlin could have. While at Bletchley Park the tour guide said that if the Allies lost the war then maybe he would be giving the tour in German. While here in Berlin, almost everyone speaks some English. I think after all the post war involvement from the US and British that English became common in the city. This ability to communicate with a Berliner in English was something that Paris did not offer.

Berlin is also very unique by the way the residents do not speak if they can avoid speaking. While in Berlin I have seen two huge events on the roads. One was when bicyclist blocked traffic and ran red lights with what seemed like dedication to delay drivers and take over the road. The second event was with motorcyclist who drove down the same road the next day but were going in the other direction. This event seemed more coordinated with people waiting to block traffic at the intersections to make sure cars did not enter. During both events drivers honked their horns repeatedly to express that traffic needed to flow. This is the same action that bicyclist take while on the bike paths. No cyclist ever yells or makes and expression instead they repeated use their bell and continue on. The system of ringing a bell or honking a horn my be more practical, but it loses the human element.

This lack of human expression and interaction has reminded me of how after the war the Germans did not speak about the events and what happened during and leading up to Berlin being overrun by Soviet forces. During our tour of the Reichstag our tour guide told us about how the building had panels installed over the Soviet writing. This reminded me a lot about whitewashing away what was written and even removing the walls themselves from being seen.

After being in Berlin I cannot see how not coming to terms with what happened was possible. Everywhere I turned there is a reminder of what happened. There are markers on the ground, signs on the road, monuments and memorials everywhere. One interesting place that we went to was the Wansee House. At the house we went to the back and looked at the water behind it. It was filled with boats of all types and people on the other side of the lake. It was shocking knowing what happened at the house and how being around it people could go boating and would want to spend time even around it where it was in sight.

At Potsdam, I was shocked by how honored the Germans were of the site. The site itself is under construction to help prepare it for its centennial. After learning about World War I and seeing how the Germans felt so betrayed that when given the opportunity to insult the French the same train car was used to sign the peace treaty for the invasion of France. I was expecting something similar to this and the site to be neglected and run almost by force and set up by the Soviets. This was not entirely the case but the front garden still has a soviet red star visible.

Berlin has been an interesting and modern city. I think that it is a good thing that within the city are plenty of memorials and museums showing the history and that people in the city are talking about it openly. I also think that the more modern buildings are a good thing for the city to help Berlin not become a depressing city that is only remembering and living in the past.



After visiting Auschwitz I do not think I can look at the Holocaust or World War II the same as I did before seeing the concentration and death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. No book, picture or anything else can compare to actually seeing the camp in person. Reading about the Holocaust and seeing pictures does not truly represent the feelings and thoughts that I had while there and afterwards.

While in the camp I was speechless. I was looking not at just suitcases, eyeglasses, pots and pans and other personal objects people brought to the camp. I was looking at someone’s suitcase or other personal and valuable items that were important enough to them that they brought them for starting their new life. That realization was very evident with seeing the names on the suitcases.

In one hallway the walls were covered with pictures of the prisoners with the date they entered the camp and then the date they died if they did not survive the camp. At first I was looking at every face and every date. By the time we left the hallway, I was just looking at the dates and imagining how someone could have survived. The guide pointed out several pictures on the wall for people who only lived one night. We were told that the reason why the prisoners were tattooed with their numbers at only Auschwitz was because the pictures originally taken of them would no longer be able to identify the person. Starved and repeatedly beaten, inmates quickly grew unrecognizable. The walls on both sides of the hallway were covered in these pictures and it was moving to see individuals. The holocaust usually is talked about with mass numbers because the number of people killed was on such an unimaginable scale. The tour guide made sure to point out individuals and tell personal stories that survivors have shared where the individuality is seen.

The guide took us into a room with two tons of hair in it. He explained that when the camp was liberated there was three times the amount of hair that is currently displayed for visitors. When the camp was liberated the hair would not have been on display. It would have been stored somewhere waiting to be used for the war effort.  I was not prepared to see two tons of hair. The hair was much more touching and terrifying than anything else up and until that point of the tour. The next area had pots and dishes in it. It was terrifying to know that before liberation the Nazis started a fire to try destroy and cover up the war crimes.

