German Objectivity

As we walked through the German History Museum, I was surprised by the objectivity of its presentation. Throughout this trip, we have visited numerous museums, each with different methods of presenting information. In my opinion, the French museums glossed over information the most, – indicative of their history of ignoring France’s collaboration and the Holocaust – the Schindler Museum in Poland was the most nationalistic, and the Churchill War Rooms in London were able to be objective because they held no blame in the Nazi narrative. I expected the German museums to be as nationalistic as the Schindler museum and as inexplicit as the Caen Memorial. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

The German History Museum did not conceal the facts of Germany’s past. From the start, the modern war exhibit discussed World War I and explained the German defeat. The displays and audio guide walked you through the Treaty of Versailles and the consequences of the public’s ignorance to the true German position at the end of the war. It explicitly mentioned the anti-Semitism and anti-bolshevism that already existed in German society and how it increased after the war. Being that the German public at the time were entirely ignorant to the means of their defeat, I was happy to see that this is no longer the case.

Further into the exhibit the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist Party was expressed through facts. This was strikingly different from the entrance to the Caen Memorial with its descending stairway to hell. I say “descending stairway to hell” because the entrance to its main exhibit was a downward spiraling ramp that depicted the rise of Nazism as evil. Although facts were presented, the spiral made heavy use of mise-en-scène, a term we discussed in Dr. Davidson’s class. Mise-en-scène refers to a style of visual production that is meant to lead your mind in a particular way. At the Caen Memorial, this was accomplished through a gradual change in the wall’s material, from smooth and white to dark and rough, as well as many pictures, posters and videos of the Nazis rise to power. By the time you got to the bottom of the spiral, you could look up and see the difference between the first, stark white wall and the final wall that resembled a jagged rock. At the German History Museum, there was no such thing. All of the facts were presented in sequence with explanations of their significance, but then you were free to interpret them however you chose.

The contrast between the wall gradient at the beginning of the Caen Memorial to the bottom of the spiral.

The contrast between the wall gradient at the beginning of the Caen Memorial to the bottom of the spiral.

The descending spiral at the Caen Memorial was covered in media showing the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

The descending spiral at the Caen Memorial made heavy use of mise-en-scène. The walls were covered in media showing the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. In this picture you can see the contrast in gradient of the walls. 













The German History Museum’s exhibit was comprehensive. Not only did it include World War I and the Nazi’s rise to power, but also the tactical aspects of the war, the same model of Auschwitz II- Birkenau on display at the camp, and the extensive Nazi propaganda. I was excited to see the posters for films we watched in Dr. Davidson’s class and thoroughly intrigued by the high degree the Nazis went to indoctrinate the German people. There were even dollhouses with pictures of Hitler in their living rooms and wallpaper displaying scenes of Hitler Youth. The Nazis truly tried to cover every audience.

The dollhouses produced during the Nazi Era had framed pictures of Hitler hanging in the living rooms.

The dollhouses produced during the Nazi Era had framed pictures of Hitler hanging in the living rooms.

A poster for La Habanera, a film we watched in Dr. Davidson's class that portrayed the Aryan race as morally superior to others.

A poster for La Habanera, a film we watched in Dr. Davidson’s class that portrayed the Aryan race as morally superior to others.












As I mentioned, there was a scale model of the crematoriums at Auschwitz II-Birkenau included in the exhibit. Although it caught me off guard, I was pleased to see that it was included in the museum. The audio guide we used throughout the exhibit often had a children’s version. So out of curiosity, a few of us listened to the children’s version about the crematorium model to see what the nation was teaching its children. The audio was extremely explicit, using words like murder and describing the process of going from the undressing rooms to the gas chamber to the crematorium. The adult version was even more detailed. Though even we thought this may have been too much for children to handle, we were impressed that the museum was going to such lengths to teach their people from an early age about the Holocaust. Later, Dr. Davidson shared that most German school children are required to visit a holocaust site several times throughout their education as a part of their curriculum. Overall, I was very impressed with the German History Museum’s objective presentation and Germany’s commitment to owning up to its past.


The Hellish Hues

Never could I have anticipated the horror of seeing the camp in color. I expected Auschwitz-Birkenau to be a cold and dreary place – an image I fashioned based on years of only seeing haunting black and white images. So imagine my shock when I passed through the infamous gate and underneath the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” meaning, “Work Sets You Free.” Before me I saw lawns of green grass shimmering in the sunlight, well-groomed trees and red brick buildings lined in an ascetically pleasing row. It was disturbingly pretty – a thought that chilled me to the bones. The bizarre view gave me new insight into how the first deported prisoners who walked through the same gate could have been unaware of their unspeakable fate.

