As I stepped onto the bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau I attempted to mentally prepare myself for what I knew would be one of, if not the most, difficult day of the program. However, no amount of meditation could have possibly prepared me for what would happen once I stepped through the gates of a place where so many had lost their lives to the cruelty of the Nazis.


Immediately I was startled by the amount of tour busses in the parking lot.  For a moment I forgot I was also there for a tour.  The entrance was located next to various snack bars and a place to buy books and small souvenirs.  I was shocked by the amount of people standing near the entrance.  I could barely walk there were so many people.  The amount of school children running around and playing near the entrance confused me.  Were they too young to comprehend what had happened just meters away?  Was it a cultural difference?  Why did their teachers not even flinch at their behavior?  I never found an answer that sat well.


The entrance gate to Auschwitz I (photograph taken from

The entrance gate to Auschwitz I (photograph taken from

I had seen countless photographs documenting the camp, especially of the entrance gate to Auschwitz I which reads, “Arbeit macht Frei.”  In English this means “Work will make you free.”  Something I hadn’t considered was the fact I had never seen a color picture of the site.  The black and white pictures I had seen in school had given me a much more antiquated picture of the camp in my head.  Around the gate I could see green grass and sunlight shining through the leaves of the trees.  The buildings in Auschwitz I were much more fortified than I had pictured.  At one point it crossed my mind that it was almost pretty, which made me feel absolutely sick to my stomach.  I lifted my camera to capture the image of the gate, but after I took the picture I felt guilty and incredibly disrespectful.  For the rest of the visit I kept my camera in my bag partially due to the guilt I was experiencing, but mostly because I felt I needed to see through my eyes rather than the lens of a camera.  The group began to cross through the gate and I felt my stomach begin to tighten up.  As I heard the gravel shift under my feet it was difficult to get the image of the 1.1 million lost lives out of my head.


Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was guided.  Our guide was very informative, but it was clear he had a script he was required to follow.  Polish nationalism was evident in his presentation.  He talked about Nazi terror, but did not mention other parties involved in running the camp.  He also made a point to stress that Jews were not the only victims.  In addition, the script was filled with emotionally charged words and phrases.  For example, the word “murder” was used often and a few times the guide asked us to imagine walking down the path knowing we would never see our families again.  The museum clearly wants its visitors to view the camps as a site of Nazi terror against the people of the world rather than as the site of the Holocaust most people tend to think of it as.


Two tons of human hair taken from inmates of the camp (photograph taken from

Two tons of human hair taken from inmates of the camp (photograph taken from

Similar to my experiences at Omaha and Utah Beach, it was difficult to picture Auschwitz I as it was while it was open.  I felt somber, but when we walked into the main exhibit of Block 4 I lost my composure entirely.  Before we walked in our tour guide informed us the room was one of two where picture taking was not permitted, and that we would know why when we stepped inside.  I was the fourth person from our group to step inside the room.  A glass panel stretched over the entire wall.  After a few moments of staring I realized I was looking at a mountain of human hair.  Our tour guide informed us that when the camp was liberated by the Soviets, they found seven tons of hair.  Only two of those tons are on display for visitors.  During the years the camp was open the hair was used to make fabric that was then used to make uniforms or to line boots to make them warmer.  The tour guide emphasized the fact that the Nazis had essentially harvested what they needed before sending these people off to their death.  The rooms that followed displayed massive piles of glasses, shoes and kitchenware.  However, it was the hair that affected me the most.  The other piles were devastating to look at, but the hair is part of the body.  Over 7 tons of hair had been taken from people.  A business was made off of the hair of people who were killed.  I couldn’t look away.  I couldn’t stop the tears. I wanted nothing more than to throw up.


The inside of a brick barrack (photograph taken from

The inside of a brick barrack (photograph taken from

We continued the tour in Auschwitz II.  We walked along the unloading platform and walked the path that so many took to their death after failing the selection process.  The huts seemed to stretch on as far as I could see.  The guide shared that there had been plans to build two more sections of barracks, but the war had ended before they could be constructed.  We walked into a barrack used as a temporary holding area for women.  Each “bed” had three levels and each level had to hold 8-10 people.  The building was made out of brick, and there was no real air ventilation.  There were about twenty of us in the building, and I was still warm.  I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for the victims of the camp.


The bus ride home from the camp was very quiet.  The Holocaust has always been a subject of interest for me, so I was anxious to see how being in the camp would change my perspective. Even though I was in the camp, I still can’t quite fathom how humanity was capable of carrying out such destruction.  I can’t wrap my head around the amount of life that was lost.  After standing on the railroad tracks where so many said goodbye to their loved ones for the last time I realize that the horrors of the Holocaust were larger than I could have ever imagined.  Walking through the camp is a very personal experience, and it left me speechless.  I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to pay my respects in such a solemn place.

Preserving Humanity’s Darkest Hour

I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland and attended our local public schools every year beginning in Kindergarten. In 8th grade, we spent a quarter of the school year studying the Holocaust in Language Arts. In 9th grade, I read Night by Elie Weisel and studied other Holocaust writings in class. In addition to this, almost every history class I’ve taken has included the study of the Holocaust. Through all of these classes, I have learned a lot of facts and numbers. I could tell you that 11 million people died during the Holocaust or that the major death camps instituted by the Nazis were located in Poland. Though very informative, this learning only achieved so much. Years in the classroom only offer so much. I lacked the historical understanding that would help me grasp the worst crime in human history. That changed when I spent the day visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.


For the first time, the World War II study abroad program made a stop in Krakow, Poland. Making a stop in Poland has been something that has interested me since my acceptance into this program. When I told people where I was going to study abroad, they were always very interested to here that I would be traveling to Poland. And if they were interested to here about my travels to Poland, they were amazed to here that I would be traveling to Auschwitz. The name itself conjures a reaction without anything else being said. Being at the camp helped me to realize the challenges that it faces. One of the most difficult tasks of the employees is to maintain the inventory and buildings that the Nazis so desperately wanted to be destroyed.


In the original Auschwitz camp, the horrors of mass extermination were put right in front of my eyes. We walked through buildings that contained items the Nazis stole from Jews and other groups sent to Auschwitz upon arrival. There were pots. There were eyeglasses. The most moving parts were a room full of shoes and a room full of 2 tons of human hair. In the face of such a scene, I had trouble comprehending what I was seeing. It was hard to even imagine that each pair of shoes and every strand of hair belonged to a real person who was killed in the Holocaust. When we went block 11 and I saw a small room that people were crammed in to and left for dead I didn’t want to believe it. We passed by small brick rooms where four people were forced to stand for days on end without being able to move or sit down. We walked out back to the wall where the SS tortured and shot prisoners. We saw the gallows where they hung prisoners in front of other inmates in order to instill fear and obedience in the others. We saw for ourselves the gas chambers where the Nazis forced hundreds of thousands of Jews into a small room and then proceeded to kill them with poisonous gas. How is it possible for someone in the modern day to even imagine these horrors? What are we supposed to make of something that doesn’t even happen in our worst nightmares? For this reason, we need to do our best to remember. And for this reason, the camp must be maintained.


