Afraid of the Past



Germany has a strong remembrance of its World War II past. Unlike France, it does not see World War II as simply an extension of World War I. In fact in the German Historical Museum, World War I has a very small exhibit and the guide says it is normally glossed over in school. However when remembering World War II history there is a cultural struggle between separating Germany and the Nazis regime and being ashamed of the past.

The German Historical Museum had a lot of information about the formation of the Nazis party and how it came to power. There were very few times in the museum that talked about Germany in a negative life. Most of negative aspects were described as being perpetrated by the Nazis state. The museum skips the battles in the war and instead highlights the height of the German empire and then the downfall. Although there was a section highlighting the Holocaust, it was the only section where the descriptions of the artifacts were not in English, which seemed to indicate shame. Also, there has been some discussion as of late to rename the 1936 Olympic Stadium after Jesse Owens. This indicates that the Germans intend to keep the memory of the past visible in society, which is a shift in ideology, because immediately after the war there was a period of silence when the war was not talked about.

The guide at the museum said that it was illegal to print a copy of Mein Kampf. However reading about the past is important to preventingthe same mistakes in the future. Giving power to a book is a mistake, because children grow up thinking that it is more than just a book. At Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp outside of Berlin, we learned that it is a mandatory part of the curriculum for students to visit a concentration camp. Although it is important for children to learn about the past I think that making it a mandatory trip somehow places the blame on future generations. The past of the United States is not without incident and yet we do not shift the burden to the next generation. As the next generation of German children grows, they risk growing up under the fear that this level of cruelty could happen again instead of learning from the past and then moving forward.

The Old and New

When walking down the streets of Paris I was struck by a scene that consisted of modern and ancient architecture. Paris is special because of the culture that it creates through its history and its ability to build onto the history. For example, the construction of the Arc de Triomphe started in 1806 and it is located in the center of what is now a busy intersection with a never-ending rush of cars.

The museums are a mixture of old and new. The Musee De l’Armee explained the recent history of World War II, but also contained Napoleon’s Tomb. The Musee De La Resistance was located were Marshal Leclerc had his command post for the resistance movement. The symbolic location of resistance houses modern multiple screen resistance footage and also authentic letters, posters, and other resistance memorabilia. The museums mixture of old and new symbolizes a more continual history instead of the common method of separating history into different eras.

The main tourist attractions provide a rich history that stays alive because of the culture. The Musee d’Orsay was once a railway station built around 1900, but today it houses a large collection of impressionist artwork that includes paintings, sculptures, and photography. The Louve Palace was built in the 12th century and in 1793 it opened as a museum. It contains artwork from all over the world and from different time periods. The deep history of the Louve also has a modern twist. The iconic La Pyramide Inversee outside of the Louve, seen in movies such as The Da Vinci Code, was only completed in 1993 and attendance has sky rocketed since then.

The people of France are simply an extension of the city. Every time I got on the metro I saw a variety of newspapers. The Parisians are informed about what is happening in the news today and, from my interpretation of the museums, history is a continuous story for them. The Parisians also take great pride in their language and have created an organization to regulate the words used in the language, yet the people are willing to learn other languages. While in Paris I had very few problems communicating with the French people because of the vast amount of people that could speak English. This mixture of old and new customs mirrors the old and new attractions of the museums.IMG_1426

Battlegrounds and Those Lost

It was a strange contrast standing on Utah beach with the sun shinning and the breeze blowing and knowing that men stormed that beach nearly 70 years ago in the cold rain. The museum recreated the atmosphere of the obstacles that the army faced as they made their way up the beach. I found especially interesting the equipment used by the medics and doctors of World War II. In the museum were dehydrogenated medicines that were compact enough to be carried in mass quantities and easily turned into usable medicines.

When we visited Pointe du Hoc the war suddenly became real. Craters from the bombs dropped by the Allied aircrafts littered the ground. I saw the cliffs that the Rangers climbed and the gun emplacements they stormed. The destruction of war was present throughout the area, and the reality of the difficulties of battle became much more real. I enjoyed exploring the bunkers and learning about the reason behind the importance of this battlefield. The information that Henry provided at his site report put the place and the battle in perspective since the mistakes made at Omaha and Pointe du Hoc were very similar. The intelligence at Pointe du Hoc believed that there were large artillery pieces, but they had been moved earlier and at Omaha beach the bunkers built into the mountain almost resulted in a failure of taking the beach.

We visited two cemeteries, a German cemetery and American cemetery, the last couple of days. The German cemetery was small and had one statue standing in the middle. The visitor center focused on the need for peace in the future and seemed to be a look at the destruction caused by the war. Various groups donated the trees standing outside the cemetery, and the description inside explained that the trees could only grow in peace when we take care of them just as society can only grow in peace times. The American cemetery was much more extravagant. The visitors’ center was more of a museum that highlighted heroic stories and walked the visitor through the invasion of Normandy. The headstones were more prominent in the American gravesites. The theme of peace continued in the American cemetery, but the tone was different. Instead of there being an urge to keep the peace, it was a remembrance for the sacrifice made to obtain peace. Although they were both focused on peace, there seems to be a dark cloud surrounding the German cemetery. This is understandable, because of the preservation of World War II history in France, the German occupation in France also continues to be fresh in their minds.

London’s Rememberance

IMG_0383 IMG_0493 IMG_0393As soon as I got off the London Underground Tube at Charing Cross I was immediately struck by London’s remembrance of World War II. In the middle of the street stood a Women of World War II memorial, which contained uniforms for different services. Further down stood the statues of Field Marshal Montgomery and Field Marshal Slim. The plaque below their statues contained a short description of their big accomplishments. In front of Westminster Abby stood a statue of Winston Churchill. It seemed like every way I looked I was surrounded by Britain’s great military and political leaders.

The memorials that line the streets are accompanied by museums to remember World War II. The first one that we attended was the Churchill War Rooms. This museum contains the Churchill museum and interactive elements. Visitors of the museum travel at their own pace with the help of an individual recording of a guided tour. In the Churchill museum, some of Churchill’s classic outfits were a part of the display, which included the Bowker hat, overcoat, and siren suit. There was also a model of Churchill and his wife’s, Clementine, house, which visitors can virtually tour.  In the center of the room was an interactive board, which provided information on important dates in Churchill’s life and major world events. The rooms included in the Churchill War Rooms were the officers’ rooms, Churchill’s room, dinning room, and the map room.

The next day we arrived in Bletchley Part, where we learned about Allied intelligence during the war. We learned about the contributions made by the Polish scientists in solving the Enigma code, and we saw the memorial dedicated to their work. The museum housed several Enigma machines that belonged to the German Navy and Army, and the Spanish Army, which was given them during the Spanish Civil War. In the museum also was the rebuilt Turning Bombe. It was interesting to see the simplicity of the Enigma machine next to the complexity of the Turning Bombe.

The last World War II site we visited was the HMS Belfast. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to board a ship that was involved in the Normandy invasion and played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic. There were two shell rooms, each one under a 6” turret, which gives visitors a surreal feeling, because they cannot see outside, and it is easy to visualize being caught in a battle at sea. It was interesting to visit the sick bay of the ship, and the display showed an operation that lacked sterilized conditions. This exemplified the idea that can be seen at many of the exhibits of World War II, everything may not have been done perfectly, but it was the best that could be done at the time.