Although I enjoy most of the classes I take, I often have trouble applying the knowledge I learned in real life scenarios. I had never been put into a situation where I utilized the knowledge I learned from all of my classes to figure out a problem and come to a logical conclusion, but this changed when I visited the German History Museum. Here, I was amazed when I stumbled upon an exhibit which called upon what I learned in my German, history, and religion classes.
As I passed by a seemingly simple quilt, I quickly realized there was much more depth to it. It was a very large quilt with embroidered pictures of a Nazi German town with many houses, townspeople, Nazi soldiers, the Hitler Youth, and the League of German Girls marching towards a church in the center of the town. This seemed pretty straightforward until I realized there was also a long German passage also embroidered into the quilt. As I began to read it, it seemed oddly familiar to me. This is when I realized it was the Lord’s Prayer well known throughout Christianity.
Large quilt depicting the Nazification of Christianity in a German town
Once I figured this out, the entire piece seemed to make so much more sense. It was a pure example of the Nazification of Christianity which was seen throughout WWII in the Third Reich. Coming to this conclusion was very rewarding to me because I finally utilized what I’ve learned in several different classes in real life, and I hope to have more of these moments as I continue to further my education.
Part of the quilt which shows a couple lines of the Lord’s Prayer in German
Krakow is an old but beautiful city filled with charm and character. I couldn’t help but admire the bright and colorful old buildings as I explored the town square, as well as the quaint street food stands that lined the marketplace. However, as I toured different locations throughout Poland, namely Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Oskar Schindler museum, I also couldn’t help but notice a common theme of Polish victimization and claim to national innocence. This was portrayed not only through the museum displays but also the local people and what they believe in.
Colorful buildings within the town square of Krakow.
The first of the two places we visited, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was a very emotional experience and the sufferings and victimhood of both Poles and Jews was very apparent. We were led on a tour throughout the camps by a very informative guide who graduated from the University of Wisconsin who did not shy away from the details of the sufferings of the Jews and the large population of Poland who were killed. Needless to say, the blame of these acts of genocide was placed upon the Nazi regime.
Watch tower inside Auschwitz I concentration camp.
The second of the two places we visited was the Oskar Schindler museum, which was mainly focused on how life was in Nazi- occupied Krakow. Here, we were led on a tour by a local Polish woman who was incredibly informative on the history of her city. However, here is where I started to really notice the Polish claim to national innocence. When explaining the breakout of the war and occupation of Poland she frequently spoke defensively about it, using claims such as “We didn’t have enough time to rebuild after WWI.” Additionally, when asked about Polish complicity with the Holocaust and Nazi regime, she was never able to give us a full answer, never really admitting that this ever occurred. Later, I discovered that Poland had a law which made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi German crimes.
After visiting these sites and participating in tours led by both Americans and Poles, I was able to compare and contrast their perspectives on the history of Poland and World War Two. By doing this, I noticed how the Polish national memory worked itself into museums and how they stressed national innocence during WWII. Being able to see the way national memory plays into the histories of the different countries we visited is crucial in being able to compare the differing perspectives and arriving at an accurate conclusion about what actually happened during WWII.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always known and learned about World War Two. From grade school all the way through my current college courses, we’ve always been taught about how America and the Allied forces fought against the atrocities committed by Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany. I learned about the surrender and German occupation of France as well as the Normandy landings plenty of times and thought that I possessed a clear understanding of these situations. These crucially important moments in history became a simple fact in my brain that occurred in a matter of fact fashion. However, as we traveled throughout France visiting many of these famous historical sites, my perception of these events changed drastically.
The place we visited that had the greatest impact on my perceptions of history was our visit to Omaha Beach. I’ve read plenty of articles regarding the Normandy landings and the many Americans who were slaughtered on Omaha Beach. However, it never really felt real until I was standing on the actual beach. The tide was completely out, and I was able to see how far the soldiers had to run to reach the bluffs. I could see the old hideouts up on the hills where the Germans would have had their weapons ready to defend the high ground. I was able to see how easy it would have been for the Germans to target and kill the American soldiers storming the beach. Seeing this in person was truly surreal and put the Normandy landings into a new perspective to me. I was able to picture the brutality of the battle scene and now understood why so many Americans were killed that day.
Omaha Beach, where we were able to see how treacherous the conditions would have been.
However, my new perspective also included a challenge to what I was conventionally taught in school about the Normandy landings. We learned that the men fought and gave their lives on the beaches out of sheer patriotism. However, after seeing the conditions on the beach itself I doubt that this was completely the case. Contrary to what I’ve been taught, I believe that what really drove the men to storm and secure the beaches was the simple need to survive. The conditions during the landings were dangerous and gave the Germans an advantage, and the soldiers knew quite frankly that they would be killed if they did not fight with all of the vigor that they had and as quickly as possible to secure the area. Visiting these areas in Normandy challenged what I’ve been previously taught and to come to a more realistic interpretation of what happened on these beaches during the Normandy invasions.
I was in disbelief as I stood in the same exact place where so many American soldiers fought and lost their lives.
Throughout history, we generally regard the Second World War as being the British “People’s War”. For Britain, this war was a ‘total war’, meaning that every part of British society was somehow involved in the war. Whether it was the military conscription, air raids, the war economy, or something else that affected daily life in Britain, no British citizen remained untouched by the war; every Brit was in a similar position. Because of this, there was a feeling of unity among the British people as they fought this war together to liberate themselves from the grips of war and to return to their normal ways of life. This is why it is remembered as being a “People’s War.”
As we traveled throughout London, I noticed this experienced embodied within several sites that we visited. The main place I noticed this was within the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of England at the time, but despite this, he viewed himself as being the same as the other British citizens, with the only difference being that he would help lead them all to victory. I saw this evident in many of the exhibits in the museum where Churchill mentioned the Brits being a unity force against the enemy with a common purpose, such as on posters that stated “Let Us Go Forward Together.” However, I noticed this most significantly in the quote from Churchill which states, “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm.” This reinforces the idea that Churchill viewed himself as being the same as the other British citizens, and that he was just a leading force among them that worked towards unity and victory.