I saw workers in Auschwitz I (the original concentration camp that I have mentioned) working on the restoration of a building. In Birkenau (the death camp built after the Nazis decided on the “final solution”), some of the barracks are in danger of collapsing. I read that millions of dollars are spent on preserving this site along with some of the most skilled employees the country has to offer.

The front gate of Auschwitz reads Albeit Macht Frei meaning "Work Sets You Free"

The front gate of Auschwitz reads Albeit Macht Frei meaning “Work Sets You Free”

Remembering our past is not always easy. But it must be done. We have to keep the train tracks where the Nazis hauled in prisoners in cars that were cramped to the point of not being able to turn around. We have to keep the path where prisoners who were deemed unfit to perform slave labor were pointed to in order to be escorted to the gas chambers. I was numb as I visited these locations. I really didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to shake my head and hide from this horrible truth. We can only come to terms with history’s most horrific events when we face them head on. The important thing was that I was actually at the camp and only that allowed me to more fully comprehend the terror of the Holocaust.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau) is the large-scale extermination camp built in 1941.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau) is the large-scale extermination camp built in 1941.

It was a sunny day in Auschwitz. The parking lot was full of buses and cars that had transported visitors to the camp. Other cars drove straight by the camp. The horrors of the camp may not have even been present in their mind as they passed the rows of barracks and remains of gas chambers. One way or another, the Polish town of Oswiecim had to move on just like the rest of the world. However, moving on does not mean forgetting. The Nazis wanted these crimes to be erased. They blew up gas chambers in Birkenau in hopes that their crimes would also disappear. The memorial that the camp has become is clear evidence that the people who do the work of preserving this camps ghastly inventory have not forgotten. Now, it is up to the rest of the world to follow.

Tears for the Victims

Train entrance into Auschwitz from within the camp.

Entrance into Auschwitz from within the camp.

No words can describe it. Walking the same path as hundreds of thousands of Jews who were sent to their deaths, I felt an eerie calm. Auschwitz is the most notorious concentration camp from World War II, with over a million people systematically eliminated within its electrified fences. I’ve seen people break down in tears just hearing about the atrocities that occurred in this place, but to stand where thousands had before me waiting for death, is a completely different experience. Of the three camps that were in Auschwitz, I had the opportunity to visit two of them: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau II.

Standing before the gates of Auschwitz I, I see the infamous words “Arbeit macht frei,” Work makes you free. The irony of the phrase is sickening. As I went through the brick buildings

The words "Arbeit Macht Frei" above the gates into Auschwtiz I

The words “Arbeit Macht Frei” above the gates into Auschwtiz I

that lined the paths, I realized that I couldn’t even begin to imagine what went on here. Looking at thousands of shoes and realizing each shoe belonged to someone who has long since perished would get to any sensible human, but seeing a room with literally several tons of hair, that was practically ripped out of the heads of innocent people, left me speechless. Belongings that were taken from people are piled up in rooms in building after building. If that wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, walking through Block 11, where they tortured Jews, will be. Claustrophobic spaces, where dozens of Jews suffocated and starved to death, and even the incinerator has been preserved so visitors can get an idea just how inhumane the Nazis’ methods were. Sad as it was, this camp was the smallest of the three and focused mostly on experimentation instead of extermination.

After a short drive from Auschwitz I, lies the largest camp within the complex: Auschwitz II Birkenau. Driving in, I saw the very arches where trains went into the camp. Looking around, there were countless chimneys and remains of

Ruins of Incinerator II

Ruins of Incinerator II

what was once the wooden structures that housed thousands of prisoners. As I looked around, I was informed that I was standing in the very place where people saw their families for the last time. I crossed the tracks that brought the trains right into the camp and walked the very path of those who had been sentenced to death straight towards the ruins of Incinerators II and III. Despite their efforts, the Nazis were unsuccessful in destroying all the evidence and the incinerators’ remains give a glimpse of what occurred. Some might consider those sent to the gas chambers lucky, they faced a quick death. Those who were selected to survive faced something even worse than death.

A portion of the barracks that housed thousands of Jews.

A portion of the buildings that housed thousands of Jews.

It’s hard to grasp just what transpired within the camp. The bitterness and hatred can still be felt within the camp after all these years. But the most tragic thing to me is the fact that it’s unknown exactly how many have died in the camps. The majority of the records were destroyed, and many Jews weren’t even accounted for before they perished. With keeping this in mind and after all I was exposed to at the camps, I was going into sensory overload. I found it fitting that at the end of my time at Auschwitz, it began to rain. It seemed as if even the skies above were shedding tears for the victims of the monstrosities that occurred at Auschwitz.





Photo of the entry gate at Auschwitz (Picture taken from

Photo of the entry gate at Auschwitz (Picture taken from

The pebbles crunched under our feet as we walked under the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate into Auschwitz. Large green trees accompanied the lines of brick buildings as we made our way to Block 4, the first of many stops along our tour. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. But even on such a beautiful day, I couldn’t help but to think about all the torture and torment so many innocent people went through in this exact spot.

Auschwitz was the largest death camp in Nazi Germany during World War II. It was here that between 1.1 and 1.3 million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, and many more fell victim to Nazi violence and cruelty. Since the closing of the camp, it has opened to the public for viewing. In 2014, 1.5 million people visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps. Since the year 1945, the site has had over 44 million visitors.

Going into the tour I had no idea what to expect, but I definitely did not expect Auschwitz to be such a tourist attraction. On one hand, it was great to see that so many people have an interest in visiting such an important site of suffering. But on the other hand, I was not expecting a grand commercialization of such a sacred place.

The tour guide took us through the different blocks at the camp, we were able to see all of the belongings that people brought with them, their typical living quarters, and punishment cells. The personal items on display included real human hair, glasses, shoes, suitcases, prayer shawls, and pots and plans. Our tour guide mentioned how the Nazi’s would profit from the deaths by using the victims’ hair to make thread. This made my stomach churn thinking about how absolutely everything was exploited from these innocent people. The punishment cells were located in Block 11. In the basement were regular cells, dark cells, or standing cells. The prisoners would be put in these for ridiculous reasons, and for some the punishment cells meant certain death.

