Comparing German Depictions

            In the final week of the program, our group traveled to Berlin where we visited museums, monuments, and sites throughout the city. Remnants of the war, and the subsequent Cold War, mark the city and help visitors realize the tollthat both the Holocaust and World War II had on the civilians of Berlin. However, the complicity of individuals and the general German population in World War II and the Holocaust were often in focus, especially at the Wannsee House and the Topography of Terror.

Pictured: Anhalter Bahnhof, a former large train station that was destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII


            The Wannsee House details the Wannsee Conference in which Nazi leaders planned the “Final Solution,” the genocide of European Jewish people at extermination camps. In the Wannsee Protocol the sheer scale of the Nazis’ plan overwhelms visitors, a plan calculated to eliminate eleven million people. Though the Wannsee Protocol avoids using the term ‘genocide,’ the context of previous Nazi policies

Pictured: Nazi discussion of implementing the Wannsee Protocol in occupied nations.

and practices clarifies the true meaning of words such as ‘deportation.’ The Wannsee Conference was held after millions of Jewish people in Europe had already been murdered, and its sixteen participants planned the fates of millions more. Not only the Wannsee planners, but lower-level officers, common soldiers, and members of the police who carried out the Wannsee Protocol were integral to its implementation. Additionally, German citizens who benefitted from the Wannsee Protocol are complicit in the genocidal effects of the plan.


            While visiting the Topography of Terror, a museum on the former site of the primary SS prison in Berlin, one confronts the complicity of German civilians in the atrocities. The SS, a Nazi paramilitary organization, enjoyed nearly unfettered police and military powers and under Heinrich Himmler carried out genocidal policies of the regime. Beginning with exhibits showing that Nazism held great influence throughout Germany, the Topography of Terror displays the complicity of Germans through images such as to the right: nearly an entire audience gives the Nazi salute to Hitler, highlighting the popular support that the Nazi Party enjoyed in 1936. The exhibits then progress through the rise of the SS in Germany and the victims of the brutal organization. As the SS rose along with the backing of the Nazi Party, Germans who supported the regime effectively supported the SS. This support for the Nazi Party also supported the SS concentration camps, extermination camps, and the continuance of the organization’s extra-legal status. After the war, many claimed that the Nazi regime’s oppressive control left Germans no choice but to engage in its genocidal policies; however, exhibits such as the ones displayed in the Topography of Terror refute this claim. With the seemingly unanimous support that the Nazi Party had, it is certain that many supported the SS as well, not only due to the oppressive control of the regime.

          Both museums were good depictions of an event and an organization that greatly affected World War II in Germany. The Topography of Terror, with its early focus on the popularity of the Nazi Party, highlights the complicity of German citizens in Nazi crimes. The Wannsee Protocol’s enormous impact, as displayed at the Wannsee House, causes visitors to contemplate how many people were necessary for its implementation.

Interpreting Poland’s Innocence

            Prior to our European travels, our class spent significant time on Poland’s claim of national innocence concerning the Holocaust and violence against Jewish people during World War II. Poland has dealt with two brutal occupiers throughout much of the past century, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and, perhaps understandably, prefers to pin immoral actions on the occupiers. However, Poland also has a history of violent antisemitism, a history which reached an apex in World War II.  In the Jedwabne massacre described in Jan T. Gross’ Neighbors, and similar pogroms throughout the war, Nazi Germany’s presence allowed centuries of ethnic tensions to be acted upon, against Polish Jews. During this massacre, hundreds of Jewish Poles were humiliated, tortured, and

Pictured: victims of the Holocaust at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

eventually murdered by their own neighbors. Though the massacre was carried out with the basic support of German occupiers, the most egregious offenders were Polish Christians. Pogroms in other areas of Poland were similar to the Jedwabne pogrom, with the worst occurring just after the war in the city of Kielce, about 70 miles from Kraków (Gross 21) (Apple Maps). As pogroms occurred in many regions of Poland, interreligious tensions and violence were not limited to a specific area. Despite this, in the sites that we visited in and around Kraków, I was unable to find many, if any, references to Polish cooperation with Nazi Germany or Polish inter-religious tensions.


