Moving Forward

We arrived in Germany on a Thursday. The bus ride from Krakow to Berlin felt like a lifetime. Immediately after arrival we rushed to the Reichstag for a guided tour. The Reichstag is their Parliament building. I was really impressed with the history behind the building. The Reichstag’s interior is beautiful, with floor to ceiling windows. During World War II, the building was heavily damaged and the walls were vandalized by Soviet soldiers as they took Berlin in 1945.
Soviet soldiers signed their names and short phrases on the walls of the building. The graffiti, written in Cyrillic, was uncovered in 1960 when architect Sir Norman Foster converted the building to house the new parliamentary chamber of the Bundestag. Foster decided to persevere parts of these walls and incorporate them into the new building.
As you walk along the streets in Berlin you may notice cobblestone-size concrete cubes with a brass plate inscribed with names and dates. These brass plates are called stolpersteine, or “stumbling blocks”. These “stumbling blocks” remember victims of Nazi extermination or persecution. The stolperstein project, which is still ongoing, began in 1992 by artist Gunter Demning. The purpose of this project is to remember each individual person at the last place of work or residency before they fell victim to the Nazi regime. As of 31 January 2017, over 56,000 stumbling stones have been installed in twenty-two countries. The majority of of the stumbling stones commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The stolperstein project is the world’s largest decentralized memorial.
As our time in Berlin came to an end, one of our last days was spent visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I thought the memorial was a very artistic and modern way for Germany to honor the victims of the Holocaust. The memorial consists of concrete steles in various sizes. I appreciate that the meaning behind the memorial is not straight forward – it’s very thought provoking. As you walk through, you are forced to look up. It is almost like it is acknowledging the horrors of their past and those innocents who lost their lives, but also saying that all there is to do now is to ask for forgiveness, repent and look toward the future. As a whole Germany has taken many strides in acknowledging their wrong doings. Although there is still work to be done, they are on the right path to reconcile their past.

Always Remember

We were only in Poland for a few days. It’s safe to say Poland, specifically Krakow, thoroughly surprised me. It was absolutely beautiful. I would love to come back someday.

The Square


One of the days we visited the Schindler Museum, the next Auschwitz-Birkenau. The latter was the most powerful, for obvious reasons. For those of you who do not know the specifics, Auschwitz-Birkenau is made up of Auschwitz I, a concentration camp, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a death camp. The differences between the two are important. A concentration camp was meant for slave labor, and death was likely, but not certain. A death camp, justly name, meant certain death. Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners. Soon the camp became a prison for all those the Nazi regime deemed undesirable or sub-human. While a majority were those of the Jewish faith, Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah Witnesses, those of the LGBTQ community, and countless others were sent to the camps.
Those sent to the camp were transferred in cattle cars. More than 40 people would be forced into one cattle car. Space was limited, so movement was not an option. Sometimes the trip to Auschwitz would take days, as trains arrived with victims from all over Europe. Food and water were not available for the duration of the trip. Many died before arrival.
Upon arrival the selection process began. With a wave of a hand a SS doctor would decided their fate. If one looked fit for work they went to the concentration; however, children, pregnant women, the elderly, the ill and those who looked unfit for work went to the gas chambers straight away.
While everything about this place disgusted me, what stood out was how the Nazis succeeded in escorting those deemed unfit for work to the death chambers. They told them they were to take a shower. As they arrived at the undressing room they were told to make sure to remember where they placed their things. As such, oblivious to their fate, the victims went quietly and calmly. They would never come back to collect their things.
After, the bodies were dragged out and looted for glasses, artificial limbs, jewelry, hair and any gold teeth. The corpses were then burned, and their ashes used as fertilizer for the fields surrounding the camp. Those who did not meet death by gas chamber were worked to death, died of starvation, illness, individual executions, and medical experiments. Thousands and thousands of people were killed en masse at this one camp.
The camp was about an hour and half ride from Krakow. I fell asleep for most of the ride. When I did wake up the first thing I noticed were train tracks. At first glance it was nothing surprising, but then I noticed areas which were overgrown with grass and weeds. I realized these tracks were not in use anymore and it all came together. Seeing those tracks and realizing where they lead made me sick to my stomach. Words cannot justly describe the emotions you go through while walking the grounds. Some words that do come to mind however are disgust and utter sadness. You honestly just want to scream “why.” How could someone do this? How could so many people be okay with this? The amount of hate and absolute lack of respect for human life that is needed is unbelievable.
Meaningless death occurred over and over on those grounds, along with torture, starvation and nightmarish medical experiments on children. As I write this, recalling the experience, all I feel is anger and sadness. There is no happy ending. Generations and bloodlines came to an end there. All we can hope is to take this as a lesson. A lesson for the need of love, or, at the least, toleration and respect for human life. As George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

