Differences between D-Day cemeteries, Erik Johnson

Difference between cemeteries

Erik Johnson


One of the many things we did in Bayeux was visit the German, British and American cemeteries. There were many differences not just ideologically and politically, but aesthetically. I’d like to highlight these differences through comparisons of the stones, what was on them, and their environment.

German D-Day cemetery from the top of the central mound

Firstly, the German cemetery had much smaller stones. With each at about one by one feet, they were shaped simply as squares with the corners taken out. Perhaps representing a thicker version of the iron cross. There were rows of crosses for about every four rows of gravestones. They protruded from the ground but didn’t seem to be marked in any way. The most interesting thing about the cemetery was definitely the large hill in the middle. There were a large number of unidentified bodies buried within, with a large statue on top that seemed to depict Mary and Joseph next to the cross.

Stones at the British D-Day cemetery

On the contrary, the British cemetery had clean white stones. They also protruded from the ground, unlike the German stones that were flat against the mowed grass. They also have different shapes based on nationality and religion. From what I observed the British stones were more generic with a rectangular body, along with polish stones with a little more of a pointed top. There were many other nationalities, including Czech French and most likely Indian. It seems like there was a lot of thought put into the individual people, at least regarding their beliefs and culture. This was the only cemetery to do this, as the British empire encapsulated many cultures at the time. There were also two structures towards the front of the cemetery that seemed to be some sort of memorials. Each gravestone also had small wooden crosses put in front of them with a poppy flower drawn in the middle. I was happy to see that the soldiers who were not Christian simply had the horizontal part of the cross taken off, so the poppy seed was the only thing symbolized.

Me and Emma walking back from putting an Ohio state flag next to the grave of Robert Forest

In the American cemetery, while the stones were clean and protruded, they where mostly Christian crosses. This was the case for most stones, only differing with the occasional Star of David. This cemetery was the largest by far. With such a large number of soldiers numbered by rows and columns it felt much less human than even the German cemetery. Though, it did have a museum dedicated to the soldiers, along with a chapel, and large memorial that took up most of the horizon. I believe the chapel was for any religion, as I saw a golden cross Though a stained-glass window depicting the Star of David. This was quite thoughtful to me, and helped symbolized a somewhat diverse culture. Though, I think it only partially made up for dehumanizing nature of the graves themselves.




Paris Under Construction

Paris, the City of Love, is enshrouded in scaffolding. Nearly every Parisian monument or landmark has become a site for the upcoming Summer Olympics, obscured by walls and barbed wire fences that post “Under Conservation and Restoration.” The bottom of the Eiffel Tower is completely fenced off and only the outside has received a new coat of paint. The project of repainting was championed by fifty painters and was subsequently abandoned given the inadequate time frame. Signs were posted outside the tower warning tourists of lead exposure as they stripped back over half a century of old paint. The Champ de Mars has been transformed into a stadium. The Gardens of Versailles are under renovation. The Trocadero, which is considered the best spot for pictures with the Eiffel Tower, has been repurposed and filled with bleachers for spectators. Sidewalks and roads are closed and fenced. Paris’ largest square, la Place de la Concorde is completely cordoned off to the public and the metropolitan no longer stops at the station. 

View of the Trocadero from the Eiffel Tower, which has been turned into seating for spectators. Credit: Sam Chancey

The Notre Dame Cathedral, still under construction from the 2019 fire. Credit: Sam Chancey


This is all a part of the city’s lofty goal to halve Olympic emissions for the games in Paris. Rather than construct new places to hold the games, Paris has decided to renovate already existing structures to save on emissions. They also constructed the Olympic Village from wood and traded air conditioning for a cooling system that relies on groundwater. According to The New York Times, some Olympic teams are considering bringing their own air conditioning. The sheer degree of construction occurring in the city just two months before the games begs the question of whether it will all be finished in time. 

The Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. Credit: Sam Chancey

Parisians have other concerns, though. The Olympic Village is being built in Saint-Denis, one of the most impoverished suburbs of Paris. Citizens are complaining of unsafe levels of air emissions and the gentrification of Saint-Denis, resulting in the forced removal of low income residents. Many are comparing it to what happened in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In spite of this, there are some positives to the massive preparations for the Olympics.  The Seine River was cleaned so that it is safe for swimming for the first time in over 100 years. Rats, bedbugs, and other pests are being removed to keep the city clean. During my time in Paris, I did not see a single rat, despite being promised that there would be some fuzzy friends. Monuments, statues, and buildings are being renovated, polished, or shined. In spite of vast improvements to the city, Paris under construction has been a frustrating and bizarre experience as a traveler. Though I was only in Paris for a couple days, I can only imagine the impact this has had on the daily lives of Parisians.

View of one of the Olympic stadiums from the Eiffel Tower. Credit: Sam Chancey

In Awe of the Age of Paris

Inside Sainte-Chapelle

The Rose in the Sainte-Chapelle

The last three days in Paris were a lot of fun. We could experience a small portion of life in Paris and see many of the essential landmarks in the city. One of the things that stuck out the most to me was how old everything is. Almost every building we saw in Paris was as old or older than the United States as a country. It was hard for me to comprehend the age of some of these landmarks we saw; for example, Notre Dame started construction in 1163, and the Sainte-Chapelle began construction in 1238, over 500 years before the United States declared independence. These monuments are more intricate than anything I have ever seen, specifically the Sainte-Chapelle with its crazy amount of detailed stained glass that is over 500 years old. It was truly a sight to behold and something that I will never forget seeing.

When I tried to compare these historical sites to ones in the US, I found nothing to compare them with. I realized that since I have nothing to compare the monuments to from my life, it is tough to grasp the age and importance of these buildings fully. Many Americans will go their entire lives and never see something like the Sainte-Chapelle or Notre Dame, which is sad to think about since I have seen these landmarks and realized how incredible they are. I now realize nothing you can see in the US can compare.

A Wartime Writer Remembered

Dutilleul’s story may have ended sadly, but Aymé‘s story is one of remembrance.

The Montmartre neighborhood in Paris, France, is a bustling arts district with a rich history. Many artists, musicians, and writers have called it home over the years, including the famous Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Erik Satie. Within the vibrant neighborhood lies a quiet plaza dedicated to Marcel Aymé, a novelist and playwright and one of the most prolific writers out of Nazi-occupied Paris. And within that plaza, one can find the curious statue of the man who could walk through walls.

The statue lies in the heart of the neighborhood, where Rue Giradon and Rue Norvins meet. Jean Marais, a famous sculptor, painter, and writer, built the statue in 1989 in remembrance of Aymé— nearly twenty years after his death. The face is of Aymé himself. The statue’s body is a reference to Aymé’s famous short story, “Le Passe-muraille,” often translated as “The Walker-through-Walls.” Aymé tells the tale of a man named Dutilleul, a resident of Montmartre who works a dead-end office job and discovers one day that he is able to walk through walls. This power turns his life around until one day, while departing from a midnight tryst, Dutilleul finds his powers failing. Legend has it he is still stuck in the wall to this day, something that the statue is clearly in reference to.

“Walking through walls cannot really serve as an end in itself. Rather, it is the first step in an adventure, which calls for continuation, development, and, in short, a payoff. ” (p.6)

While the short story may sound more amusing rather than political, “Le Passe-muraille” was written in the backdrop of World War II, like the vast majority of Aymé’s work. Far from being a conformist, Aymé’s writing is strange, magical, and fiercely critical of the powers that be. During the war, Aymé wrote biting commentary on the Vichy government of southern France and the Nazi occupation of northern France, picking apart everything from the rationing system to the self-serving ways of many of his peers. Following the war, he continued to protest against the new French government in his works, which were often censored at the time. While Marcel Aymé was a complicated figure who by no means fit the mold of the perfect resistor, it is heartening to see his legacy preserved as the witty, satirical, and critical writer he was in life.

The Fabric District in Paris, France

An interesting thing about Paris is that the fabric district of the city is more accessible than fabric stores in America. The fabric stores that are near my residence in Cleveland require access to a car because they’re 30 minutes from my house and the products are expensive for no particular reason. I have immense anxiety about driving and the only choices I have are Micheals or Joann fabrics anyway. In Paris it was very eye opening to how many fabrics and sewing notion stores there were. The first store I went to had four floors that had a variety of items that I could buy and showed the affordable fabrics section and the more expensive fabric selection was in the back of the floor. There was also an elevator for people who needed assistance getting to different floors and workers readily available to help customers. There is a huge selection of shops, so if I didn’t like one I could go to the next.