After leaving Auschwitz I had a feeling that what I saw was surreal.  Seeing the reconstructed gas chamber and crematorium was so terrible and moving. I could not imagine how terrifying it would have been for all the victims who died in there. Even walking into the buildings /where 700 or more people would have slept . I could not truly imagine the living conditions and what it must have been like to try to survive in the hellish conditions. The building afforded little protection. It was was not heated or well ventilated. We were told that the building would be about the same as the outdoor temperature. The most horrific part of the building was a story a survivor told of a night living there. A twelve year old boy  woke up and thought that the people next to him had a blanket. They were not given blankets so that was odd. The man then realized that it was cockroaches. These living conditions and the inhumanity was unbelievable that people could subject anyone to the conditions that were present at the camp.

The worst part of visiting Auschwitz was when the tour guide told us that the one crematoria and gas chambers was closed because it could not kill enough people at once. That was why the crematorium numbers two and three where used. They could kill more people at once. After seeing the reconstructed crematorium number one and seeing how many people it killed at once it was hard to imagine the ruble of crematorium numbers two and three being larger and build just to kill people faster. Overall, seeing Auschwitz really changed my perspective on the Holocaust and what life was like for the people who were forced to live and die in the concentration and death camps.  Seeing the housing rooms and gas chambers with crematorium really made me realize just how terrible it was in a camp. Seeing the pictures of a small select few of individuals who were at the camp added a personal touch to know that everything that happened there was not statistics but happened to actual people and added a personal sense to the holocaust for me.

History In The Making

One general observation I made while walking around the Caen Memorial museum was to consider how the atrocities could occur? I saw displays in London that included artifacts from the Holocaust but seeing the Caen Memorial Museum made a bigger impact on how I was thinking about World War II. The museum also made me think about how similar events have occurred again since World War II and are still occurring. The museum is dedicated to show the accurate history of World War II. Traveling to the German Cemetery gave me even more insight to the modern connections and interpretations.  While in the visitors center, I read a quote that went along with the museum. The quote was by Willy Brandt and said, “A nation must be prepared to soberly review its history. Because only those who remember what happened yesterday also understand what is happening today and can grasp what could happen tomorrow.” I thought that was so fitting for my observations about modern events and comparing them to the history leading up and occurring during the War. This saying shows how countries act and behave differently after a conflict like a war. This is not a new behavior. The British and French did not want to go to war with Nazi Germany and decided to use the idea of appeasement to avoid another conflict in Europe. The US also used this strategy and isolation to avoid being involved in the war in Europe. The museum started by showing all of the aggression and laws Nazi Germany was able to pass without a challenge. Germany was even able to host the Olympics. The museum told visitors how Germany prepared for the Olympics by moving people who were detained out of view and cleaning up the streets to make a better interpretations for the audience. When visitors get to the bottom of the history leading up to World War II  look back you can see how the walls changed with the displays. The beginning was very white and like regular walls. Then, the walls transition to a stone surface and this transition continues until the end of the spiraling ramp where at the end it is dark and the walls are rough rocks behind the information. The symbolism used by the museum showed how Germany was able to take the world down into a dark and evil place with the actions and ideas they were allowed for so long to pass and enforce.

I also thought that the interpretations of World War II have changed many times and were not always a true reflection of the events and history that occurred. This inaccurate account of history is also occurring with more modern wars too.

The US has declared the actions that ISIS has taken as acts of genocide. These acts include the removal of history. By removing non-Muslim art and sites from the face of the earth ISIS is trying to destroy history that is not supported by the ideas and interpretations of Islam that ISIS supports. ISIS is devoted to forming a caliphate for the Muslim religion. ISIS is also executing people for actions that they deem threatening. These acts of terrorism are similar to the actions I saw the museum include in Caen the Nazis took. The Nazis did not believe certain people and religions were worthy of life. After the war the denazification occurred were people tried to remove and forget about the Nazi era. I believe that comparing World War II to whatever the results are to the modern conflict with ISIS will be looked back on in a similar way I looked at the museum in Caen. People will wonder why the events that occurred were allowed to occur and for as long as they did. I strongly believe that action was needed by the allies to end the genocide and other actions the Nazis took and I believe that countries need to act against ISIS to stop the same events from occurring again. I believe America currently views war in the same way as after World War I. People do not like war, and that is a good thing that nations do not like to go to war. I believe the US does not want to become invested in another conflict in the Middle East and face the consequences and cost of war. This is perhaps because Americans are again not talking about what happened. Americans were not fully invested in the wars in the Middle East like the public was for World War II. The current world opinion on the Middle East is similar to the opinions that were shown in the Caen museum. Countries do not want to struggle and fight another war. Many civilians would not support another war because of the costs that go into it. Seeing the British, German, and American cemeteries in Normandy gave me a true insight into the human costs of war. The British cemetery giving me the most insight. At the British cemetery the graves are very personal. They include the serial number and rank of the soldiers. Under that is the soldiers name and date of death. The two most moving parts are the ages that the soldiers were when they died and a quote the families were able to have inscribed. The American and German cemeteries were huge cemeteries with lots of graves and the British cemetery was no exception. The main difference was the British cemetery did not make the soldiers seem like numbers. They made the graves have a personal touch and showed how that grave marks a human who was someone’s son, father, dad, or brother and that people knew them. The loss of life associated with war is another modern reason why countries do not receive the support for their military and why direct military actions are not being taken.