We walked through the same gate that all prisoners of Auschwitz passed through unaware of the hell they were entering. It was a startling experience to see the camp in color, when I had only ever pictured it in black and white.

As we walked through the same gate that all prisoners of Auschwitz passed through I was startled to see the camp in color, shattering my back and white expectation. 

However civilized the camp appeared, it couldn’t disguise the horrors that happened there. I felt almost ghostly as I walked up the road, around Block 11 towards the Black Wall and into the gas chambers. I moved at a soundless, sickened pace knowing that I was walking a route that to millions was the daily monotony of a living hell. I have never been so ashamed to be a human being, to be one of a race so susceptible to evil and capable of destruction.

The previous day we visited the Schindler Museum dedicated to Oscar Schindler, a factory owner who saved over one thousand Jewish lives during the Holocaust. For me, the biggest take-away from this site was the ambiguity that surrounded Schindler’s transition from being a businessman benefiting from the exploitation of inexpensive Jewish laborers to an altruistic guardian. Oscar Schindler, like many others during this time, was an opportunist who bought a factory taken from its previous Jewish owners and quickly began to profit. Although he exploited them, Schindler protected his employees from being deported through his connections within the Nazi Party. After our visit, Professor Davidson posed the question as to why this change of heart. I argued that humans are much more willing to exploit and enslave other humans than to exterminate them. The nature of Schindler’s actions suggests that his turning point was the knowledge that exploitation had become genocide. Once it was clear that the Nazis were not merely “relocating” the Jews, Schindler sheltered those he employed from the trains, fed them hearty meals and helped to preserve their humanity.

Humans have historically enslaved each other for racist and economic purposes – the United States is not an exception. Although the Confederacy was fundamentally racist, slavery was equally needed to maintain the region’s agricultural production at an inexpensive rate. In the Nazis’ case, their impulses were deeply racist with additional economic benefits. The prisoners of the concentration camps provided them with free labor, valuable items that were brought with them, and the opportunity for scientific experimentation. But ultimately, the camps were the means for the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Though the human rights of African Americans were thoroughly violated by slave-owners, racism did not lead to the same horrors performed in the concentration camps. However, our nation’s past is one of many examples of human willingness to exploit others for profit and/or out of prejudice.

The appalling acceptance of slavery and exploitation is not one of the past. Slavery continues to be a global issue in the forms of human trafficking, child labor, sweatshops, and in many other forms – yet we claim to “remember the past so that we don’t make the same mistakes.” Although slavery is now illegal in the United States, capitalistic endeavors to be competitive have led many companies to relocate their factories out of the United States where production is cheaper. Labor laws in many foreign countries allow companies to exploit workers in ways that U.S. law would prevent – a situation that many U.S. companies have taken advantage of to lower expenses. Often times these workers are women and children working long hours for a horrendously small wage in poor working conditions. Still Americans don’t seem to mind. By relocating production, consumers are able purchase their items at a lower price and have an endless supply of choices. Although this particular form of exploitation is not racist, it is powered by greed and profit.

It would be hypocritical to say I’m not a part of this problem – in fact I’m wearing Nike shoes and the Ohio State “Undisputed National Champs” t-shirt produced by Nike as I write this critical piece. My generation’s obsession with labels and need for instant gratification has only perpetuated the problem. As I currently stare at my shoes, I’m overcome with both guilt and hope. I’m ashamed of the swoosh on the sides and what it means for those who produced them, but as I notice the dust kicked up from walking along the train tracks at Birkenau and down the roads of Auschwitz I, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful because after studying the evils of the Holocaust and then making the trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I see in color. An unforgettable color image that will always remind me how easily desensitized we are to atrocities and hardship forced upon others.

Leaving the camp, I shared my shock at seeing the camp in color with my friend Bethany. She shared a similar sentiment, except with her own twist. In her mind, it was striking to see Auschwitz in color because it placed it in the present, whereas her previous black and white conceptions confined the evils to the past. We agreed that although the sight of the luscious green grass and red bricks were pretty, they were equally discomforting. Not only did the black and white images maintain the image that the Holocaust is something behind us, but that it couldn’t happen again. However, seeing the site in person – set up in the same manner, like it could have been functional yesterday – I now know that that is certainly not true. Exploitation, slavery and genocide exist today and I fear that we haven’t learned our lesson.