Seeing the places where the Jews were housed, the gas chamber and crematorium, and many blocks, I could not imagine how awful the conditions were and how they must have felt. Up to 700 people could be held in one building at Birkenau and the conditions were horrendous. Cockroaches would cover the prisoners as they slept at night, with no protection from the extreme heat or extreme cold.

I think the most eye-opening fact presented by the tour guide was that the prisoners had to be tattooed because they would be so starved and beaten down in such a short amount of time that the guards wouldn’t be able to recognize their picture. To be stripped of all belongings and of your identity has to be one of the most dehumanizing acts one could face. From the time the prisoners walked through that same gate I did on that perfect May afternoon, they were no longer a human being, but instead a number. It definitely hit me to think about the unimaginable struggle the Jews and other prisoners had to go through during their time at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The experience of seeing Auschwitz in person will forever change my perspective of the Holocaust and of World War II.

Welcome to Krakow!

My first glimpse of Krakow. Many people enjoy the beautiful Monday afternoon by sunbathng by the Vistula river.

My first glimpse of Krakow. Many people enjoy the beautiful Monday afternoon by sunbathing by the Vistula river.

When I first arrived in Krakow I have to admit, I did not know what to expect; maybe if I had bothered to google the city before I left, I may have had an idea of what Krakow was like before I arrived. This year was the first time that the World War II study abroad program has added a Poland leg of the trip so I did not even have the experience of a previous year to reference. I had a couple of different assumptions of what Krakow might be like. On one hand I thought it might be another Bayeux: a storybook village in the middle of a nowhere that offered more charm than actual things to do. I also could not help but picture what I feel many people imagine when they think of an eastern European town: a grey urban center filled with identical dilapidated apartment buildings left over from the Cold War era. Let’s face it, it was probably a bit of a misstep on my part to go into this city completely blind.

Cloth Hall, which dates back to the 13th century, is the central feature of the main market square in Krakow.

Cloth Hall, which dates back to the 13th century, is the central feature of the main market square in Krakow.

Krakow turned out to be neither of those assumptions and I happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I got. Krakow is a city filled with vibrancy and life. My first glimpse of what life in Krakow was like came when, as we drove into the main part of the city, I spotted a number of younger people sunbathing by the Vistula River that runs through the city. Once we got a chance to go out and explore the city some more I found a sprawling green park, brightly colored buildings, a number of restaurants and shops, and a large outdoor market space in the city square. Already within a few minutes of being in Krakow and both of my assumptions of the town were already proven false. Krakow is not a tiny village but a large metropolitan area with a lively city center and filled with a surprising number of people around my age; I was wrong again in assuming that the majority of the population would be on the older side.

The streets of Krakow are a beautiful mix of old world and new world. St. Mary's Basilica- originally built during the 13th century -rises up in between the modern buildings of Krakow.

The streets of Krakow are a beautiful mix of old world and new world. St. Mary’s Basilica- originally built during the 13th century -rises up in between the modern buildings of Krakow.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about Krakow is that it’s a city that mixes modernity and medieval and makes it work. The city is a patchwork of modern buildings, Gothic cathedrals, and medieval castles. In some places across Europe I’ve noticed similar mixes of the past and the present in the architecture but nowhere else has it worked as nicely as it does in Krakow.

The only real complaint I have about the city seems to be when it comes to currency. For whatever reason the smallest bill the ATM’s are able to give out are a 50 zloty bill. That would not be a big issue if it weren’t also for the fact that change at restaurants and shops across town seem to be hard to come by, which makes paying for things a bit of a headache. But if the minor currency issue is the only complaint I have about Krakow, it goes to show how lovely of a city Krakow really is.

Part of the courtyard of the beautiful Wawel Castle. Wawel Castle- originally built in the 14th century -is today historically and culturally important site in Poland.

Part of the courtyard of the beautiful Wawel Castle. Wawel Castle- originally built in the 14th century -is today both a historically and culturally important site in Poland.

Auschwitz-Birkenau as a Tourist Destination

The Nazi concentration and death camps known simply as Auschwitz-Birkenau are a top tourist destination for visitors of Kraków, Poland.  Before I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, I didn’t imagine the small Polish town of Oświęcim where it is located to receive the amount of visitors it does each year.  I was shocked to see advertisements throughout Kraków saying “Auschwitz day tour” and “cheap shuttles to Auschwitz,” as I was not expecting it to be a tourist attraction.  When we got to Auschwitz-Birkenau my preconceived ideas were wrong.



The ticketing area of Auschwitz-Birkenau was full of large groups of people – including ourselves – speaking different languages and waiting for their turn with their guide to tour the grounds.  Although most of the people seemed to be schoolchildren, I did notice some Jews who were wearing shirts with the name of the organization that brought them on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Around the main entrance there was a gift shop that sold books and posters (yes, posters) about the Holocaust, a snack bar, and a post office to send your Auschwitz-Birkenau postcards home right away.

When we were on the tour, there were many people taking photographs of everything as if it were just a normal tourist destination.  As for myself I limited my photographs to the outside of the camps rather than the artifacts on the interior to be able to take in their significance and out of respect for the victims.  When we were walking through the old camp barracks that were renovated into museum buildings there were specific rooms that held artifacts where visitors were not allowed to take photographs.  These buildings were packed full of people, and we had to walk in lines on the left and right through the building to be able to see everything and yet not cause chaos.  On our tour other visitors continued to take pictures of these artifacts as our tour guide yelled at them to turn off their cameras several times.  Maybe these visitors didn’t speak Polish or English and didn’t understand our guide’s orders to turn off their cameras.  When we went inside of the Crematorium I located at the original Auschwitz camp, I noticed a teenage girl taking a video for her Snapchat.  It made me think about how society has become that we have to live-feed everything on social media, rather than experiencing the moment.

In my opinion, part of the problem is that many people are visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau as tourists with limited knowledge on the Holocaust and therefore not in the right mindset to be at such a place.  Indeed, some disrespectful people etched graffiti inside one of the prisoner barracks at Birkenau.  This barrack was used to hold prisoners before they were to be sent to the gas chambers.  In this barrack people wrote their different words and phrases, as well as hearts with couples’ names in the middle, on the walls which was shocking to me.  I am fortunate enough to have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau after a semester of studying the history of World War II and the Holocaust, which enhanced my experience and appreciation for the things I saw.

