Two Narratives, One History

The German narrative presented at the German Historical Museum is detached in comparison to the German-Russian Museum which pushed a triumphant narritve. The German Historical Museum was not being deceptive but lacked a definitive narrative. The museum presented plenty of facts but failed to tie together the uniqueness of the Nazi’s. The German Historical Museum was full of new information for me, particularly in the areas of the Weimar Republic and the political atmosphere leading up to the war. The depth of information almost overwhelmed me with so much text and visual evidence. World War Two is presented as a piece of a larger conflict that began in 1914. World War One, the Interwar period and World War Two are taken as a single piece of history. The method shows how the rise of Hitler, the concentration and death camps and ultimately the extermination of millions occurs. The German narrative gets across how normal people can be twisted and manipulated into evil. In certain ways though this narrative scrutinizes the Allied moral position in regard to strategic bombing and Soviet atrocities. The museum expressed how the Nuremburg trails were a “victors justice” and if the same standards were applied fairly Allied commanders would be war criminals.


The Soviet narrative within Berlin portrays the magnificent victory achieved by the Soviet Union against fascism. We went to see two Soviet monuments, both of which were huge, blunt and glorious. The Soviets felt very highly of themselves, as we stood beneath a Soviet soldier, wielding a sword, holding a German child and crushing a swastika, this conquering tone became apparent.

The Soviets killed the vast majority of German soldiers and absorbed the full might of the German military. The size of the Eastern Front is from Boston to Miami in the United States. Millions upon millions of soldiers fought in single battles, waging a war of annihilation against each other. War in the west was more civilized if you could ever say that about war, yet in the east war was unhinged. The Soviets overcame the loss of 28 million people, crushed the Wehrmacht and seized Berlin. The German-Russian museum was lighter when it came to Soviet glory but showed a narrative of Nazi atrocities and Soviet victories. Unlike western museums, this museum gave the Soviets their deserved place. The museum focused on the east and mentioned a few times the western governments and their actions. The war in reality was this way, with the bulk of German forces and atrocities concentrated in the east. Western history has been blinded by political motives to revise the way World War Two was won in Europe.

The Brutality of History

Auschwitz is a place we must visit to understand the Holocaust. Assessing this site and the new knowledge I have learned is difficult. The information on the tour was not new to me, but the delivery and setting were and as such immersed me in the information. Seeing a picture of the “Arbeit macht Frei” banner and walking under it are two very different experiences. Understanding the breadth of the Holocaust by reading and listening is difficult, but seeing thousands of kilograms of human hair puts things into perspective. Walking through a room with 100,000 adult shoes is inconceivable at first, but when you walk the 25 or so yards through the valley of shoes, history becomes tangible.

Seeing a child’s single shoe, then realizing it was only one of 10,000 made me immensely sad and angry.

The site-specific experience in Auschwitz reinforces what we have studied. Pen and paper fail to expose the tremendous brutality and extermination.

The Schindler Museum in Krakow was another example of living history. Poland was a destroyed nation, encircled and invaded from east and west. The Polish narrative was one of national victimhood. A lack of control among the Poles was the general feeling throughout the museum. Poland was at the mercy of other nations for most of the 20thCentury. Our guide showed this general discomfort and portrayed Poland as the victim of Western indecisiveness, Nazi brutality and Soviet “liberation.” Rightfully so in my opinion: Poland was utterly ruined by Axis and Allied powers. Yet as we walked though, the victimization narrative shrouded Polish complicity and subverted the book Neighbors we had discussed in class. In our discussions we talked about how some Polish people turned on their own Jewish neighbors and either killed them or reported them to the Gestapo. Our guide described this predicament as, “some people are good and some are bad.” The concept applies but comes off as overgeneralization to the point of being incorrect. History is not black and white, yet this museum actively forgot about the grey. History is complicated, messy and difficult, but it should be discussed honestly, not revised to a more flattering version.

Time and Distance

Battlefields and cemeteries marked our time in Bayeux. In just a few days in Bayeux I must have seen over 10,000 gravestones. The British, German, and American cemeteries are located on the coast, or quite close to it.