ISIS is destroying culture items and artifacts that have very great historical context on the bases that they are not Muslim. These action occurred and were shown in the museum leading up to World War II with book burnings and other acts to rewrite history. Who knows what future generations will think of our current state, but the evidence and proof that the destruction of culture and religions just to prove a certain race and religion are better is occurring again. And the countries that can stop these acts are once again hesitant to act because they have not reflected on their previous wars and outcomes.


Codebreaking during World War II was very critical for the Allies victories. All nations using forms of communication were encrypting their communications to try to prevent other nations from reading them. The German code machine was known as the enigma. The British and French received information and assistance from the Polish intelligence whom already broke enigma. The main code breaking operation for the British codebreakers for the Government Code and Cypher School took place at Bletchley Park.

While in London we toured Bletchley Park. Before leaving for London, I took several classes that have discussed intelligence and its role during World War II. After taking those classes talking about enigma, bombe, typex and other machines it was really interesting to see them in person. Bletchley Park was set up to show the different roles British intelligence had leading up to World War II. Bletchley Park had multiple enigma machines on display and showed how the plain text was coded. While there, I had the opportunity to type on an actual enigma machine that was on display in the museum section. During the tour of the grounds, I learned a lot about how the camp was set up and about the people who worked there. I loved the tour guide’s story about the food and how the workers would be reminded that they should not take seconds. One employee said there were days that they wished they did not even have first helpings. I found it very funny that the people who were working on probably the most important operation in England during the war received the same treatment as those who were working on other war jobs. Bletchley Park also had a demonstration on a bombe showing how it worked and all the electronics inside of it. It amazed me the complexity of the machine and the ingenuity that went into making it. The bombe that was on display was able to allow visitors to truly understand how loud the machine was. I really was amazed at the transitions intelligence took during the war and how the same techniques that were used  and invented at Bletchley Park are used today in code breaking operations. One technique was traffic analysis. Traffic analysis looked at how many messages were being sent and where they were being sent to.

The nice part about Bletchley Park was that it did not just focus on the work and activities that went on there. The museum gave a lot of information on the deception operations and double agent operations the British ran. The double cross system controlled the intelligence Germany was allowed to receive on Britain during the war.  Juan Garcia was mentioned several times about how the Germans thought he was their best agent operating in Britain and did not know he was working for British intelligence. Another part of the double cross system was that the code breakers at Bletchley Park were able to confirm the information that was being sent to Germany was being believed by the Germans.

After leaving Bletchley Park and concluding our time in London, I can now say that that was my favorite site and activity in London. Seeing and being able to use an actual German enigma machine, a bombe and all the other artifacts on display has changed my interpretation on the movie the Imitation Games and other films on Bletchley Park and British intelligence. I cannot wait to share the knowledge I learned from this experience in my future classes on intelligence.


My name is Avery Kaminski, and I am a sophomore here at Ohio State. I am majoring in history and minoring in security and intelligence. I love learning about history and seeing artifacts and historical places. I worked for the university archives this past year and worked last summer (and will work again following the trip) at a historical museum in Pittsburgh called Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. I am also a collector of militaria from World War II.

I really love history – that’s why I am majoring in it. I am particularly interested in American history and World War II. I have been to museums with exhibits on World War II in places like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Washington, DC, but to travel to the locations that made history and shaped our modern world will be an extraordinary experience. I cannot wait to see the locations in person where events that the group studies class has covered this past semester.

I also love traveling. I think the location I am most interested in is Normandy. Going through France and seeing the beaches of Normandy where the allies fought and died for our freedom will definitely be special. I am also looking forward to seeing Berlin as it stands today and understanding how it must have looked after World War II. I am really excited to finally get to see and experience all the places and things that I have read about or seen in class and can not wait for the trip to start!