IMG_8349 (1)

Graffiti Inside the Prisoners’ Barrack

The main problem I see is that there is a difference between visitors coming to educate themselves and pay their respects and tourists wanting to site-see.  Auschwitz-Birkenau has had problems with tourists in the past, most notably the girl who took the infamous Auschwitz Selfie that caused outrage as it went viral on social media.  The most logical solution to me to solve this problem is to not allow visitors to bring cameras onto the grounds, and hope people come with an understanding of the camps’ historical and cultural significance to the world.  I don’t think they should close Auschwitz-Birkenau to visitors, but rather find a way to monitor visitors’ actions better to create a more respectful atmosphere.

It is also the decision of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum which image of themselves they want to project to the public, whether that be a memorial site or tourist attraction.  After my visit I would argue they seem a lot like a tourist attraction from the way they advertise and sell souvenirs.  Most memorials don’t have an entrance fee or gift shop.  In addition, I believe that they want to be a tourist attraction due to the fact that at the end of our tour our guide asked us to like/follow Auschwitz-Birkenau on Facebook and Twitter.  Auschwitz-Birkenau is a great example of how we can turn anything into a money making venture, even the most solemn of places.

What Krakow’s Central Square Reveals about Poland

Krakow City Center Picture One

Krakow’s central square in the evening. A statue is in the center of the photograph and a small shopping area is behind it.

It isn’t easy to say what makes Poland, Poland. For me, the best way to describe the country is through detailing Krakow’s central square as I sit there. The streets at the center of Krakow are lined with what almost looks like cobblestone, and, being from a country with few such roads, I noticed them immediately for the unevenness it produced in my walk. Many of the stones are gray, speckled, and rectangular. But in the very center of the square, the stones are worn, chipped, and dark red. They seem to have been walked over for many, many years. These old stones surround a statue that rises in gray tiers and holds several figures draped in a metal that has been aged green. The buildings around the square are painted in various vibrant colors: pink, yellow, red, and green among others. Many of the top edges of building facades rise and fall in old looking architecture. Many of the facades’ peaks hold the vestiges of older times, supporting what look like golden urns, gargoyle heads, and winged creatures. The deep history of the place seems to show itself at every corner.

Krakow City Center Picture Three

The old architecture found on the top of the facades of buildings. Here, objects resembling urns and a winged creature can be seen.

Now, I can hear the voices of a choir singing from across the square. The choristers are robed in white, and a simple, wooden cross stands behind them. A sprawling cathedral rises high behind their stage. Its face is brick and the windows appear Gothic. A golden flag or cross caps every pinnacle on the structure. A sign hanging above an entrance reads “Prayer Only” and it seems to be an attempt to prohibit wandering tourists from entering impiously. Across the square from the church, on the front wall of a restaurant, a large painting of the Virgin with Child guards the entrance. Just today, while walking to this spot in the square, I saw several nuns, monks, and priests, walking toward the concert I hear now. In the bazaar-like structure near the square’s monument, many of the items for purchase are paintings and carvings of Jesus, Mary, various other Christian figures, and crosses. The country’s Catholicism is plainly visible in the square.

Krakow City Center Picture Two

The cathedral in the right corner of the central square. Choristers are on the stage in front of the church. The concert has just begun and the crowd is growing steadily. 

I have heard many languages sitting on this bench as conversing people pass by. Much of the writing around the square, such as on signs, menus, and in shops, is in multiple languages. English is prominent among them. The songs I have heard playing from radios have often been in English. Restaurants promoting food from different places are on the square: Italian, American, and Mexican. Yesterday, I was looking at tea cups at a shop on the square. I was hoping to find one with Polish writing to take home, and I took one up to the counter to ask what language it was in: French. Neither of us knew what it said. And the people have been very nice to me. They do not seem to mind trying to speak English and have usually been very helpful. Diversity seems to be accepted in Poland, even enjoyed. Yet, I have noticed an almost indescribable pride among the people for their nation. Much still remains distinctly Polish around the square. Most of the many, many restaurants around me seem to promote their traditional Polish food. And yes, I am sure they are accommodating tourists eager to get their fill of Polish cuisine. But it seems like more than that in regards to the food, and in regards to everything else. To leave the square briefly, the Polish guide we had at the Schindler Museum and the museum itself seemed to reflect this situation. The guide pointed to two particular

Krakow City Center Picture Four

The painting of the Virgin Mary with Child hanging above the door to a restaurant on the central square.

pictures as we walked into one room of the museum filled with photographs. The prewar photographs of two black children hung on the wall among many other faces, an example of Poland’s prewar diversity, and an example of why Poles should be proud of Poland.

This lively square in the center of Krakow shows much, I think, about Poland. It reveals its long history and tradition, its vibrancy and its color. It shows it religious roots. It brings out its diversity and acceptance. And it reveals its beauty. I have seen and heard its beauty this evening. The square, though darkening, is animated with happy, talkative people. The Madonna and Child is still visible in the glow of the restaurant’s firelights below. And the piano behind me has stopped playing, for now, to give way to the Alleluia that spills proudly and piously from the crowd and the choir beneath the crosses of the church across the square.


After visiting Auschwitz I do not think I can look at the Holocaust or World War II the same as I did before seeing the concentration and death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. No book, picture or anything else can compare to actually seeing the camp in person. Reading about the Holocaust and seeing pictures does not truly represent the feelings and thoughts that I had while there and afterwards.

While in the camp I was speechless. I was looking not at just suitcases, eyeglasses, pots and pans and other personal objects people brought to the camp. I was looking at someone’s suitcase or other personal and valuable items that were important enough to them that they brought them for starting their new life. That realization was very evident with seeing the names on the suitcases.

In one hallway the walls were covered with pictures of the prisoners with the date they entered the camp and then the date they died if they did not survive the camp. At first I was looking at every face and every date. By the time we left the hallway, I was just looking at the dates and imagining how someone could have survived. The guide pointed out several pictures on the wall for people who only lived one night. We were told that the reason why the prisoners were tattooed with their numbers at only Auschwitz was because the pictures originally taken of them would no longer be able to identify the person. Starved and repeatedly beaten, inmates quickly grew unrecognizable. The walls on both sides of the hallway were covered in these pictures and it was moving to see individuals. The holocaust usually is talked about with mass numbers because the number of people killed was on such an unimaginable scale. The tour guide made sure to point out individuals and tell personal stories that survivors have shared where the individuality is seen.

