Germany’s Collective Memory and The Bundestag

Berlin is filled with historical sites relating to World War II. After the Battle of Berlin, much of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing. Berlin had to be rebuilt. However, some of the destruction is still on display in the form of museums and memorials. The creation of national museums and memorials on sites previously critical to the Nazi regime help the German people confront their crimes. Before the Nazis seized power in 1933, the Bundestag was the building that housed the German Parliament. Adolf Hitler and many other Nazis were members of Parliament during this time. However, once the Nazi regime was established in Germany, the Bundestag was used to house the offices of high-ranking Nazi officials. Now, the Bundestag stands as a symbol of German democracy. This is one way the German people strive to establish a collective memory of World War II—one that deals with guilt and justice.

The Bundestag was invaded by the Soviet Red Army in early May 1945 during the Battle of Berlin. Capturing the Reichstag was a very symbolic victory for the Allied forces. The bullet holes from the battle are still on display today. Also still visible is the graffiti that Soviet soldiers left on the outside of the building. Leaving the evidence of the Battle of Berlin reminds the German people of the atrocities of World War II.

Soviet Etchings in the Reichstag Building

An art piece inside the Bundestag named Archive of German Members of Parliament by Christian Boltanski demonstrates this idea well. Boltanski, a French Jew, created the piece in 1999. It consists of around 5,000 metal boxes that display the democratically elected members of German Parliament from 1919 to 1999. It includes those members of Parliament who were murdered during the Nazi regime while also including those who were members of the National Socialist Party. Therefore, while it commemorates the achievements of German parliamentary history, it also takes witness to its failures. In this way, the German people remember the terror of the Nazi party, while also bearing witness to their own guilt in supporting the Nazis.

An image of the Archive art installation. It is a brown hallway with multiple hanging lights on the ceiling, and the walls are built of tiny boxes which each have a label on them to show which member of the German parliament they represent.

The Archive of German Members of Parliament

Reminders of Aggression for Progress

As one walks through the streets of Berlin, the bullet holes marring the facades of buildings are unmistakable. The

Ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof Station

craters in the surfaces speak to the intensity of the battle waged to end Nazi terror nearly eighty years ago. The Germans could easily repair these walls. Yet leaving the bullet holes as a reminder of the past may be helping to repair something even more important: a democratic German society.

Ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Church

This past semester, I learned that Germany has made great strides in addressing its violent, fascistic past. I didn’t fully understand this claim until spending a week in Berlin. Ruins of bombed out buildings and train stations occupy valuable real estate in the city, but their preservation reminds Berliners of the deadly consequences of Nazi aggression and total war.

Photo of Auschwitz Birkenau in the Reichstag Building

The Reichstag building, the seat of the German federal parliament, showed me Germany’s confrontation with its troubled past most clearly. Four photos from Auschwitz-Birkenau greet visitors to the right of the front doors. As Germany’s statesmen and -women enter their parliament building, they see the great injustices carried out in their country on the basis of legislation created and decisions made within their government. Those with Germany’s future in their hands are not allowed to ignore their country’s history of antisemitism, oppression, and hate.

Soviet Etchings in the Reichstag Building

Around a corner, one finds the original walls of the Reichstag exposed to show the writings of Soviet soldiers made when the building was captured in early May 1945. These etchings remind government representatives of the complex role of the Soviets as both liberators and occupiers in the decades after the war. Germany’s decision to leave the Soviet etchings and the bullet holes in the Reichstag’s facade symbolizes the nation’s decision not to cover up its past. The Germans preserve fragments of World War II and the subsequent Cold War throughout Berlin to remind those who gaze upon them of the atrocities once inflicted by and on the German people, and to encourage a different path for the future.



Comparing German Depictions

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Remembrance in Berlin

The memory of World War II and the Holocaust must live on through generations so that we never forget. Through stories, museums, monuments, and memorials, remembrance can live on and educate those born after the conflict. In Germany, remembrance takes on a much more important meaning. The citizens of Germany not only need to be reminded of the atrocities that took place but of the responsibility they must uphold for their ancestors’ actions. Apart from the abundance of museums throughout Berlin, there are many reminders of the war and of the Holocaust.

