Building Back Berlin: A Comrade’s View of German Remembrance – An Interpretive Blog

As we have moved through our journey, I have kept a keen eye on how countries approach all aspects of their war experience, especially regarding resistance and rejection of Nazi ideology. I was most worried about what Germany might look like, unsure what the national approach to recognizing and destroying Nazi ideology was. Yet, at almost every museum, memorial, and even street corners, I was not only impressed but inspired by how Germany faces its history head-on. A chunk of downtown Berlin held a massive architectural memorial for Jewish victims of the violence in Europe – one that a passerby cannot ignore. The memorial is abstract and interactive in simplistic ways and promotes discussion about the terrors of war and the Third Reich. Nearby a university had an underground display commemorating how Nazi’s burned books, and embedded in sidewalks were “Stolpersteine,” brass bricks that denote locations where victims of deportations – mostly Jews – lived, worked, and studied before their lives were turned upside down. I enjoyed learning that many of these memorials are less about tourism but more about reminding German citizens to acknowledge the past of their nation and possibly family. Museums like the Topography of Terror and the Anne Frank Zentrum outlined not only the organization of the perpetrators but also the experiences of the victims, a duality that is necessary when discussing World War Two. It became clear to me that Germany works actively to avoid repeating the past.

Yet, a nation is made up of many individuals, and collective memory is difficult to establish. I was reminded of this in the Berlin Zoo, where I found myself climbing a tower in the playground. Judge me if you want – this was a phenomenal playground. I turned around in the complex and noticed a thick swastika half drawn, half carved into the wall, accompanied by a legible signature. It was clear to me that while German policies and law are very clear in their response to their past, a less promising set of ideas still exists within society. In this way formalities only go so far in conquering bigotry and, in this case, shaping a uniform opinion of the Nazi regime. Grateful that I had my tote bag with me, I grabbed my pen and turned the swastika into a window. Maybe one less swastika is an insignificant change, or maybe it’s a big deal. I’m not sure. What I do know, however, is that there’s one less opportunity for wicked symbolism to ignite hatred within children or otherwise, and I consider that a win.

Pain in Poland: A Comrade’s Journey Through Hell – A Historian’s Blog

At an early age I read Night by Elie Wiesel and the graphic novel Maus. I watched Schindler’s List and The Pianist, and I am blessed to say I have visited Yad Vashem, the world’s premiere Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, a handful of times. Yet, no part of my past truly prepared me to step foot on Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Third Reich’s most deadly killing complex that operated from 1940-45. While I am incredibly grateful for my previous education on the death camps and the terror of the Nazis, no class I have taken nor survivor I have met invoked the same emotions I felt on May 17th as I moved through Auschwitz. As I write this, I feel like I have no more tears left in my body, and my sleeves are blotted with snot from wiping my face dry. I shivered as I walked underneath the infamous arch at Auschwitz’s entrance reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free), and I felt somewhat weak as I moved through courtyards, barracks, gas chambers, and crematoriums. I broke down at the sight of mountains of hair and shoes once belonging to prisoners, with some locks still being braided or curled, further proving the fragility of life and the unthinkable realities that awaited men, women, and children.

There is no doubt in my mind that these grounds stand alone as the source on the Holocaust and attempted extermination of the Jewish people. Sitting at a desk or behind a screen did not allow me to grasp the importance of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The truths of it are, frankly, unbelievable and incomprehensible. The train tracks leading into Birkenau’s extermination camp were significantly longer than any picture has expressed, and the cold, rainy day accentuated the camp’s brutality better than any source I had seen before. Rarely have I felt so strongly about being in the exact location where an event occurred, and I think it’s because of how different being at Auschwitz was from classroom materials, regardless of their accuracy as primary resources.

I have touched the Western Wall and explored the Temple Mount, and recently I have seen some of the most magnificent cathedrals known to mankind. But I can confidently say that today I walked upon the most sacred land I know – one that filled me with fear, anguish, and horror, and yet also an incredible sense of pride to be a Jew. Auschwitz-Birkenau, amongst other death and concentration camps, functioned with the idea that I – a 21-year-old Jew in the year 2023 – would not exist. And I have just walked the exact lands where these ideals ran amuck and almost became a reality. This context shook my perspective of misfortune, leading me to believe I live an unbelievably blessed and beautiful life. If this entire excursion through Europe is not representative enough of this concept, I’m not sure what is.