From Normandy’s Coast to the Heart of France

We arrived to France by ferry. The first day we settled into the hotel. It had been a long day, and after being away from home for a week Brittany Habbart, Chris Herrel and I were craving American food. So, we went to the one place I never go to at home – McDonalds. It never tasted so good.
The next day we visited the Museum of War and Peace. This museum commemorates World War II and the Battle for Caen. It is dedicated to the history of violence and conflict in the 20th century. The museum opened on 6 June 1988, the 44th anniversary of D-Day. The thing I noticed most about this museum compared to other museums I have visited is that it consist of much more reading. I thoroughly appreciated the information given. Instead of having a simple excerpt pertaining to a piece in front of you, the museum was organized in chronological order providing the main details of the war.
Our next stop was Pegasus Bridge. Pegasus Bridge, originally referred to as the Benouville Bridge, was built in 1934 across the Caen Canal. In World War Two control of the bridge was the objective of Operation Deadstick. This operation was in preparation for the Allied invasion of Normandy. Control of the bridge was imperative in limiting the effectiveness of a Germany counter-attack following the Allied invasion. The bridge was renamed in honor of the soldiers who captured it. Today, a replica stands in its place, while the original bridge is now displayed in a museum.
As we made our way to Utah Beach we made a stop at the Statue of Major R.D. Winters. Winters was a solider of the United States Army. He commanded Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division during WWII. Easy Company parachuted into Normandy early in the morning on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Their objective was to capture the entrances to and clear any obstacles around the route selected for Allied forces. Immediately issues arose. Winters and his men landed without a single weapon. Easy Company were using British designed leg packs, which held their belongings and weapons. As soon as Easy Company jumped the packs were torn away. Easy Company landed completely unarmed. Even so, Winter’s and his company charged on, securing the way.

Utah Beach

Utah Beach was the code name for one of the five areas where the Allies invaded German-occupied France on D-Day. It is located on the Cotentin Peninsula. Amphibious landings were undertaken by the United States Army, with support of the United States Navy. The objective was to secure the beachhead, the location of the vital port of Cherbourg. We spent some time at the Musee du Debrquement de Utah Beach. This museum detailed and highlighted some of the important parts of the Normandy invasion at Utah. Throughout the museum were some personal articles, such as letters, from soldiers displayed. Personal items are always my favorite. Most of these men and women fell in combat. I think reading there personal letters is the closest we could ever come to the mindset of the men and women who gave their lives. It’s incredibly humbling.
We made a quick stop at St. Mere Eglise. It’s a small town that witnessed some of the first fighting after the D-Day invasion. It was one of the first towns to be liberated. While in town we made a stop at the Musée Airborne. This museum is dedicated to the memory of American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions who parachuted into Normandy on the night of June 5th and 6th of 1944.
We ventured on to Angeoville au Plain Church. This church was used by 2 US Army Medics, Robert White (a fellow buckeye) and Ken Moore of the 101st Airborne, as an aide station during the Battle of Normandy. White and Moore treated 80 injured soldiers, American and German. The story behind this little church is amazing. Two men came together and saved the lives of not just their comrades, but their enemies. To them the injured were not G.I.s and Nazis, but simply men in need of help. Robert White survived the war and passed on some years ago. Half of his ashes are buried on the church grounds, the other half back home.

St. Mere Eglise

Our last stop of the day was the German cemetery. This cemetery contains roughly 21,000 German military personnel of World War II. As staggering as that number is, it is not the only Germany cemetery of WWII causalities. The cemetery, as all are, was sad. The layout of the cemetery, together with the dark grave stones and simplicity, made the experience harrowing. Seeing grave stone after grave stone, most the final resting place of two men (as space was limited), was overwhelmingly depressing. At the center was a mound of the unknown. This is the resting place and dedication to those dead who were unidentifiable. That was the most heartbreaking. So many families were never given an answer to the fate of their loved one. So many of the fallen are never to be known. Something that I thought of while walking the grounds is the idea that while these men were on the wrong side of history, they were fighting for their home. The Nazi regime rained hell upon Europe, claiming so many innocent lives. But the men buried here, these soldiers, were not all fighting for Nazi ideals, they were fighting for their home and their family, others forced into service. Most of these soldiers were my age, many younger. They were left with an unbelievable burden and deserve to be remembered.