In the middle of Berlin’s government district, there lies a Jewish memorial. As I walked through it, I was reminded of a maze. The memorial is meant to be slightly overwhelming in order to capture the feelings of loss and confusion that so many Jewish families felt as they were taken from their homes or pulled into the streets to be shot.

Throughout the city, there are also stumbling stones placed at residences, offices, and university buildings. Each bronze stone represents a victim of the Holocaust, stating their name and where they ended up during the war. One is supposed to pore water over the stone they’ve stumbled upon and polish it. This is an act of pure remembrance and shows one’s respect for the dead. From memorials to painted pieces of the Berlin Wall to stumbling stones, Germany makes sure that the atrocities of their past are remembered, never to be forgotten, never to fade into history.

Graffiti as Remembrance and Protest

The Berlin Wall is an incredible symbol of the divisions that wars uphold long after an armistice is signed. Built sixteen years after WWII ended, the Wall served as a physical separation for Berlin and Germany itself for twenty-eight years. It also created a clear divide between NATO in the west and the Eastern Bloc, further polarizing the democratic and socialist institutions of Europe. The day that we arrived in Berlin we went to the area Potsdamer Platz, only one train stop away from our hotel. In the center of the intersection there was a panel

of the Berlin Wall painted in support of peace in Ukraine and against the Belarusian government and Vladimir Putin. This was far from the only show of support for Ukraine in Berlin, yet I found it particularly striking to use a medium such as the Berlin Wall to demonstrate this political message of peace. I felt this again the next day when exploring the East Side Gallery with several of my colleagues. The Gallery is a mile long stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into a public art gallery, with the entire street side of it lined in various murals. Almost all of these had a political message ingrained in them, whether this was directly stated in the painting or took some digging using the posted informational QR codes. One of these depicts a man jumping over the wall while looking back at a crowd of people, and another had a caption which translates to “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.” Another has a more cartoonish look to it, with characters such as a walking ashtray and a DJ-ing mushroom, meant to depict events in Berlin after the fall of the Wall.  

While I had seen a mural portion of the Berlin Wall before at the University of Virginia, it meant so much more to experience it as it once stood. Using the Berlin Wall as a canvas allows people to express their views of the world around them while combining it with a direct connection to the history of the Wall itself. Messages of peace and celebration as well as of political protest being displayed on something that was built to separate people gave me a sense of hope for how this area has been able to heal. To imagine what it was like for a city and its communities to be separated and later reunited helped resonate just how far Berlin has come in the years since World War II, and what efforts have been made to remember their past, both the good and the bad. 

A Sobering Experience

Interpretive Blog


Poland was a wild couple of days. From exploring the charm and openness of Krakow’s city square, to visiting Auschwitz and the Schindler Museum, and being evacuated from our hotel the first night, I experienced a whirlwind of emotions.


Auschwitz-Birkenau was a gut-wrenching and gripping experience. Seeing the camps for myself really put into perspective the genocidal campaign the Nazis executed against Jewish people. I was astonished with the collection of victims’ hair that was displayed in the museum. When I first saw it, my stomach dropped. I had the same feeling when I saw the pictures of starving, bony, suffering children when I first visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. While I knew about the horrific events of the Holocaust, both exhibits sparked a reaction in me that was like: “wow, this is really messed up.” The vastness of the site changed my visualization of the Jewish experience at Auschwitz. By seeing how prisoners arrived on train, walking in their footsteps toward the gas chambers, and seeing how millions of Jews were packed into small living quarters throughout the site, it illustrated the massive organizational campaign the Germans took just to demolish Jewish people.