In my hometown, the Michaels and Joanns stores are short staffed and the isles are confusing and assistance is needed to find things in the stores. It’s very hard to get assistance when you need to find a certain fabric or sewing notion and the store is understaffed and full of customers. In the general area of the stores, the buildings are falling apart or are vacant waiting to be used due to the mall losing popularity and revenue. There also aren’t restaurants around, and is surrounded by fast food and hardware stores. This wouldn’t be a place to take my friends or to hang out in because the area looks dilapidated and unappealing to the eye. There are lessons to be learned by observing how transportation affects Europe and how it affects areas as densely populated as Paris. It’s also great for the community to have more opportunities to engage in hobbies instead of forcing them to choose between two stores, or to just shop online. It would also bring more revenue to the area if there were beautiful restaurants established in these areas or parks and places to congregate. This is why the fabric district of Paris was more appealing than what is in my local area of Ohio. The fabrics that I encountered in the store were more eye-catching and unique compared to the fabrics I usually see in America. I wish that American fabric shops provided more diverse and beautiful selections of fabrics for consumers.


Trips To Emotionally Challenging Places: Remembering American Soldiers Who Died In Normandy During World War II


I won’t lie. Despite wanting nothing more than to participate in this program, I knew going into this that I would be going to places that might make me anxious. I worried about what I might encounter, and how I would respond. One of the locations I worried about visiting was Utah Beach in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France. Then, the second site I worried about was the American cemetery in Normandy after Omaha Beach.

“Second lieutenant Walter Sidlowski kneels over the blanket covered body of an American soldier he had just helped rescue from the surf off Omaha Beach” (The National World Was II Museum – New Orleans).

My anxiety about visiting these spaces stemmed from not knowing how other visitors would act. I am afraid of exhibiting negative emotions in an already extremely emotional place. For example, at the American cemetery in Normandy, there were several groups of foreign children who were quite literally running around the cemetery laughing and talking loudly with a paper assignment in their hands. I understand that the people buried there are not from the same country as the children, but I think that they shouldn’t have acted in the ways they did. Seeing them run down pathways made me angry. Where was the respect that burial places, and places of death, command?

Me placing an Ohio State flag beside the grave of Major Robert A. Lane, a 1934 Ohio State Alumnus who died in Normandy, France (Emma Knox).

Asking this question led me to consider another source of anxiety pertinent to both Utah and Omaha beach. Prior to visiting them, I asked Dr. Steigerwald if the beaches were used to do the whole beach-day thing. I was genuinely appalled when he told me that they had been before D-Day, and they still are. I said that it was like sun tanning in a cemetery, therefore, I proceeded on each beach, especially Utah and Omaha with caution.

Utah Beach Memorial (Scully-Tenpenny).

I’ve realized that I am caught in the past, while being in the present. Watching the beaches from afar, I was in my safe space where I’ve always been studying World War II. My feelings changed as I entered these spaces, standing on the sand where thousands of American soldiers fought, and died, almost 80 years ago. Utah Beach no longer looks like it did on June 6, 1944. None of the others do either, except for the Mulberry Harbor turning green and fuzzy with time near the shores of Gold Beach. School kids play soccer in the sand, horse racers use the wide expanse of beach to practice, and with how clear and blue the water is on a warm, sunny day, it’d be a waste for the beaches of Normandy to sit unused, stuck in the past. I’m grateful for the time I had in France and the time spent preparing for it, which has helped me to understand why remembering the past and enjoying the present can be experienced at the same time. Also, acknowledging that everyone deals with the memories of the past differently, and for the French, that means sun tanning on the beaches of Normandy. I think I would too, if it weren’t for the 3,752 mile journey to get there. My anxiety hasn’t subsided, but I do know that it will as I visit them in the future.

A survivor from a sunk American landing craft being helped ashore, Omaha assault area, 6 June 1944 (IWM).

Omaha Beach – 2024 – Kids playing soccer, tractors used to get small boats in and out of the water, the restaurant on the boardwalk (Scully-Tenpenny).

How Being Voluntold Make Me Appreciate Social Media

Me in front of the Eiffel Tower!