The guide took us into a room with two tons of hair in it. He explained that when the camp was liberated there was three times the amount of hair that is currently displayed for visitors. When the camp was liberated the hair would not have been on display. It would have been stored somewhere waiting to be used for the war effort.  I was not prepared to see two tons of hair. The hair was much more touching and terrifying than anything else up and until that point of the tour. The next area had pots and dishes in it. It was terrifying to know that before liberation the Nazis started a fire to try destroy and cover up the war crimes.

After leaving Auschwitz I had a feeling that what I saw was surreal.  Seeing the reconstructed gas chamber and crematorium was so terrible and moving. I could not imagine how terrifying it would have been for all the victims who died in there. Even walking into the buildings /where 700 or more people would have slept . I could not truly imagine the living conditions and what it must have been like to try to survive in the hellish conditions. The building afforded little protection. It was was not heated or well ventilated. We were told that the building would be about the same as the outdoor temperature. The most horrific part of the building was a story a survivor told of a night living there. A twelve year old boy  woke up and thought that the people next to him had a blanket. They were not given blankets so that was odd. The man then realized that it was cockroaches. These living conditions and the inhumanity was unbelievable that people could subject anyone to the conditions that were present at the camp.

The worst part of visiting Auschwitz was when the tour guide told us that the one crematoria and gas chambers was closed because it could not kill enough people at once. That was why the crematorium numbers two and three where used. They could kill more people at once. After seeing the reconstructed crematorium number one and seeing how many people it killed at once it was hard to imagine the ruble of crematorium numbers two and three being larger and build just to kill people faster. Overall, seeing Auschwitz really changed my perspective on the Holocaust and what life was like for the people who were forced to live and die in the concentration and death camps.  Seeing the housing rooms and gas chambers with crematorium really made me realize just how terrible it was in a camp. Seeing the pictures of a small select few of individuals who were at the camp added a personal touch to know that everything that happened there was not statistics but happened to actual people and added a personal sense to the holocaust for me.

Paris: As Seen By Me

When we first drove into Paris, I was disappointed. The city looked nothing like I had expected. The metro was old and confusing, and the streets were small and filled with perplexing traffic. I was surprised by the number of people that smoke in Europe, and especially Paris. I saw people of all ages, ethnicities, and classes smoking. During one dinner, I was sitting next to a man who was continuously blowing smoke onto my pizza, and it was not a pleasant experience. The smokers in Europe makes me wonder if they have the same level of anti-smoking education as schools do in the United States. I saw a lot of boarded up shops, homeless people, street vendors selling cheap and low quality wares, and some seemingly unsafe neighborhoods. Of course, these things exist in every major metropolitan area, but Paris is shown as a romantic city that is better than all other cities.

After the initial let down, I discovered the beauty of Paris. I saw things that I had dreamed of seeing for years: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Pont Bir Hakiem (the bridge from Inception).


The style of the French people is beautiful and sophisticated, as are their buildings and their use of poetry. The Eiffel Tower was all that I dreamed it would be, except that it was very geared towards tourists with multiple street vendors and long ticket lines. The Louvre was incredibly extensive, so much so that I could go there five times and discover something new and wonderful with each visit. Katie Holman, Kelly Pilarski and I walked around for hours and only saw the Italian and Spanish paintings, sculptures from assorted areas around the globe, Napoleon III’s apartments, and a few other small sections. The diversity of people at both of these popular sites was astonishing. There were tourists from all around the world, speaking different languages and some wearing their traditional dress, like saris and dashikis. However, even with all of the diversity, we ended up sitting next to a group of Ohio State students at the Eiffel Tower. The university was right when they said that there are OSU students and alumni all over the world.


Everywhere I turned in Paris, there was a monument or plaque commemorating an event in French history. There was a memorial to an unknown soldier of World War I under l’Arc de Triumph that had an eternal flame and beautiful flowers. I saw multiple plaques on street corners in rememberance of resistance fighters who had been killed at that spot, not to mention the Memorial of the Deportation where I gave my site report. This memorial was in memory of everyone who was deported from France to Nazi concentration camps under the Vichy Regime, and it was located near Notre Dame.


The memorial to the unknown soldier

Paris was a fascinating and unique city, but don’t be fooled by the media. You probably won’t find true love under the Eiffel Tower.

The French: Celebrators and Criticizers of the French Liberators

Post card featuring the "Welcome our Liberators" phrase.

Post card featuring the “Welcome our Liberators” phrase.

World War II began on September 1,1939; about a year later one of the major global powers, France, fell to the powerful German forces. In almost every history class I have taken, my teacher has found a way to make the French the punch line of a joke because of France’s fall in 1940. Four years passed before Allied forces finally liberated the French. Between its fall in 1940 and its liberation in 1944 there has been a debate about whether there was predominate French collaboration with the Germans or predominate French resistance. The impression I have always been under is that for the most part, the French could be considered collaborators. The Germans seemed to be well on their way to taking over the entirety of Europe, and the French needed to figure out how they would fit into Germany’s new empire. Or so the story goes in the American narrative I grew up learning. The French narrative is a bit messier. This was extremely evident when comparing the town of Bayeux to the Caen Memorial Museum we visited.

On Saturday May 14 we made the transition from the fast-paced city of London to the quieter, slower-paced Bayeux. Bayeux is about forty minutes away from the beaches where the Normandy Invasion took place. Even though D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944, almost 71 years ago, the events of the invasion still seem to be fresh in the minds of the people of the surrounding area.

Bayeux itself is not very big. Therefore, it was very easy to walk around and get a good sense of the city. The more I explored the city, the more I began to notice the same phrase. It read, “Welcome to our Liberators.” I saw this phrase in the windows of several restaurants scattered throughout the city, on the doors to the Welcome Center of the British cemetery, and even on postcards at a souvenir shop. Obviously the liberators this phrase is referring to are the Americans, the British and the Canadians.

The phrase “Welcome to our Liberators” seems to contradict what I was presented with about the French national narrative of World War II that was present in the Caen Memorial Museum. There were several things I liked about this museum, the first being the overall setup. I liked that the pre-war exhibit made visitors feel like they were descending into hell gradually. The flooring changed, the walls went from smooth to rough, but the changes were subtle enough so you didn’t really notice the changes until you had descended quite a ways. To me, this helped the visitors get a visually accurate representation to how the war started. There were seemingly small, insignificant things happening that led to WWII rather than the abrupt beginning that many histories of the war still seem to have.


The plaque talking about French liberation.

However, what I found frustrating in the museum was that it celebrated the French resistance too much and seemed to downplay the role of the other Allies, especially in regards to D-Day. In the museum’s section on D-Day there was a phrase that stuck out to me in particular, it was on one of the plaques hanging on the wall. It read: “With or without the help of the Allied forces, most of France had been liberated by August and September 1944.” This phrase downplays the significance the Americans, British and Canadians had in the French liberation and gives much of the credit to the French resistance. While there was French resistance it was not so significant as the Caen museum would lead you to believe.