A Tale of Two Cities: Bayeux and Paris

My French adventure began in Bayeux, a friendly, quaint town where cows outnumber people. Bayeux resembles a village from a fairy tale more than anything else – it was like my childhood dream had come true and I had been transported to the scene from Beauty and the Beast where they all sing “Bonjour” to Belle.

The main street in Bayeux reminded me of a movie set – it truly made me feel like I was in a foreign country.

The main street in Bayeux reminded me of a movie set – it truly made me feel like I was in a foreign country.

My investigation of French culture commenced with our first meal, in true French style. We were first served a cheese tart, then a savory chicken entrée and an apple tart with ice cream for desert. Even during that first meal, the cultural differences were evident. We had been briefed that sharing a meal is very important to the French; therefore it was crucial that we remember to be polite, and attempt to communicate in French as a sign of respect. This respect was mirrored in the servers’ and proprietors’ genuine concern for whether or not you were enjoying your meal. The responsibility the restaurant staff took for your experience was unlike anything I’ve experienced in the United States. However, there is a major difference in status of restaurant staff in France compared to the United States. In France, servers earn a good living and have been educated in the field.

Macaroons were a daily necessities in Bayeux.

Macaroons were a daily necessities in Bayeux…

Along with a miniature cup of coffee!

along with a miniature cup of coffee!

After our first meal, we all decided to venture into town to see the Cathedral de Notre Dame de Bayeux. It was a magnificent sight. Fortunately, that weekend was the Festival of Cathedrals, a time when all the cathedrals across France organize activities including concerts, games and special events. On our first night, we had the opportunity to attend an organ and choir concert, a prayer service and see the Cathedral illuminated by only candlelight. The evening was truly an experience. Not only was I able to admire the beautiful architecture, but also immerse myself in a very prominent aspect of French society: Catholicism.

As a side note: one of my favorite aspects of Bayeux’s culture was that there was a dog in the hotel and almost every store and restaurant in the town. They were beautiful dogs and so well behaved, perching themselves in the doorways to greet you as you came in and out.

 Our hotel’s puppy that we affectionately called “Jacques.”

Our hotel’s puppy that we affectionately called “Jacques.”

After a week in Bayeux, we departed for Paris. My Parisian experience began with the sight of the Notre Dame Cathedral de Paris. After seeing the inside of its Bayeux counterpart, I immediately knew that I wanted to attend a service in the stunning structure. A few days later, a small group of us attended Mass at the cathedral. Although I am not Catholic, I enjoyed sitting quietly and taking in the ritual and beauty of the space. As a lover of music, the songs and acoustics mesmerized me. Being that Catholicism plays a central role in French history, I was happy to have the opportunity to experience it alongside our exploration of French history and art museums, the city and its cultural landmarks.

La Cathedral de Notre Dame de Bayeux

La Cathedral de Notre Dame de Bayeux

La Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris

La Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris

Art is a striking element of French culture. It displays both the value they place on beauty and creativity. We were lucky enough to visit the d’Orsay Museum of Art on a special night where all the museums in the city were open to the public, free-of-charge. The atrium of the museum resembled its former glory as a train station. But instead of being filled with trains, the space was inhabited by sculptures and paintings. As we enjoyed the works of the world’s greatest Impressionist, jazz musicians performing for the special event accompanied our perusal. I had always heard that France had an artistic culture, an observation confirmed by the massive crowd that was in attendance that night – along with the quintessential sight of a Frenchmen oil painting along the Seine River.

Reflecting on my time in France, my greatest challenge was the language barrier. I didn’t struggle in Paris as much as I did in Bayeux. For the most part, the Bayeux locals knew the necessary English for basic exchanges, but my French was limited to the simple yes, no, hello, goodbye, please and thank you. I found myself feeling very rude and ignorant whenever I was unable to communicate with a local. Although they were always very kind and understanding, I couldn’t help but think about all of the times I’ve been frustrated with someone in the United States that doesn’t speak English, and how the French locals were probably a bit frustrated with me. It certainly gave me a new perspective on the language barriers that many immigrants face in the United States – and generally our citizens are not nearly as willing to work with them as the locals of Bayeux were with me.

All You Need Is London

My first views of London appeared as the tube emerged from below ground and coasted along the countryside just outside of the city. Looking out at vast fields of grass and wildflowers, my travel buddy Bethany and I commented on the vibrant shades of green and yellow – we simply don’t have the same hues in Ohio.

A glimpse down the street from Trafalgar Square!