As I am continuing to navigate being abroad, I have come to the realization that I love taking pictures. By no means does this make me a professional photographer, but after being asked by Dr. Steigerwald to take pictures of my fellow cohort members planting flags at the Buckeye Dozen graves at the Normandy American Cemetery, I began to understand the importance that pictures can hold for memories. One could argue that taking photos takes away from one’s experience: a person’s face can be buried within their phone camera, waiting for the perfect shot to arise. However, in instances like the Buckeye Dozen, I believe the opposite. Because I got to be the “behind the scenes” person, twelve of my cohort members have documented experiences and memories that can last them a lifetime.

Lauren Hilderbrand planting a flag at the Normandy American cemetery

I also have had the pleasure of doing two Instagram takeovers during this trip, one for the Ohio State’s History Instagram and Ohio State’s International Affair’s account. By doing this, I have not only gained a deeper appreciation for spreading and learning about history, but I have also become more comfortable with sharing about myself. Though it may seem that this approach is an “up close and personal” with the person posting, it is a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Social media is such a powerful tool to not only share information about oneself, but it can also help spread good like getting the word out to donors to sponsor trips like this, for example. I am forever grateful that I have the connections to share my experiences abroad and cannot wait to do more social media work in the future!

A rainbow by the Eiffel Tower

The Buckeye Dozen

Today, May 17th, 2024, twelve Buckeyes paid their respects to those who lost their lives fighting for freedom. Pictured below are those who planted a flag at their headstones.

Bella Scully-Tenpenny: Robert Lane

Erik Johnson: Robert Forrest

Nicole Fennig: John Fry Jr

Katie Johnson: Robert Smith

Emily Stratman: John Kulp

Rhett Fultz: Thomas Barry

Professor Soland: Melvin Spruiell

Cleo Yarber: Max Clark

Owen Angle: Richard Kersting

Lauren Hilderbrand: Robert Egbert

Abrianna Ohliger: Roger Dyar

Dante LaBianca: John Atkinson Jr

Celebration & Remembrance in Bayeux

Photo on a window of a pharmacy in Bayeux, France.

One of the most striking features of the town of Bayeux and others like it across the Normandy Coast is the sheer appreciation and celebration of the Allied powers in World War II. They are all very much places steeped in time, still ever aware of the war even eighty years later. The flags from the various Allied countries are scattered throughout town, with seven of them flying in a roundabout outside of the hotel we are staying at. I can see them from my window as I write this. The walls of buildings downtown are covered in drawings that optimistically evoke the liberation of France, depicting smiling Red Cross medics and American soldiers with beers. “Thank you” is written on windows in French and English, and historic black and white photos of the town during the forties are taped on the doors of restaurants and stores.

It is almost overwhelming, especially when considering the difficult hand the French were dealt in World War II. Coastal villages like Bayeux were often harmed by the very same forces that were supposed to liberate them— something that seems very much at odds with the more positive nature of remembrance in the towns.

A photo of a destroyed Caen following the Normandy Bombings, which were conducted by Allied forces. (https://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/french-culture/caen-ww2-war-story-france/)

But the treatment of French civilians by the Allied forces is not entirely forgotten. A portion of the Caen Memorial Museum is dedicated to the Allied air campaigns over the French coast. It is remarkably frank in regard to the harm the raids caused the French. Aircraft decimated towns including Caen and Le Havre in hopes of stalling German advancement and by the end, it is estimated that over ten thousand civilians lost their lives in the fire. These facts don’t paint a pretty picture and it’s true that the Allied liberation of France was often met with apprehension.

In many ways, this makes the French acknowledgement and appreciation of its fellow Allied powers all the more meaningful. It is difficult to not only reconcile but also choose to celebrate, and all the more admirable that the French are able to do so while acknowledging the past. To the residents of Normandy; merci pour votre amour et votre gratitude. I’m certain they have not always been easy things to give.

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.