The juxtaposition between what I saw in the museum and what I saw around Bayeux leads me to believe that the French still are struggling with how they want to remember World War II. While on one hand its difficult for such a large global power to admit that it needed help


“Welcome to our Liberators” as seen in the window of a local restaurant.

liberating itself, it still needs to be acknowledged. This is why I feel like I saw so many “We welcome our Liberators” throughout Bayeux. The phrase was found in random places, almost seeming to blend in to the surroundings. This is the French way of saying that they know how big of a role others played in their liberation without having to completely admit it in their national narrative.


In Remembrance of Those Who Have Fallen Fighting for our Freedom

Walking into the American Cemetery in Normandy was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had. Before reaching the actual cemetery, we walked through a museum that told the stories of some of the people that were buried there. Many of these people left behind wives, children, and parents. They were truly courageous people with many having great lives that they were never able to fully live out. One of the most touching stories was of the Niland family. They were four brothers, Robert, Preston, Edward, and Frederick Niland, from Tonawanda, New York. Robert and Preston died within the first two days of the D-Day invasion, while Eddie went missing just a few days later in the Pacific. Robert “Bob” Niland was killed on June 6, 1944 when volunteering with two others to help hold off a German advance; he was the only one of the three who died. Preston was killed near Utah Beach the next day. Edward Niland went missing on May 16 after he parachuted out of his aircraft. He was captured as a Prisoner of War by the Japanese in Burma and was not known to be alive until he was released a year later in 1945. The only known brother alive at the time was Frederick, who was returned back to the United States to finish the rest of his service there after the tragedies of his three brothers. There is a quote by Stephen Adly Guirgis that says, “No parent should have to bury a child….No mother should have to bury a son. Mothers are not meant to bury sons.” Within a month, a mother was left with the possibility of burying three of her sons. The story of the Niland brothers is the basis for the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Although the most well-known and perhaps most unique story, this is not the only family that suffered harsh tragedies. Just about every family lost multiple people throughout the war and thousands of mothers had to bury their sons.

As I walked through the entrance to the actual cemetery grounds, the wind blew around me, and it felt as if the ghosts of thousands of people were still flying about. The cemetery was filled with over 9,000 graves of fallen American soldiers. The crosses were lined up perfectly and seemed to go on forever. The gravestones just displayed the soldier’s name, unit and division, the state that they were drafted in, and the date of their death. Many of these crosses covered the graves of soldiers that could never be identified. Seeing the massive size of the graveyard and realizing that it wasn’t even one percent of the amount of people to die during the war is pretty striking. It just seemed as if so many lives were wasted.

One of the rows of graves at the American Cemetery in Normandy

One of the rows of graves at the American Cemetery in Normandy

Although the American Cemetery was very hard to walk through, the British one in Normandy was even harder for different reasons. The American cemetery grounds seemed to place more emphasis on the sheer number of people killed in the war, although they did acknowledge individuals in the museum section before heading outside. They didn’t have dates of birth or the soldiers’ age when they were killed, and they didn’t have anything really personal on the actual gravestone itself. The British one, however, albeit being smaller, was much more personal on each one. It gave the age of their death and a personal quote from the family of each soldier on every gravestone. I remember one in particular saying something along the lines of, “In remembrance of a great father and an even better daddy.” The quotes on them really helped to give a much better perspective of the fact that each person was different and a unique individual; they all had families that they left behind. The ages also helped to put me in their shoes even more. Many of the people buried were only 18, 19, or 20. They were younger than I am. I feel like I still have so much of my life left to look forward to. It’s really hard to imagine not even living to the age that I am or my younger brother is. If I lived in that time period, it’s very likely that I would have been buried in one of these cemeteries myself.

Rows of graves at the British Cemetery in Normandy

Rows of graves at the British Cemetery in Normandy

Memorial at the British Cemetery in Normandy that reads "Their Name Liveth For Evermore"

Memorial at the British Cemetery in Normandy that reads “Their Name Liveth For Evermore”

So many people died much too young during World War 2 and although their sacrifice was honorable and important, the sacrifice of so many people’s lives is not something that we should ever want to come to. Hopefully we can all look back and learn from our mistakes and prevent such evil from rising to power again; and prevent ourselves from having to build more cemeteries on the scale of these ones.

Vive la Bayeux

The second stop on the trip was Bayeux, France. This quiet town was like stepping onto the set of a fairytale movie. Medieval style buildings lined the streets as well as quaint little shops and restaurants. The town atmosphere was very relaxed, as seen in the flexible hours of the shops and the friendly people walking through the streets. This set the scene for our activities of the tour.

Bayeux, Normandy

Bayeux, Normandy

In Normandy, we visited the beaches where the D-Day invasion occurred, which was an absolutely humbling experience. Getting to be on the beaches where such important events took place was more of a meaningful experience than any book could teach me. Not only did we see the beaches, but also the German, American, and English cemeteries. Going into the trip, I knew that the Normandy portion of the trip would be very personal and moving, but I didn’t think it would have as significant of an impact on me as it did. Seeing these cemeteries in person put into perspective for me how many men lost their lives for the war effort. Many of these men were around my age, and I cannot even fathom putting myself in their shoes and the anguish they must have felt.

Being at all the cemeteries, especially the American Cemetery at Normandy, and seeing what 9,000 graves looked like, made me think about the human devastation of the war on the largest scale and just how many that was.  The cemetery was made up of ten sections, but seemed as if it went on forever.  It was located on a hill overlooking the beaches, which was a popular place to sit and take in the views. Yes, I know that millions lost their lives, but just seeing the vast cemetery of 9,000 really put the number into perspective for me. Reading about the numbers in textbooks and hearing it in lectures made me rather numb to it. But the experience of these cemeteries was eye opening and now I understand just how much human life was sacrificed during the war.

View from the American Cemetery at Normandy

View from the American Cemetery at Normandy

We also had the opportunity to plant Ohio State flags at the graves of twelve fallen Ohio State students and faculty members who lost their lives at this time and are buried at the American Cemetery at Normandy. This was a deeply personal moment, and it was so amazing that we got to the chance to honor these twelve men. Laying the flags at their grave stones got me thinking that every single soldier has a unique story that deserves to be honored, even though this is quite the impossible task when a war of this size, or really any war for that matter, takes place.