Schindler Museum

Schindler Museum

Schindler Museum


On the second day, we visited the Schindler Museum, which was dedicated to occupied Krakow during World War II. It stressed the destruction Germans brought to the city of Krakow and its residents. Both Jewish and non-Jewish Poles suffered, and Jews were often moved to ghettos separate from the German parts of the city. At times, the museum misled in its attempt to push Polish national innocence. Our tour guide mentioned how there was not much Polish people, including those of her ancestors, could do to save people during that time. She also mentioned how Poland was a “Catholic country,” subtly downplaying the amount of Jewish suffering that occurred. Yet, we learned this semester that not all Polish people were innocent bystanders under Nazi rule. Pogroms in towns such as Jedwabne, located in eastern Poland, decimated the Jewish population. Non-Jewish Poles carried out acts of violence against their Jewish neighbors, yet Polish memory is often silent on this event, blaming most horrific events on the occupying Germans. Their absence of national sovereignty during the war is used as a shield from accountability. as they are focused on maintaining their independence and morale with a unified national message.


My Poland experience is twofold. I learned of the destruction and hate brought by the Nazis on occupied Polish lands against Jews and Polish citizens. I also gained a sense of their national pride, sometimes even to a fault, when it comes to their history grappling with the Holocaust during World War II.


The Importance of Historical Preservation Throughout Poland

The two sites we visited in Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau and The Krakow Museum, illustrated the devastation World War II inflicted on the country. It’s impossible to describe the emotional toll of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. Every step through the grounds weighs on you. While walking through the gas chambers and crematorium, anything but silence seems disrespectful as those four gray walls signified death for tens of thousands. The uncommon silence among my colleagues on the ten-minute bus ride between the camps showed that everyone felt the gravity of this site. One reason Auschwitz-Birkenau evokes such strong emotions is its historical preservation. With many original buildings still standing at Auschwitz I, the purpose of its construction remains evident. The high electrical fences, public gallows, and the infamous Block 11 death wall cement the reality of the Holocaust, which no class discussion ever truly does. After visiting the camp, I understood why successful-escape stories were rare. To give context to the camp’s powerful physical presence, a guided tour detailed all members of society, such as Poles, Roma, and homosexuals condemned to life – death — in the camp and emphasized the importance of preserving important historical sites for their memory. 

Walking into Auschwitz I


The Krakow Museum, which is situated within the old workplace of Oskar Schindler, presented information regarding the war’s effect on the city of Krakow. The museum occupied the building of a former government office, a space never intended to house grand historical exhibits, but I felt as if this element added to the museum’s effectiveness. The narrow hallways and intricately designed displays force the viewer to travel through the stages of the war. I genuinely enjoyed the layout of the site, but its emphasis on Krakow’s war experience limits its applicability to the entirety of Poland. The exhibits highlight the mistreatment of Krakow’s Poles and Jews, but there is no reflection on the anti-semitism prevalent throughout the country’s history. Although the museum provides an engaging account of the war in Krakow, it runs the risk of over-generalizing information about Krakow for less informed visitors, who might be led to assume that all Poles experienced a similar war.  

Cross found in the wreckage in Krakow




An Interpretive Blog of Germany

Meg Brosneck

After visiting France and Poland and finding only denial of past antisemitism, Germany was a breath of fresh air. I’d heard that modern day Germany had done well in acknowledging the sins of its past, but the museums and memorials we visited exceeded my expectations.

A photo of the Empty Library memorial. The memorial is a room filled with empty bookshelves in the ground, covered by a sheet of glass. In the background is Humboldt-Universität.

The Empty Library memorial

The Germans have dedicated many museums to educating people on the corrupt actions of the Nazis. The Topography of Terror Museum, for example, was devoted almost exclusively to their murderous actions. Just by walking through Berlin, one is likely to stumble upon some kind of memorial to the victims of the Nazis’ actions: for example, “The Empty Library” in front of Humboldt University of Berlin, dedicated to the books the Nazis burned in May of 1933.  But the Germans went further than just recognizing the Nazi leadership’s role in the terror; they make clear that average citizens played a large role in the terror too. 

An image of the Archive art installation. It is a brown hallway with multiple hanging lights on the ceiling, and the walls are built of tiny boxes which each have a label on them to show which member of the German parliament they represent.