Caught in the Middle

In preparation for our trip to Europe, we learned about the bombing campaigns the Allies conducted during the war. These included the bombing of railways in France in the weeks before and after the Normandy invasion. These attacks killed thousands of French civilians and destroyed many towns, including Caen. We visited the Caen Memorial Museum, and I was surprised to find little mention of this destruction or the pain it caused the people of Caen. This is even more surprising because one of the main intentions of the museum is to “pay a tribute to the martyred city of the liberation.” The suffering of thousands of French citizens was seemingly overlooked in this museum that was supposed to be dedicated to their memory. The Battle of Normandy Museum in Bayeux did a better job of capturing the civilian suffering, with multiple captions dedicated to the plight of the people of Normandy. Much of the region was caught in the middle of fighting, and many French civilians suffered in the “Battle of the Hedgerows,” which is acknowledged in the museum. Yet, if these two museums represent the national sentiment, overall, the French seem prepared to overlook the loss of life caused by Allied bombs in the belief that those bombs helped bring about a quicker end to the war. If that is the argument, then it is a questionable one. Strategic bombing proved ineffective in attaining its military goals, and its inaccuracy caused the death of thousands of civilians, which should not have resulted from the actions of their liberators.

Captions in the Battle of Normandy Museum in Bayeux describing the civilian suffering in Caen and Normandy.


Pointe du Hoc: A Reflective Perspective of Nature and Destruction

By Cecelia Minard

Pointe du Hoc is a coastal World War II site in Normandy, France known for its series of German bunkers and machine gun posts, which were captured by US troops on D-Day after scaling the steep cliffs. This site had a more profound impact on me than anywhere I visited in France. Covered in craters from Allied bombs, Pointe du Hoc struck me with emotions that I at first could not understand. I felt a deep serenity but also an existential insignificance that was simultaneously comforting and terrifying. I branched off from the group to sit alone, hoping to understand what I was feeling. Looking around at dozens of bomb craters, the decrepit German bunker, and the cliff the US troops scaled, I found myself overwhelmed by the contrast of nature and this memorialization of destruction. Grass and wildflowers have filled the craters since the invasion, making them appear almost natural; the interior walls of the bunker have grown over with lichen and moss, making them an earthy green color.

Reflecting on the destruction of the past as I looked around in the present, I felt the lasting power of nature in comparison to human insignificance. Man may have brought destruction to this beautiful seaside site a few decades ago, but what does that destruction mean to the earth? The earth continued to grow and reclaim, almost as if we do not exist. Pointe du Hoc provided me the tranquility to see what happens in the wake of destruction.

That serenity came to me in this thought process: nature will come back and reclaim the earth. There is the possibility that humans will cause our own extinction, but there is comfort in the fact that the earth will continuously foster life. As important as we believe ourselves to be, we are an ephemeral blip on this planet. 

However, that does not mean that nothing in the present should matter to us at all or that humans should only ever serve their own interests. This is clearly untrue; humans are complex and caring organisms. There is a tension between the meaninglessness of our lives and those very lives being the only thing that has any meaning to us at all. While Pointe du Hoc made me think about the impermanence of human suffering, I recognize the importance of human events to those who experienced them and the lasting impact of them for future generations, even though the earth will erase our suffering with time.

Through my studies of the Second World War, I better understand the extent of man’s capacity for destruction and cruelty, while also recognizing its insignificance. Visiting Point du Hoc brought me comfort in recognizing our own futility as well as the power of nature.

Deciphering French Selective Memory

Historians Blog

My final project in Spring semester was a study on Paris under the occupation. Parisians suffered increased intervention from the government in their daily lives, including the German occupying forces. The Memorial de Caen provided a comprehensive exhibit dedicated to World War II, which enhanced my understanding through its display of war’s effect on a nation and its people. It also corroborated my research on specific topics such as how French citizens bore food shortages and the prisoner of war camps.

United States Naval Monument Utah Beach

The Memorial de Caen also showed that France has a problem truly assessing the character of its occupation. I found significant facts omitted regarding the French Jewish experience during World War II. The museum seldom acknowledged that the Vichy collaborationist regime played an active role in Jewish suffering, ignoring the 38,000 who were rounded-up by French police and deported to Auschwitz in 1942, including 13,000 men, women, and children detained during Operation Spring Wind in July of that year. This was the largest round-up of Jews that occurred in France.