A glimpse down the street from Trafalgar Square!

The colors are not the only things that differ from back home. As our first day commenced we experienced a culture that drives and walks on the left side of the road, sidewalk and hallway, has two pence coins, iconic red telephone booths and double-decker buses, and moves at the speed of light. In London, the locals rush at a peaceful pace. Unlike what I have experienced in New York City, when people pushed past you on the streets or in the Tube, Londoners had an uncanny politeness about them. In the event that they bumped into you, they always apologized or said excuse me before continuing on their way – where in New York City, a local may not even acknowledge your existence. On that same note, a few of us were struck by the number of people reading a newspaper or book on the tube. In the U.S. it seems that everyone is eager to get their hands on the next tablet, phone or computer and to read Buzzfeed articles on Facebook and call them news. It was refreshing to learn that a modern culture can exist in the presence of books and freshly printed-paper.

On the surface, London and New York City are very comparable. Lively and large, both cities are home to multitudes of people and almost as many beautiful buildings. The Shard skyscraper that gleams mysteriously and protrudes from the London skyline bears a striking resemblance to New York City’s Freedom Tower. However, New York City cannot compare with the breadth and depth of the history that London holds. While on the plane I realized that the cities we would explore throughout this trip were older than our country, a fact endorsed by the age of many of London’s buildings. Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and St. Paul’s Cathedral are just a few examples of sites dispersed throughout the city that have outlived our young country by centuries – sites my fellow buckeyes and I traversed throughout the week.

The Shard emerging from behind the Tower of London.

The Shard emerging from behind the Tower of London.

Nevertheless, you can spot an ultra-modern building any way you turn. From the rotunda at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, you can see miles of gleaming skyscrapers intermixed with ancient church steeples and towers. An old building itself, St. Paul’s sits along the Thames River close to the heart of London. After climbing 550 stairs with Bethany hours after we arrived, we gazed out at the city in awe, knowing that our feet would soon be sore but our minds would be alive and actively taking in all that London has to offer. From this point we witnessed the bizarre juxtaposition of buildings along the river: the Shard, Tower Bridge and London Bridge (although like many Americans, we had the two confused at the time), the Globe Theatre, and the London Eye. You can’t get that kind of view from the Top of the Rock.

Our view from the rotunda of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Our view from the rotunda of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I will never forget that moment, leaning on the rotunda’s railing, imagining the trip that is ahead of me. Although I have legally been an adult for almost three years, this moment was the first time that I truly believed that I am an adult. Spending five days in London taught me much about the Second World War, London’s culture, and myself. Printed words from past assignments came to life as I stood in the underground rooms and passageways where Britain waged war and watched the light shine through glass that fills a hole in Westminster Abbey where it was struck during the Battle of Britain. I also observed a city of speed walkers who still found value in reading the newspaper on their daily ride on the tube. Finally, I proved to myself that I am capable of adulthood and ready for the adventure that lies ahead of me – and I don’t just mean exploring France, Poland and Germany in the next few weeks.

A beautiful memorial on a wall in Westminster that speaks to the sacrifice of so many unnamed men and women throughout World War II.

A beautiful memorial on a wall in Westminster that serves as a reminder of the sacrifice made by so many unnamed men and women throughout the Second World War.

Get To Know Me!


My name is Sara Wendel. I am a rising junior at The Ohio State University from Hilliard, Ohio. I am studying Public Management, Leadership and Policy through the John Glenn College of Public Affairs and pursuing minors in History and Economics. I hope to attend law school and become a civil rights attorney. Although it is not my major, I have always been a lover of history and am eager to get a glimpse of the reality of World War II and experience the places that I’ve only read about in books.

On campus, I am a University Ambassador, an active member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta and the student organization Advocates for Women of the World. Additionally, I formerly participated in the Undergraduate Student Government and the Women’s Glee Club. Each of these organizations has given me opportunities for leadership within committees. As a result, I have become very passionate and committed to raising awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses along with many fellow Buckeyes.

I am incredibly excited and blessed to be participating in such an amazing program as this one, and for the opportunity to see and appreciate the history that Europe has to offer, especially in regards to World War II. Some highlights of the trip that I am excited to visit are the Churchill War Rooms in London, walking along the Utah and Omaha Beaches, touring Auschwitz and the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. In my free time, I am excited to visit the Warner Brothers Studios in London where the Harry Potter series was filmed, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum in Paris.

I am looking forward to writing more about my trip soon!

Go Bucks,

Sara Wendel