The Archive of German Members of Parliament

Many of the museums specify that most citizens supported the Nazis. Even the German Resistance Museum, dedicated to those who stood against the Nazis, stated that less than one percent of the population resisted. The majority were complicit. In the Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament, there is an art installation called the “Archive of German Members of Parliament” which showcases the names of every member of the German parliament throughout the 20th century. Many are Nazis, and Adolf Hitler is included. This exhibit includes those names to emphasize that those Nazis rose to power under the electoral system of the Weimar Republic; it was the German people who elected and brought them to power, and that needs to be remembered so it won’t be repeated. This open acknowledgment of the past is honorable. It’s not easy to admit the horrors of your country’s past—many countries refuse to—but this recognition is the only way a country can move forward.

I find myself comparing Germany to the US, where it is becoming more and more difficult to discuss our country’s shameful past of imperialism, slavery, and genocide. We have a lot to learn from Germany, and I can only hope one day we’ll follow their example.

Text from the wall of the Topography of Terror museum. It reads "The willingness of most Germans to adapt meant that many not merely shared the aims of the Nazi leadership but also actively supported them - often at the price of denouncing others to the Gestapo."

From the Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin

War Alliances in Life and Death

Being on the same ground where the Battle of Normandy took place helped me better understand the experiences of those who fought and died there. How the dead are remembered across Normandy varied, and the German, American, and British cemeteries each held unique displays to honor their fallen soldiers. The ways in which these men are buried speak to each country’s culture and feelings towards the war. What struck me the most about these cemeteries were the grave markers. In the German cemetery there are crosses dispersed among the yard in groups of five, but individual markers are plain: identical square blocks low to the ground. In the American cemetery the markers are taller and either in the shape of a cross or the Star of David. In the British cemetery the markers are also taller, yet the shape of each depended on nationalities, with the British being a simple rounded rectangle and the Polish coming to a point at the top. The format of the words engraved on each stone also varies. Those at the German cemetery list the rank, name, as well as dates of birth and death. If this information is unknown, it simply states the number of “German Soldiers” in that plot. At the American cemetery the graves list each soldier’s name, rank, branch, and division, as well as their home state and date of death. The graves at the British cemetery each have an image to depict service branch and list names and date of death, often accompanied by a cross and a quotation. The inscription could be individualized by families or simply read “Known unto God.”


The type of information given at each cemetery exhibit the feelings of each country and their relationship to Normandy during the war. The German cemetery was the least landscaped and the graves were the most identical of the three, fitting with their military traditions of acting as one unit and taking pride in their common service as opposed to anything else. There were no German flags to be seen, and the only plant life sustained by the cemetery are the lawn and the trees. In contrast, the American cemetery has several flags flying, and the British cemetery is full of flower beds along the graves and wisteria vines near the entrance. The American cemetery specifically requests reverence at, with “Silence” signs posted and bells playing the national anthem as well as a recording of “Taps.” The British cemetery is not as outwardly nationalistic. I saw no flags and their dedication to not leaving anyone unburied meant that there several countries are represented there, including Egypt, Poland, and Germany. For me, the closest feeling to patriotism was evoked by several graves which read: “There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” Each site pays homage to their soldiers in varying ways, which made me think of their individual roles in World War II and their cultural practices.

People’s War at All Levels Comparative Blog

Britain is a place where the memories of the past and her people are baked into the streets, architecture, and words of the museums.  The museums of Bletchley Park, Imperial War Museum and Churchill’s War Rooms are all a part of Britain’s perspective of the People’s War. where British citizens are shown relying on one another, making sacrifices in food rationing, limiting resource consumption, and supporting Britain’s survival.  The stories of rations on electricity or coal stood out as everyone from cooks, Alan Turing and even Churchill were forced to live and work in dim, cool rooms with this policy of no waste being strictly followed.  A similar policy followed food as families in their homes forcing cooks to be creative which Churchill’s personal chief did to feed him.  This national character of sacrifice was the backbone of the British Fighting Spirit.