The next day we visited Point du Hawk, Omaha beach and the American cemetery. Point du Hoc is a promontory with a cliff overlooking the English Channel. The German army fortified the area. On D-Day the United States Army Rangers were tasked with the objective to capture Point du Hoc to ensure that the German 155m guns would not threaten the Allies during the invasion and to prevent the Germans from using the area for observation. Omaha beach, another area of the Normandy coastline invaded on D-Day, had a heartbreaking story surrounding the fates of the “Bedford Boys”. Company A of the 116th, a former National Guard unit, was comprised of 35 men from Bedford, Virginia. Company A participated in the initial wave invading Omaha and was slaughtered. With war, these sort of casualties were not uncommon. However, what is so devastating is that Bedford, a town so small that everyone knew just about everybody, began receiving telegrams informing families about their loss one after another. A total of 22 young men lost their lives. Everyone in Bedford was affected by the devastation.

Point du Hoc

Point du Hoc

The American cemetery, which overlooked the water, was beautiful. The thing that stood out to me most, which I thoroughly appreciated, was that while a theme of the cemetery was uniformity, those who were of the Jewish faith were buried with the Star of David as the headstone, not a cross. The cemetery remembered the men lost in typical grand American fashion and highlighted the cause for which they fought. A quote that is located inside the accompanying museum by the doors which leads to the cemetery sums it up quite well – “If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: All we asked…was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.” (General Mark W. Clark)
The next day consisted of the Bayeux Tapestry, the Arromanches 360 Theater and the British cemetery. The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters long depicting the entente leading up to the Norman conquest of England, was interesting. The museum that accompanied it, not so much. We saw a short video at the Arromaches 360 Theater that I found intense. The theater overlooks the water where several Mulberries, or artificial harbors, are located that were used during the D-Day invasion. The British cemetery was our last stop. It was my favorite out of the three. The graves in the cemetery were personalized with an inscription picked by the family located at the bottom of the grave stone. This personalization made the tremendous loss of life much more real. The surrounding area, just like the German and American cemetery, was beautifully sad.
Our last day consisted of a day trip to Mont. St. Michel. I was very excited about this. Mont. St. Michel is an island commune in Normandy, France. The island is home to a monastery which bears the same name. The position of the island made it accessible to pilgrims during low tide. During high tide the island was nearly impenetrable. Today, the abbey is home to a handful of monks and nuns.

Mont St. Michel

We were in Bayeux for about a week. The quaint little town was beautiful, almost like it was straight out of a storybook. Our next stop in France was Paris. I loved Paris. I hope I’ll be able to come back one day. We were there for just a few days and it was most certainly

While in Paris our group visited the Memorial de Martyrs de la Déportation and the Musée de l’Armée. The memorial was my favorite stop in Paris. The memorial is dedicated to the 200,000 people who were deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps. What I appreciated most was the inclusiveness of the memorial. European Jewry was by far the most devastated by the Nazi regime. However, I think it is important to remember that not all victims were of the Jewish faith. The memorial does not simple recognize the deportation of French Jews, but all those who were deported under the Vichy regime.
What I took away most from my time in France are the various ways the war is remembered. In the United States it was the “Good War.” Our cemetery is grand and beautiful. American boys fought and died for people they have never met and never would meet. The British cemetery was personalized and very much representative of the “People’s War.” The German cemetery on the other hand, while peaceful, was very dark. I feel as if Germany rightly so remembered their dead and remembered the destruction it caused. The difference, however, between the German cemetery and the American and British, is that it did not remember the cause. The American and British cemetery highlighted that the soldiers lost their lives defending the ideals of freedom, while the German cemetery did not emphasize Nazi ideals. Instead, they highlighted each individual man whose life was cut short.


