Elimination of the Unfit

This past semester, in addition to learning about military tactics and wartime policies, I became well-versed in the Nazi ideology of racial cleansing, sterilization and euthanasia. The previous three areas that we have explored, London, Normandy and Paris were full of museums that talked about the region’s involvement in the Second World War and did not provide a well-rounded view of the war. They displayed a one-sided view of the war in my opinion and focused on shifting blame to somewhere other than themselves. The exhibits in Berlin have portrayed every aspect of the war in its entirety, including the subject closest to my heart: the Aktion T4 program and the events leading up to and after it.

There are four times now that I have seen the 1933 Law for Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases and the 1939 Signed Letter ordering the commencement of the Aktion T4 program in the foreground of displays of WWII. At the German History Museum, there was a large section about racial cleansing. I was finally able to learn the literal translation of a piece of famous Nazi propaganda that depicted a man with a disability who cost the state 60,000 Reichmarks and, according to the media, should not be supported and was only a burden. The section there also talked about the six killing centers that were part of the Aktion T4 program and although it glanced over the mechanisms used at them, the exhibit on the ideology was pretty comprehensive. The second time I was impressed by the material presented on my topic was at the Topography of Terrors museum. There was a temporary exhibit dedicated to the subject which was so well put together and displayed in an easy to comprehend manner. It was amazing to see basically my entire research paper from the past semester on display. They also focused a lot on the trials after the war, a subject that I did not focus on. It was interesting to learn about and the exhibit closed with testimonies from people talking about their thoughts and reactions about the program today.

Person with a disability who cost the state 60,000 Rm

Propaganda poster stating that the person pictured who has a disability cost the state 60,000 Reichmarks and is nothing but a burden.

The third time was during a group walking tour through Berlin where we happened to be walking by the Berlin Philharmonic building. This location is the site of the original administrative center for the Aktion T4 program, and there is a long standing memorial near the philharmonic building. There also happened to be an open air, temporary exhibit that outlined the details and events. Another well-conceived exhibit in Berlin, I was elated and impressed.

Temporary open air exhibit at the site of the Aktion T4 administration

Temporary open air exhibit at the site of the Aktion T4 administration

Finally, at the Wannsee Conference house there was a continuum of information describing the events leading up to the war. Our tour guide took special note to stop by the euthanasia section and read Hitler’s Signed Letter of 1939 to the group. This letter created on 1 October and backdated to 1 September (to imply war related rationale) was the only written order for mass murder throughout the entire war. He also stressed the point that the euthanasia and Aktion T4 program were absolutely necessary for the Final Solution to be carried out. They provided SS officers with training methods on how to kill people and gave “practice” to those in power.

Grey busses used to transport patients from hospitals and asylums to killing centers as part of the Aktion T4 euthanasia program.

Grey busses used to transport patients from hospitals and asylums to killing centers as part of the Aktion T4 euthanasia program.

Overall, I was highly impressed with Berlin’s portrayal of the crucial events directed towards people with disabilities that took place alongside the mass murder of other populations. ​

La Tour Eiffel

After locating our Paris hotel and getting checked in, our first order of business was to go to that large, iron structure that we saw on our way in. La Tour Eiffel, erected in 1889, has stood since then as a symbol representing Paris, France, love, happiness and so much more. It was originally constructed as the entrance arch to the Exposition Universelle of 1889. This event was held the year of the 100th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, which is considered to have been the start to the French Revolution. On the morning of 14 July 1789, the medieval fortress and prison where the royal authority operated out of was seized by the partisans of the Third Estate in France. La Prise de la Bastille was an uprising against monarchy, a symbol that the French citizens had enough of King Louis XVI’s oppression. Finally, success for the partisans was had, and the people created a structure of government and militia.

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

The Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair, lasted from 6 May to 31 October of 1889 and was of great significance, honoring the 100th anniversary of such an important event in French history. The expo was held on the Champ de Mars in Paris.  It was decided that a grand entrance way was necessary. Two senior engineers who worked for the Compagnie des Établissements Eiffel were drafted for the project. Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier drafted the first design in May 1884 and showed it to Gustave Eiffel, the head of the company they worked at. Eiffel added a man named Stephen Sauvestre to the project, who added embellishments and a glass pavilion to the first level. Eiffel presented this idea to a civil engineering group and said that the tower would symbolize “not only the art of the modern engineer but also the century of industry and science in which we are living, and for which the way was prepared by the great scientific movement to the eighteenth century and by the Revolution of 1789, to which this monument will be built as an expression of France’s gratitude.”


The meaning behind the Eiffel Tower makes it that much more significant in Paris. This monument, which people around Paris wanted to tear down after the expo, is a vital part of French history. It still stands as a “hats off” to the partisans who sacrificed all in the name of French freedom. The Storming of the Bastille and French Revolution cannot be forgotten and will not be because of the large iron structure that still stands high in the sky in Paris. Not only does this beautiful landmark pay homage to those who fought for the ideals of the French Revolution, it also holds significance in relation to World War II. There is a plaque on the top of the tower that describes how on 25 August 1944, the tricolor flag was flown from the Eiffel Tower which symbolized the end of the occupation. The tower has so much history that having torn it down after the 1889 expo would have been a crime. The Eiffel Tower holds a magical sentiment that well-known around the world; the tower is a symbol representing hope, romance and beauty in Paris.