Silence that Screams: A Comrade’s Time at the Cemetery – A Comparative Blog

Kids. Of the twenty thousand German soldiers buried at La Cambe German War Cemetery in Normandy, France, many were kids. Younger than me, living in a much crazier world than me, and influenced by evils incomprehensible to me. Why was the Nazi army so dependent on kids in the final stretch of the war, and should I mourn for them?

Many of the young boys who had been interacting with the Hitler Youth, the systematic effort to expose children to the ideologies and policies of the Third Reich, were of age to fight by the final years of the war. Kids from the Hitler Youth comprised most of the 12th SS Panzer Division, and they quickly unleashed a fierce rage upon their opponents, leaving civilians raped, towns pillaged, and prisoners massacred.

While I firmly believe many of these young soldiers were fervent Nazis themselves, I also recognize that some children, even those who spent almost a decade in the Hitler Youth, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was rarely a child’s choice if they joined the Hitler Youth – their parents made that decision – and there was a whirlwind of influences that parents dealt with when they made such a choice. Given this nuance, how can I blame a child for his  response to the surrounding environment?

As I moved through the cemetery I thought of these circumstances and attempted to pull pieces of humanity out of the soldiers who lay there. But I questioned why I was trying so hard to find humanity in folks that – as far as I am concerned – refused to see any humanity in me. I was silent, wiping tears from my eyes as I read the graves of young men, unsure if I should mourn the loss of life when their demise might be the reason why I am alive. Ultimately, I couldn’t mourn the death of the soldiers in the German cemetery, not even the kids. A piece of me holds each of them responsible for their own actions regardless of the wild environment they grew up in. That same internal voice tells me that I would not be here if they were, even the sweet, young boys filled with amazing potential before being brainwashed by Nazi rage. I feel like my life is on the line when I wonder about theirs, and every time I must pick mine.

By  comparison, the serenity of the Normandy American Cemetery conveyed  reverence, respect, and admiration.  I felt as if  the sacrifice of these American soldiers guaranteed my life. The clean, white stone at the American cemetery created a serene feeling compared to the dark gray stone that covered the German cemetery, a stormy and gloomy look. Both cemeteries invoked emotion and gratitude, ultimately reminding me of those that came before me and how their deaths, unfortunate or not, gives me the opportunity to live.

G-D SAVE THE KING: A Comrade’s Time at the Coronation – A Contemporary Blog

The loudest crowd reaction I have ever witnessed came as a wave of boos directed at Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, during his introduction at the 2019 draft. Nice? Not in the slightest. Powerful? There’s no doubt. Well, Roger – or rather the draft crowd – recently lost its place atop my list of booming audiences. As King Charles III was crowned, the communal roar of ‘God Save The King’ engulfed me while I stood in Hyde Park on Saturday, May 6. The noise of our crowd and the echoes of surrounding clusters silenced any noise coming from the wind, birds, and rain. Yet as I communicated my unique experience to friends back home, they quickly reminded me that Coronation Day also welcomed many protests. While I stood in a crowd of supporters I was sure that a differing national perspective hit the streets as well, and I wondered how their interaction with the heavy police presence differed from mine. While police lined tight passageways for civilians and celebrities to move throughout the city, they also clashed with protesters along the way. Bright yellow signs were one way to identify protestors; the color easily contrasted the supportive and native blue, red, and white, and messages like “Not My King” and “Abolish the Monarchy” spoke for themselves. Posters covered the streets in the days leading up to the Coronation as well, with many questioning the use of taxpayer funds – well over 100 million pounds – to pay for the ceremony. Discussions regarding royal gems, headlined by India’s call for the return of the Kohinoor diamond, represented a larger debate over British imperialism.

Simply put, the Crown’s relationship with its constituents is far more complex than I had imagined. While I doubt I will ever see another Coronation, I am unsure whether opposition will gain enough steam to fully dismantle the monarchy. I certainly won’t forget the goosebumps that rang through my body as “G-D Save The King” was chanted amidst opposing voices calling out, adding complexity and depth to my interpretation of the Royal family, past, present, and future.

*Two posters that stood out to me during my time in London, showing two differing responses to the Coronation.