Moving on to towards the end of our week in Bayeux, I gave my site report at Mont Saint Michel, which is an abbey and monastery built in the tenth century, and which served as a shelter by the Nazi’s during World War II. The view of Mont Saint Michel is absolutely breath taking because it is an island monastery building that seems to pop up out of nowhere. After my presentation we were fortunate enough to have a tour guide lead us through all the different levels and up onto the terrace where you can look out and watch the tides come in (which come in at the amazing speed of five meters per second) and look at views of the sea.

My site report location: Mont St. Michel

My site report location: Mont St. Michel

My French experience was one I will definitely remember for a lifetime. The views were absolutely beautiful and the learning experiences are ones in which I will never forget. I have gotten way more out of this trip than I thought was possible, and Bayeux is a major part as to why.



New Country, New Perspective

Stop two, Bayeux, France.

Heading into the trip I knew this would be one of the places that affected me the most emotionally. After focusing on Omaha Beach during class, I was intrigued to experience the sight in person. Before the program I couldn’t picture the thousands of soldiers or the setup of the beach. I assumed the bluffs were similar to dunes and didn’t understand the exact set up of the German defense and just how deadly it was.

A few things drastically changed my perspective. First, the American Cemetery in Normandy opened my eyes to the people involved. The graves just kept going and they were all identical, aside from the Jewish stones which contained the Star of David. The stones were perfectly set so each row was a perfect line in any direction. The British Cemetery was also quite emotional for different reasons. Although the number of graves were much smaller, the graves had personal messages which humanized and brought attention to who the individual soldiers were. I happened upon a grave with my last name, and the soldier died at the age of twenty. This stuck me especially hard because as a current 20 year old I began to imagine what my life would be during that time period.

Tombstone of W.J. Ayres

Tombstone of W.J. Ayres

I also was shocked at the amount of unknown soldiers and the way they were set to rest. In the German Cemetery, the stones simply translated as “Unknown German Soldier,” whereas the British and American cemeteries gave much more honorable dedications both saying the soldiers were known but to God. Evidently, the honor bestowed on the soldiers was depending on their country.

Second, the actual beach still contains the German bunkers. These bunkers are not only directly on the beach but also much higher up than I imagined. The bluffs are much taller than dunes and semi- resemble small mountains in which the German gunman and snipers could easily pick apart the American troops. The beach was also much wider than I imagined, and it was truly horrifying imagining the fear and determination as the men tried to make their way to the bluffs.  We were standing in the spot where the first waves of the 29th division landed, specifically, the 116th infantry. This group of about 150 National Guard soldiers suffered a huge loss with only around 19 soldiers not being killed or injured. These men were told they would be given a front row seat to the greatest show on earth. The Allies believed their bombing and naval shelling campaigns would destroy or at least damage the German bunkers and the men would simply walk up the beach. This however was not the case as the campaigns did relatively nothing. As compared to Point Du Hoc, which had bomb craters everywhere, Omaha was basically untouched. The bunkers were set up in such a manner that the first waves of men had almost no hope of survival. They had around 500 yards of open sand before the bluffs. Standing on the beach with the tide out really showed just how dreadfully far the men had to run without cover and with enemy fire as strong as a storm wind. Lastly, Point Du Hoc gave me a chance to see just how difficult the tasks at hand were. The cliffs that Rangers had to climb were much higher than I expected, and the bombs left such deep craters in the ground. It amazed me that the site remained intact and no one interfered with preserving it. The bunkers and even the craters in the ground were basically untouched. Although some of the bunkers had collapsed from wear and tear of weather, the remains were not moved. The craters were also not filled in which gave a great perspective of the destruction of the bombs.


Me standing in a bomb crater, Point Du Hoc.

Overall Normandy was incredibly moving. I enjoyed it because you were consistently immersed in the history even when we were just walking around the town. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the rich history the town had worked so hard to preserve.

Not Just a Number

When studying the history of war, it is easy to think in terms of numbers.  It’s cleaner, and there is a lesser chance of emotion clouding your analysis.  In a manner of speaking they allow you to desensitize yourself.  In books, war is often presented in statistics.  For example, approximately 156,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944.  By the end of June 11, more than 326,000 troops had crossed the English Channel.  I read a great deal in preparation for this trip, but the difference between reading and being there is that when you close the book, you can walk away.  Being in Europe, you can’t turn away.  The memory and consequences of the war are everywhere I turn.  Numbers make it easier to try to comprehend the enormous manpower, effort, and sacrifice that go into war.  However, I am quickly learning that easy isn’t necessarily better.


Standing on Utah Beach was haunting.

Being on Utah beach didn’t feel real.


Walking into the sites of D-Day was incredibly haunting.  I stood where so many made the ultimate sacrifice, but if there had been no markers I would never have realized where I was standing. The beaches looked just like any beach, which made them all the more haunting.  It was as if the tide had washed away all evidence of what had happened.   Omaha and Utah beach both seemed almost peaceful.  I appreciated the opportunity to be able to stand there and take it all in, but it didn’t have the effect on me that I had expected.  I was expecting to be overcome with emotion and sadness.  Instead, these things hit me where I least expected it: in the  three cemeteries


We visited the German, American, and British cemeteries (in that order) during our time in Northern France.


Grave markers for unknown German soldiers were a common sight in the cemetery.

Grave markers for unknown German soldiers were a common sight in the cemetery.


The German cemetery was very well manicured and appeared much older than it actually was.  The German cemetery was the least individualized out of the three I saw.  There were grave markers rather than headstones, and 2-3 men shared a marker.  On the marker was written a name, and the dates of birth and death.   A large mound was placed in the middle of the cemetery to represent the old burial mounds.  The mound was topped by a cross and the figures of what I believe to be Mary and Jesus. There was a small visitor’s center, but it was across the road and its style was slightly outdated.  As in life, the Germans seemed to be almost mechanical. Even in death, they didn’t seem to be their own person.



The American cemetery was the most moving for me.  Before entering the cemetery, we went through a Visitor Center which detailed the war and the lives of those who fought it.  The exhibition centers on the themes of competence, courage, and sacrifice.  The walls were covered with the names of fallen soldiers and their life stories.  There was a section of the museum where you could search for specific people by name to see if they were in the cemetery or where they were located in the cemetery.  Most striking to me was the room of sacrifice near the end of the center.  Until that point I was able to maintain my composure.  To enter the room, you must pass through a tunnel.  As you walk through the tunnel, you can hear a voice announcing the names of those who were lost. The reading of names is still audible as you enter the large white room to read the stories of a few who exemplify sacrifice.  As I read and viewed the pictures of the fallen soldiers, the gravity of what I was actually viewing began to set in.  The American cemetery seemed more geared towards keeping the memory of the fallen soldier alive rather than laying it to rest like in the German cemetery.  Each person was given their own headstone.  As I moved into the cemetery I could see that Christians had a cross, and Jews had a star of David as their marker.  Each marker was engraved with a full name, rank, division, home state, and date of death.  On the back of the headstone was the dog tag number of the deceased.  The three Medal of Honor recipients had their information written in gold.  On the stones of the unknown was written, “Here rests in honored glory a Comrade in Arms known but to God.”