The Imperial War Museum deals with the larger scope of the war with the cost it had on Britain and her people.  The setting and objects are designed to put viewers in the perspective of those at the time such as a dimly lit home, small portions of dinner for all and the radio keeping those inside informed about the courage of the British people.  The Churchill War Rooms are focused on the strain the government was under, its personnel, and Churchill himself.  The facility is a fortified basement with small rooms where the war was waged.   The cramped living conditions for everyone who worked inside with low lighting and smoke-filled air was their home and burden.  The diary of Chief of Staff General Alan Brookes vividly described his dread as the bombs stopped one day, which he saw as Germany readying invasion.  There in the bunker he stayed for weeks.   The fear of imminent destruction clung in the air like smoke of a cigar, yet it never came.



Harrowing stories of suspense fill the grounds of Bletchley Park for different reasons.  Unlike a military facility, Bletchley was an unusual assortment of huts, mansion and a few buildings which hold top-level security which all its members sworn to secrecy by penalty of death.  This was a necessary precaution as hundreds of men/women worked twenty-four hours a day to gather and decode German radio traffic with revolutionary equipment, including the world’s first computer, to decipher the German Enigma code.  This embodied the British national character, as the scope of their efforts touched all parts of the war with stories of sacrifice of body and mind as they worked to bring an end to the war.

The Depths of Nazi Depravity

Truly little can prepare you for setting foot in Auschwitz. It is hard to connect with statistics, but walking through the very place where over a million people were murdered and seeing the tons of hair taken from the victims to use for fabric or the piles of children’s shoes highlights just how brutal and evil the Nazi regime was. We learned about Auschwitz in preparation for this trip by reading testimonies from prisoners who escaped the camp, but even their brutal attestations paled in comparison to the gravity of being in the camp itself. This was elevated by our tour guide, who explained the awful conditions and violent mistreatment that the prisoners had to endure every day. Each barracks was crowded with hundreds of people, and prisoners could be locked in solitary for weeks for the most minor of infractions. Even though the Nazis tried to hide their crimes by destroying the camp, parts of it survived as a testament to their atrocities. I was surprised to learn that Auschwitz was a series of camps instead of just one. These included Auschwitz I which was the main camp, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which housed the gas chambers. Auschwitz Birkenau was a massive complex and included the gas chambers and crematoria that became infamous for their implementation of the Final Solution. Walking through one of the surviving gas chambers it is hard to fathom how willing the Nazi regime was to commit genocide. The creation of a complex dedicated solely to the murder of innocent people shows how dangerous indoctrination and totalitarianism can be, and how low humanity can fall.

Looking out at the entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau from inside the camp

The German Influence

The German Resistance Museum is dedicated to the individuals who stood against the Nazis, most of whom were murdered for their efforts. Along the way, the Museum also made clear that opponents of the regime were a small minority. Nazi ideology was engraved into lives of German children as well as adults. They started teaching them while they were young and as they grew up, they were pro-Nazi. Many displays were of children. One contained child in class all saluting to Third Reich and Hitler himself. Another had Jewish children being transported around the ghettos. The third one had children celebrating German troops invading Austria. Children’s minds are innocent in a sense that they do not necessarily know right from wrong, and Hitler took advantage of that. These pictures represented corruption. They taught children very simply that the Jews were bad, and the Nazis were good.


Throughout Germany I also noticed many sites that accepted the Nazi past for what it was. In the German spy museum, they talked about intelligence throughout history, and they had an entire section about its effects throughout WW2. They wrote about the failure of German intelligence and how they failed to recognize their own faults. At the Berlin Zoo zebra exhibit there was a small plaque talking about how that particular exhibit was one of the few to experience very minor damage during the war. These sites didn’t revolve around the war, but they recognized it instead of hiding it. This shows that they are acting in memorializing the war and Germany’s past rather than denying it.

The Memory a Space Holds

By Cecelia Minard

It is impossible to prepare yourself for visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. Historical readings, documentaries, and photographs pale in comparison to the feeling of the physical site. In class this spring, we read The First Report about Auschwitz by John S. Conway, which included eyewitness accounts from two young Slovakian Jews who gave a breakdown of the numbers and classifications of the prisoners, as well as an explanation of the methods of extermination used by the Nazis. We also watched the documentary The World at War, which included horrifyingly detailed videos from the discovery of the camps. Yet after visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, I realized that nothing could capture the memory of such a horrendous place more than the physical site. Auschwitz-Birkenau as a source in and of itself highlights each of the hundreds of thousands of people murdered there.