British Cemetery, Bayeux.


German Cemetery, Normandy.


American Cemetery, Normandy.


Visiting Pointe du Hoc and then a few moments later walking through the American Cemetery at Normandy built this new understanding for me. In a book, movie or class moving from the battle to the cost simply would have been a turn of the page or the flick of a switch. Diagrams, text or actors represent these people in ways that are important, yet lack depth of feeling. Experiencing these places brings something that cannot be taught but must be seen. Planting a flag at my fellow Buckeye’s final resting place brought it home for me, as this man was not much different than myself.

Roger Dyar was born and raised in the Conshocton area. Dyar went to The Ohio State University for two years and then he enlisted as an aviation cadet. Dyar broke the air speed record in a P-47 Thunderbolt by going 725 miles per hour. One man whom I could relate to suddenly became the thousands of other men who rest at the American Cemetery at Normandy.


The battlefield is France, fighting occurred all over the area in which we stayed and toured. Pieces of artificial harbors, gun emplacements, bunkers and craters litter these areas.

The artificial harbor at Gold beach stretches for miles.

German artillery emplacement, Pointe du Hoc.

Ruins of a German bunker and craters, Pointe du Hoc.

Civilians in France were killed by both Allied bombers and the Nazi occupiers. Over 20,000 civilians were killed during the invasion of Normandy. For these people, this was their home. America had not suffered invasion and occupation like the French had. We are distant from this reality; we are separated almost completely from it. Tales from our grandpas and stories about the “good war” are engrained in the American identity. Besides Arlington, America doesn’t have much physical connection to World War Two. In a way that is a blessing, in other ways this distance harms our perspective. In America as the decades have passed, events that occurred thousands of miles away have begun to fade away. In France it just takes a half hour of driving before you arrive at a battlefield. The war was in your village, backyard or even in your own home.

Two Worlds, One War

When we first arrived at Bletchley Park my initial impression was of a small, charming and quiet town. Reflecting on our class readings and discussions about the importance of the work done at Bletchley, it was hard to imagine such a small place played such a major role. The German High Command, Naval, Army and Air codes were broken here. Vital intelligence disseminated from Bletchley to the Allies provided an essential instrument in defeating the Nazis. I looked around in their first building, which had examples of German Enigmas and other methods of encryption. Several examples of sheer genius were on display, like the mathematician Daniel Jones. Mr. Jones created twelve symphonies to learn Japanese, tying individual letters and symbols to musical notes. I simply cannot fathom the type of genius that man had, yet at Bletchley this was ordinary.

Bletchley was the combination of many great minds of different fields and backgrounds. As our guide described, however, class at first determined entry to such a program. Aristocrats and officers coordinated recruitment. Without a recommendation you could not work: England was assuming the worst as the treachery of appeasement continued during the 1930’s. The facility at Bletchley was bought only a few months before the war began. The necessity of Bletchley and the need for intelligence pushed recruitment even further. One’s skill and talents were what mattered, not one’s sex, orientation or style.

Bletchley is an incredibly beautiful facility, a place which I would want to call home if I ever could afford it. The mansion, land, and water create a villa of peace and elegance. I feel a strange dichotomy when walking around this place. The people here were sealed away from the war, completely out of harm’s way, and lived in conditions that were not preferable but better than most.

London was being blitzed, armies in North Africa were being shattered all while this place remained pristine. The diversity present at Bletchley achieved some of the most remarkable feats of human history. Breaking the Nazi code ensured Allied supremacy in all theaters of the war. The people at Bletchley laid the foundations for the computer and the modern age.

They sacrificed parts of their lives and comfort while working without praise. Not until recently did the British government recognize them for their contributions. “Ordinary people doing extraordinary things” describes Bletchley Park. The communal war experience I felt was outside of Bletchley, sealed away in London. The mass evacuations, strife and insecurity of danger were far away. The People’s War is tied with the collective experience of war, with common struggle, sacrifice and loss being cornerstones of this commonality. Bletchley was sealed away, which secured its future but, in my opinion, separated it from “The People’s War.”