            The museums and sites that our group visited in Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Kraków Museum, were not places that I expected to find many displays that highlighted Polish cooperation with Germany. At Auschwitz, I found the exhibits entirely focused upon the terrible reality and sheer loss of life caused by Nazi Germany’s genocidal policies. Nazi Germany brought its hateful beliefs to thethe nations it occupied, but, in these occupied nations, ethnic tensions were already present that could be utilized by the occupier. At the Kraków Museum, I expected more information to be conveyed that acknowledged pre-war and wartime ethnic tensions because I had previously read similar acknowledgements by other European nations. Given Jedwabne is far from Kraków, and the museum focuses upon local history, I did not expect the specific pogrom to be covered, but I expected examples of Polish cooperation or ethnic tensions to be highlighted. Concerning Jewish treatment under occupation, the Kraków Museum highlights the experience of their Jewish residents, before and after being forced into ghettos, and the help that Poles provided to them. I feel that the museum did not put similar effort into highlighting the role that Polish people had in seizing Jewish assets or careers, even though it was a reality. Poland’s failure to significantly acknowledge collaboration with Nazi Germany in this respect, specifically carrying out aspects of Germany’s ethnic policies, is similar to France’s depiction of its collaboration. As France downplays the role of its collaboration with Germany, effectively blaming the worst collaboration on a small group of Vichy leaders, Poland downplays or ignores its collaboration with Germany.

Pictured: The Kraków Museum prefers to highlight examples of Polish Resistance instead of Polish Cooperation


Fallacies of the French Resistance

Throughout the nine days the group spent in France, it was evident that the nation still has not come to terms with World War II. From the Mémorial de Caen to Les Invalides in Paris,  French museums attempted to create a narrative that resistance membership was not only omnipresent but was also successful. Most egregious, near the end of the Mémorial de Caen, a paragraph states “with or without the help of Allied forces, most of France had been liberated by August and September 1944.”

Pictured: the aforementioned quote at the Mémorial de Caen

While it is true that the resistance grew after the Allied Invasion of Normandy, minimizing the impact of the Allies in liberating France is completely dishonest. At Les Invalides, an English language poster welcoming the Allies to France was displayed. Though perhaps the French wanted to show the Allies that they supported their cause, one of its statements is also completely false. The poster states “each Frenchman, according to the means at his disposal, resisted the German oppression.” As the Nazi-aligned Vichy Regime existed, being the de jure government of much of France for a period in the war, collaboration was present and somewhat common among French people.

Pictured: aforementioned poster at Les Invalides



France’s desire to display continued support for the Allied cause is logical. As the impact of Nazi crimes and genocide throughout Europe became evident, French people made an attempt to distance themselves from the truth of their collaboration. Creating a narrative that relies on two central, opposing figures, Charles de Gaulle and Philippe Pétain, France attempts to create a story that aligns with its pre- and post-war republican values.  Claiming a widespread resistance movement inspired by Charles de Gaulle’s speech allows the French museums to convey that their people chose the moral side behind a strong, unifying leader. Additionally, pinning the most brutal French collaboration on Philippe Pétain allows France to downplay their amount of collaboration with Germany. Though both are inaccurate descriptions, it is logical that a historical and modern hub of democratic ideals desires to paint this picture of their wartime experience. France is a nation that is proud of its culture and history, the created wartime narrative allows the nation to be proud of something at arguably its weakest national period. Regardless, France should accurately depict its wartime experience rather than inaccurately inflating the participation of its citizens in a minority, albeit moral, movement.

Pictured: Arc de Triomphe, a national landmark of France

A Contemporary Coronation

The first week of my World War II Study Abroad experience was spent in London, England at a very exciting time in the country. This past Saturday, May 8th, the United Kingdom crowned King Charles III in the nation’s first coronation ceremony in seven decades. Filled with pageantry and spectators, London seemed to be brimming with national pride for the duration of our trip. Symbolizing this national pride, the Union Jack flew over many important streets and buildings throughout Central London, such as over Soho.

The wet weather on the day of the coronation did not keep large crowds from forming, with one watching the ceremony on a jumbotron in Hyde Park.
With his coronation, King Charles inherits the British sphere of influence, the Commonwealth, which is comprised of many former British colonies.  Former British colonies, such as Canada and Australia, had their flags displayed above the final stretch of the procession.
The coronation procession ended at Buckingham Palace. In many ways, the ceremony reminded me of a presidential inauguration in the United States, though with religious elements and comparatively miniscule political power. Overall, having the ability to be in London at this time was really incredible and I cannot wait to see what awaits me in the next countries our group travels to!