Remnants from bombing at Omaha Beach

I found a general absence of accountability throughout France with regards to the collaboration. My experience at the Memorial de Caen exemplified the issues in gaining an unbiased historical account of a country’s experience during war. France praised resisters who fought against German occupation, but this clouds the reality that many French citizens were either collaborative or appeased the Vichy regime, including those who actively carried out violence, such as the French police. The evident French difficulties with honesty positioned me to be more attentive to how the U.S. handles dark moments in our history, such as how we grapple with slavery or Native American removals. It demonstrates the challenge nations have in balancing pride while accepting truth and faults.


Vengeance and Remembrance: Monuments in France Relating to the Slapton Sands Disaster

Vengeance and Remembrance: Monuments in France Relating to the Slapton Sands Disaster

Historian’s Blog

Erik Ehrenfeld

     On that night of April 28, 1944 off the coast of Slapton Sands England, German E-boat fast attack craft ambushed a convoy of American LST landing ships during Exercise Tiger—a simulated landing for the upcoming invasion of Utah beach on June 6, 1944. The Germans torpedoed three LSTs, sinking two. Overall, almost one thousand American soldiers and sailors lost their lives in the tragedy while the German raiders escaped unscathed.

     While in France, I discovered several monuments and displays relating to the Slapton Sands tragedy. Each site reflected the context of its location and highlighted emotions of either vengeance or remembrance. Most of the memorials to the participating units on Utah beach highlighted the invasion and the liberation of France.

Although many of these units also took part in Exercise Tiger, the Slapton Sands memorial consisted of a small plaque that did not mention the German attack and cited the incorrect date in the English section.

Nevertheless, these same honored units later captured the E-boat base at Cherbourg, which suggested that their landing at Utah beach led to a measure of revenge against their previous naval enemies.

     In contrast, the visitor center at the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer focused on honoring those lost. The inclusion of a small display on Slapton Sands proved that the curators of the visitor center valued the lives of those lost during Exercise Tiger as much as those who fell during the battle of Normandy.

Finally, the display claimed that the loss of life on April 28th was not in vain, as the Americans learned hard lessons during the exercise that saved lives on D-Day. In short, the memorials in France presented the Slapton Sands tragedy as either a disaster that required vengeance or a somber reminder of the cost of war.

Commemoration of the Dead of War

Memorializing and commemorating the dead, good or evil, has been a practice that runs centuriesold. France harbors some of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever visited. Throughout my life I have spent years researching and finding new cemeteries, and with my Transnational History of WWII group, I got the chance to explore the American Military Cemetery and the La Cambe German War Cemetery, where Nazis are buried, in France (see images below). In every cemetery I visit, I try to enter with an unbiased broad view of those beneath my feet and allow myself to be drawn to specific graves instead of seeking them. I have observed that many people hold biased opinions in cemeteries which promotes hostility.
First, as a woman from a strong Jewish descent, I somehow still felt at peace in the German
As we moved onto the American Cemetery, where graves could not be approached without
special authorization, many of my peers spoke about how moving the cemetery and the experience was. I was mind-blown. We knew nothing about these men besides their names and what country they died for cemetery. I did not feel hate for the men who lay below my feet, some as young as sixteen, because these men were merely sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers who were surrounded by a toxic culture that infiltrated their mind. They believed to be fighting for their country’s freedom due to immense propaganda and brainwashing. What was unsettling to me was the reaction of my peers. They scowled through the German cemetery and asked questions like “why are we even here?” “I don’t want to be somewhere with Nazis.” The only thing I felt was sympathy towards the German soldiers, men with memories and lives dehumanized by those around me who claim dehumanization is wrong.
yet there was so much bias presented. Moving through to the American cemetery I was unable to approach the plots but still noticed something very telling.
The American cemetery buried its dead facing East and only East. In the German cemetery the heads of the people were buried facing North and South. If the ground permits, Christianity suggests the dead be buried facing East. Scripture states that the second coming of Christ will be from the East so the dead should meet Him face-to-face. Jewish individuals are supposed to be buried facing west to face Israel but they, too, were buried looking eastward in the American War Cemetery. As for the Germans, I know of no religious affiliation with burying someone facing North and South. I feel the goal of the cemetery designers was to keep it as plain and unbiased as possible in order to not seem to be glorifying their deaths. I feel the overall experience at these cemeteries altered my brain by reminding me to continue to view life as something so fragile and sometimes used on the wrong purposes.


German Cemetery


American Cemetery