It was an honor to be able to visit the graves of fellow Buckeyes.

It was an honor to be able to visit the graves of fellow Buckeyes such as John Fry.

During my time in the cemetery I had the honor of planting an Ohio State University flag at the grave of Private John O. Fry Jr.  Fry was a student at the university, and died on July 27, 1944. He was a recipient of the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.  I’m disappointed that so far I haven’t been able to find more information on him.  Being face-to-face with his grave really put things into perspective for me.  So many of these men were my age when they died.  Fry went to my university.  These people are buried across an ocean, and many of their families are unable to visit their graves and gain closure.  It’s overwhelming.  Everywhere I turned there were more headstones.  I left feeling solemn and saddened, but much more appreciative for the life I have.




Families of fallen soldiers had the option of engraving stones with a message. I found this one particularly striking.

Families of fallen soldiers had the option of engraving stones with a message. I found this one particularly striking.

The last cemetery we visited was British.  There was no visitor center, and while beautifully manicured, the cemetery didn’t feel nearly as formal as the other two cemeteries.  The British cemetery is not exclusively British.  There are many graves belonging to people of other nations.  To me this expresses that at the end of war, all parties have lost their sons and brothers.  In death there shouldn’t have to be separation between nations.  All lost their life fulfilling their duty to their country.  These headstones are intermixed with the British stones, but they are all different shapes depending on the nation, and the inscriptions were different than the ones on the British stones.  The British stones included a name, rank, division, date of death, age, religious symbol, and in some cases a message from the family of the deceased.  The stones belonging to the unknown said “A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War known unto God.” The messages from families were gut-wrenching.  They ranged from short biographies to bible verses to the simple “Forever in our hearts.”  Many messages were signed with “Love Mum and Dad” which for me really drove home how young these men were. Surprisingly, a large number of Germans are buried in this cemetery.  Also surprising was the decision to refer to the war as the 1939-1945 War.  I had never heard or seen it stated that way.  Why would they decide to refer to it in that way instead of as World War Two or The Second World War?  Calling it the 1939-1945 war makes it feel almost antiquated to me, like the 12 Years War or 30 Years War.  I haven’t found an answer to this yet, but I intend to keep researching.


21,222 German remains are in the German cemetery at la Cambe.

9,387 American headstones are in the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

4,144 Commonwealth burials and 500 graves of other nationalities are in the British cemetery.

These are the numbers.  Private John O. Fry Jr is one of those numbers.  He was also a Buckeye, and more importantly a person.  I will never view the numbers the same way again.



The group standing on Omaha beach

The group standing on Omaha beach

American Cemetery in Normandy

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I cried here in France. We visited the American cemetery in Normandy, which is an experience I won’t soon forget. By the time of my writing, we’ve visited the American, British, and German cemeteries, but as an Ohioan the American hit especially close to my heart. I wrote my final paper for our study-abroad prep class on whether World War II was “A ”good” war, or a bad one. ” Of course war is never “good,” but I argued the ends justified the means, although military bureaucracy sometimes forgot individuals in a sea of numbers.

"Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves" bronze statue at the American Military Cemetery, Normandy.

“Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” bronze statue at the American Military Cemetery, Normandy.

As I walked down the steps of the main monument, that’s what I saw: a sea of numbers. These numbers, however, were not numbers. They were men, but they were also boys with hopes, dreams, fears; sometimes they were letters hand delivered by a solemn man dressed in uniform, and countless lives with potential ended too short and often in loneliness. I walked down countless rows of white crosses and Stars of David, my sadness growing heavier the further I trekked in. What struck me incredibly hard were the countless graves dedicated to unidentified soldiers. The gravity of a nameless grave deprives the soldier of proper remembrance and leaves the family with a painful lack of closure. I wanted to pay my respects to each one of these, but I don’t think all the time in the world would be enough.


It took me 614 steps, almost seven minutes, to walk from the last grave row back to the first. I know this, because I was surprised at the size of the cemetery that I decided to walk it and count. Seven minutes of markers and seven minutes of lost lives. The 9,000+ graves made me question whether it all had been worth it. I cried as I saw each grave as a family mourning the loss of their son, and as a son losing his life thousands of miles away from his family. The pain they must have felt clouds an argument of WWII being a “good war.”


Omaha Beach

This illustrated something described to me, but that I’ll never see. As we walked the beaches of Omaha, I remembered the piece by Ernie Pyle, “A Long, Thin Personal Line of Anguish.” In this, Pyle describes the beach shortly after the invasion by noting the personal artifacts (a Bible, tennis racquet, writing paper, among other things) of the soldiers who died there. He speaks of the human wreckage directly, too, and even mentions an instance when he mistakes a man’s feet in the sand for driftwood. We had discussed the intention of Pyle’s essay in class, but I struggled to see the poignant details across what is now such a peaceful beach. I had to imagine bodies that would have been strewn about along the coastline, with their personal artifacts as remnants of individual memories. Remembrance in this way makes war seem like such a waste, no matter how just the cause. The American cemetery to treats the fallen soldiers with honor, and yet, the uniformity of the headstones suggests the treatment of soldiers as simply cogs in a bigger machine. In contrast, the headstones of the British cemetery we visited displayed the age, name, and division of each soldier, and even included a short inscription written by their loved ones. I found one in particular that exemplified anguish that comes with individual recognition: “To the world, he was but one of many. But to us, he was the world. ” Still, I could see the individual GI’s in the names carved in the alabaster headstones.



American Military Cemetery, Normandy

In a place that is meant to be sacred, we found the noisy French schoolchildren to be a nuisance. As I thought about it more, however, it dawned on me that had these men not fought in this “terrible” war, these children, would not be standing here today. It was their sacrifice that ensured the continuation of our values, and as the sea of visitors suggests, their efforts are appreciated and not forgotten. Even this disrespectful school group represents continuing gratitude towards these soldiers. I think the French acknowledgement of these events is not only touching, but is a testament to the impact of the American effort. Certainly, it comforts me to know that the ho efforts of our honored dead were not in vain. I feel more grateful to these heroes than ever before.