Memorializing at Normandy

Honoring the fallen and memorializing events is a crucial way to educate people about the past, remember what has happened, and provide closure to those in need. When I walked through the arch that led to the German cemetery, La Cambe, I was overwhelmed by the flatness, uniformity and lack of love in this place. I don’t know what I expected, but this plot of land did not live up to my expectations in the slightest. The land was covered in small headstones laid flat on the ground, scattered with groupings of five, rough stone crosses and had a large hill with three of the same stone crosses at the top. The cemetery is where those who fought for their country lay to rest, yet there were no signs of gratitude, appreciation or honor for these soldiers. The Germans were the enemy at Normandy, and it is clear that they were buried as such. I understand and am acknowledging that the German troops as a whole were responsible for the loss of so many Allied lives, yet these soldiers were people, too. I had a hard time walking around that cemetery; the whole time I was in distress. While WWII was a battle between the Allies and the Axis powers, it is unfair to say that every German soldier was evil and driven by a Nazi ideology that does not deserve a memorial.

kayblog german

The American cemetery at Coleville sur Mer, on the other hand, is grandiose and showy. There is a museum to explore prior to entry that outlined the events leading up to and during D-Day. As I walked into the cemetery, with the Star Spangled Banner playing from speakers planted in the beautiful flower beds around me, I saw a beautiful memorial to the soldiers. There was a stunning display of names of Americans who lost their lives on D-Day on a wall that framed a showy statue. On either side, there were large maps on marble detailing the events of the day and of the invasion. Finally, well-groomed trees framed a large reflecting pool leading guests to the burial grounds.  There were six plots of land with rows of headstones arranged neatly; everything was well-labeled and the place was easy to navigate. We arrived at the cemetery with a bouquet of thirteen roses, the number of Buckeyes who gave their life during WWII and were buried at the American cemetery. Each student was given information about one of the Buckeye 13 that we then individually shared with the group as we laid our rose at the soldier’s grave, commemorating their service. Their tombstones displayed their name, rank, involvement in the military and dates of life and death. Uniformity is a theme throughout the American cemetery, from the perfectly straight rows to the similar headstones, it is clear that while the cemetery pays homage to the fallen, equal respect is given to all. And yet, this place felt impersonal, stark and cold, as if the American military was a machine of some sort.

kayblog american

The British Cemetery was absolutely touching. When I walked in, I was initially underwhelmed, seeing rows of headstones just like the previous cemeteries I had seen. It appeared to be just another burial ground, until I began wandering around. There were beautiful flower beds at the foot of each headstone and scattered around the grounds. This place was truly a memorial to those whose lives were lost during the Second World War. Within its groomed-hedge walls, there were people from all over the world buried there. This ground was a memorial to British, American, Canadian, German, Italian, Czech, Soviet, Australian and Polish people.  The cemetery was the most beautiful place I’ve visited on the trip so far. Far more moving than the beaches of Normandy, it was so clearly filled with love, appreciation, sorrow, mourning, and gratitude. Many of the tombstones carried personal messages from family and loved ones to their lost soldiers; one read “will some kindly hand in that far land place a flower of love for me – Connie.” Many were signed “Mam and Pap” and included phrases about how they were appreciative and regret not being there to say goodbye to their brave child. Hearing statistics in class about death rates during the war meant nothing to me, I could not grasp how much devastation came as a result of total war. Walking around the British cemetery, I was reminded that the fallen were not only soldiers but neighbors, friends, children.

kayblog british

“You, Kay?” No, “UK!”


Cheerio from London, UK! (I specifically mentioned that London is in the UK because every time I hear “UK,” I have to double check that someone is not saying “you, Kay”). This is not the only time I’ve had to pause and replay things that people have said around me. London is truly an international city; many of the conversations I have overheard have not been conducted in English. While I’ve been taught that America is a “melting pot,” I have not been exposed to this aspect at all. Having grown up in suburban Medina, Ohio, a place with little diversity, there were few chances to observe and experience other cultures. My time at Ohio State has provided me with more opportunities to learn about the way people other than myself live. Furthermore, the opportunity to participate in the History of WWII Study Abroad program is already contributing to my understanding of the world, and we are still in our first city! I take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about the things around me and one of my favorite ways to accomplish this goal is by speaking to everyone that I meet.


I went alone to breakfast today and one of the staff members whom I had interacted with during previous breakfast meals came over and asked to sit down. I love getting to know people and was just relaxing, enjoying coffee and being in London so I said “of course.” The first thing he asked is if I was from Russia. When I said no, he then guessed the Ukraine and Sweden. He wanted a hint and I told him that he was choosing countries in the wrong hemisphere; he then quickly guessed the United States. Later today on the tube (London’s underground, the subway system), the man across from me asked where I was from. After he guessed France and Russia, I told him I was from America. He responded with “Americans are all smiley and happy, you’re all so naïve.” An older British woman that I met when we trekked out to Bletchley Park noted that all of the Americans that she’s met have been cheery and pleasant. Finally, in the water closet last night, a girl my age was chatting with me and commented on my accent. She questioned its origin and when she heard that I was American, she wanted to know if I was in London for a study-abroad program. Clearly I must have looked out of place… I told her that I was studying World War II here and she said “yeah we’re all about WWII in London” then laughed and said “just kidding, we’re totally over it. Cheers!”


It is blatantly obvious that I am an American despite my efforts to appear as if I know what is going on. I always look left when crossing the street, mind the gap in the underground, and stand on the right side of the escalators. Yet traveling in a group of eight to a restaurant, not pronouncing my meal correctly, and trying to split the bill were clear giveaways. There are many cultural aspects that differ from those that I’ve become accustomed to. London is also such a diverse place, there is no one culture in this city. In five days, I had Greek food, walked through Chinatown, had traditional British fish and chips (three times…) and enjoyed Italian coffee. I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a church has stood since 604, visited the Tower of London that was built in 1066, and then saw buildings that were still being constructed today. The contrast of old and new in London is shocking and alluring. Every corner that I turn is surprising, the clash between traditional and modern here has been so exciting for me to observe. If London has been this intriguing, I am thrilled to continue exploring the world with a group of my closest friends.