Blitzing through London

On Sunday May 7th, 2017 I was dropped of at the Detroit airport and began my journey to London. Upon arrival I got my first taste of the tube. To my surprise, Professor Steigerwald was right, one can master the tube in the day. After settling in at the Lancaster Gate Hotel, we took a trip to Westminster. Upon exiting Westminster tube station, Big Ben is front and center. For those of you who have never seen Big Ben, it is most certainly not as tall as you might think. It’s actually quite small. Westminster Abbey is absolutely beautiful. The history surrounding it even more so. My first day in London ending with a traditional fish and chips dinner.

The next day we visited the Churchill War Rooms. Winston Church served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII. If in America WWII was known as the Good War, in the United Kingdom it was the People’s War. Britain united together as one in order to achieve victory. Churchill gave some of the most inspiring speeches of the time. His goal was to rally the people, to show that he was not afraid and neither should they be. Churchill worked an average of 18 hours a day during the war pushing his staff hard and himself harder. What sticks out to me most about Churchill’s speeches is that he never promised victory. He simply promised to give all he had. One of my favorite quotes from Churchill is “If we fail, all fails, and if we fall, we all fall together.”
That afternoon I took a walk in Hyde Park, and visited Kensington Palace, a royal residence set in Kensington Gardens. I also stopped at the historic Sunken Garden, which is currently transformed into a White Garden as a memorial to Princess Diana. That night we had a group dinner with a wonderful guest speaker, Michael Hanscomb.
Wednesday was a free today. I started out at The British Museum. The Rosetta Stone is held there. The Rosetta Stone, found in 1799, was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The National Gallery was stunning. My favorite painting was Salome Receives the Head of John the Baptist by Caravoggio. This painting depicts one of the variations of the death of John the Baptist. Next, I ventured off toward the London Bridge and stopped by The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London (1666). To finish off my day I took a walk through Green Park, stopped at the Buckingham palace and saw the Queen Victoria Memorial.

The next day we caught a train from Euston Station to Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park was the central site for British codebreaking during WWII. The Enigma machine, developed in the twentieth century to protect commercial communication, became the main form of protection for diplomatic and military communication used by the Nazi regime, as it failed in the commercial market. In the 1930s the Poles succeeded in building their own Enigma machine, called Enigma doubles. As the Nazi regime conquered Poland, the Polish government gave their knowledge to the British. This allowed the British to go on and break German codes, giving way to the birth of ULTRA intelligence. ULTRA was extremely important to the Allied war effort. It is said that ULTRA intelligence shorten the war by two years.

What really caught my attention was Allan Turing’s involvement at Bletchley and the story involving around his death. Turing was an English computer scientist and mathematician. During WWII he worked at Bletchley Park in Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Turing played an important role in cracking German coded messages. In 1952 Turing was found guilty of “homosexual acts”. His punishment was chemical castration. In 1954, Turing died from cyanide poisoning. His death was ruled a suicide. It was not until 2009 that the British government made an official public apology for his sentence. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon. Turing’s suicide and the events that surround it are horrible and saddening. Turing was condemned because of simply who he was – no one should be punished for living their truth.

Our last day in London consisted of a trip to the Imperial War Museum. The three areas I was most interested in were the WWI, WWII and The Holocaust rooms. The understanding of WWI is an important step to the understanding of WWII. The wounds, not yet healed, from the Great War greatly influenced the course of WWII. The Holocaust area was one of my favorites. I am a strong believer in studying past mistakes in order to avoid repeating history. I also believe that we need to understand the horrifying actions humanity made. The Nazi regime nearly annihilated the Jewish race, and killed others (the Gypsies, elderly, mentally and physically disabled, etc.) en masses. Their stories deserved to be told. This horrifying time in history should never be forgotten – God forbid it be repeated.

After spending a few hours at the Imperial Museum I made my way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The church was stunning. I wish I would have gone in, but the cost was a bit out of my budget. I finished the day with a Jack the Ripper tour. It was very cool. Our tour guide was clearly passionate about the subject, which made the tour all the more interesting.

Hyde Park

The White Garden

Salome Recieves the Head of John the Baptist by Caravoggio

St. Paul’s Cathedral


Introduction Post

My name is Michele Magoteaux. I am from Lima, Ohio. I began my undergraduate career at The Ohio State University at Lima and transferred to main campus in the fall of 2016. I am a third year history major concentrating in religious studies. I hope to attend grad school after I have completed my undergraduate studies. I have never had the opportunity to travel before. I am so excited and grateful to be able to spend a month in Europe!