While the report and the documentary focused on the details and the scale of the genocide, Auschwitz-Birkenau showed me each victim’s personhood. Rather than seeing a number on a page or a video from 70 years ago, walking through Auschwitz showed me the very space attached to the memories of those who were there.

In the barracks, there are displays of the victims’ belongings: their suitcases, shoes, pots, pans, and even the hair from their heads. While looking at these belongings, I focused on the remembrance of each individual who lost their life there. I couldn’t help but think that this could have been their favorite pair of shoes, this pot and pan could have been a gift from a loved one, and this was the hair on their head that they brushed and cared for each day.

While studies are vital to understanding history, documents cannot hold a memory the way a physical site or object does. While walking through the same spaces as the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I felt their memory in a way I never had before. I felt a deep connection and sorrow for each person who was murdered there.

Horrifying Holocaust Realities

     I have learned about the Holocaust in my history classes for as long as I can remember. Despite seeing pictures from Auschwitz-Birkenau, nothing could have prepared me for how it felt to walk around and stand in the death camp.

     Before we entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, I never understood the sheer size of it. We passed through the gates that I have seen in every textbook and museum I’ve visited, and it suddenly became real to me. I didn’t realize how little I had internalized the brutality of the camps until I stood crying at a pair of toddler’s shoes behind a pane of glass. Even worse was seeing the “beds” that prisoners crammed into. The dark, hard wood looked uncomfortable at best, and hearing stories about people waking up next to cold, dead bodies, and being happy that it wasn’t them shook me. We saw the blocks, the death wall, the tracks, and stolen valuables. We were able to see pictures of victims, and hear about how they got there. Our guide was especially good, helping us understand what we were shown, connecting it back to the lives robbed from all of these people. Our studies had covered the estimated number of deaths in the camp and explained the inhumane treatment of prisoners, but facts and figures will never compare to standing in the camp itself and seeing the aftermath personally. The piles of shaved hair, glasses, and shoes continue to haunt me.

     Brutality was palpable in every room, but most telling for me were the rooms dedicated to different modes of execution. I work in a veterinary clinic and have been present for animal euthanasia. I have held and comforted  animals as they passed from an injection to the heart. The pictures of human beings killed in a similar manner – but without sedation or comfort — made me feel sick. Learning more about the terrifying deaths of millions of people has truly shown me how these prisoners were treated as not only less than human, but as less than animals.

How Poland Remembers

There were many aspects of the museum in Krakow that reflected Poland’s claim to national innocence during WWII. The museum focused on the severe punishments forced on the people of Krakow under Nazi occupation. Public executions and arrests occupied much of the museum, especially in the first exhibitions. Next, the museum detailed the suffering of the Jewish population because of Nazi occupation in Krakow, such as being moved to the ghettos and concentration camps. The order of the exhibits implied that what the non-Jews in Krakow went through after occupation explained, and perhaps excused, why so few of them decided to help the Jewish people and why some even betrayed them. Our tour guide even said repeatedly that she did not think we should blame the Polish people for refusing to help because helping would mean putting themselves and their families in danger. I do agree that helping Jewish people would have been a risk for many Polish people and their loved ones. However, to insist that they should not be blamed for remaining silent and even betraying Jews felt unfair. The Poles in Krakow would not have had the power to defeat their Nazi occupiers but that does not remove the blame from those who chose to betray Jews.  

To be fair, the museum did showcase complicity for some of the Poles. Exhibits showed that even those who did help had ulterior motives for doing so, and that there were many who denounced their neighbors for aiding Jewish people. The Krakow Museum also had first-hand accounts of Jewish people, including children, who were moved to the ghettos. It was refreshing to read the experiences of Jewish people that went through it, rather than just being told the information. The museum allowed Jews to tell their own stories, which was more beneficial than getting the facts second-hand.