Unique Aspects of Germany’s WWII Remembrance

As the main perpetrators of WWII, Germans have very little to commemorate, but that doesn’t mean they don’t remember. Throughout our time in Berlin, we observed much that remained relatively untouched from those years. Five minutes from our hotel stand the remnants of one of the busiest train stations in the world. The German Reichstag building, currently home of nation’s parliament, still has bullet holes visible from the notorious Battle of Berlin. Without even knowing it, passersby bear witness to German history. Germany’s recollection of World War II is exhibited through historical preservation. 

New installations to recall the past have been erected as well. For example, artworks scattered throughout the Reichstag remember the excesses of the Nazi party’s history.  One piece, designed by French artist Christian Bolkanski, depicts the names of all the members of German parliament. Located in one of the building’s hallways, the piece takes the

Black box signifying no free elections throughout the country

visitor through a tunnel composed of boxes, each featuring the name of a parliament member. The halfway mark displays  the members of the Nazi Party and a black box signifying the absence of free elections within the country from 1933-1945. As I began walking through “Archive of German Members of Parliament,” I expected this period of German history to be absent, but its presence in many ways was the point. This art piece beautifully summarizes Germany’s understanding of the war. There is a need to remember the past, but sometimes that remembrance is equivalent to a name on a box. 

Reflection to Reconciliation

       Germany’s collective memory of World War II is a complex and evolving narrative that reflects the country’s efforts to come to terms with its dark past. Since the end of WWII, Germany has undergone a process of reflection, remorse, and reconciliation. The country has acknowledged its responsibility for the atrocities committed during the war and made significant efforts to address its historical legacy. The museums that we visited make this clear.

       Compared to the museums in all of the other countries we went to, Germany’s recognition of the war and the Holocaust  is direct and pedagogically focused. The Topography of Terror museum has paragraphs accompanying each and every picture. The captions contain detailed information, and boards hang everywhere with more background and extensive analyses. The pictures of smiling Nazi soldiers, in particular, spoke to me. One wall of pictures shows Nazi’s enjoying their rest time, and the caption read “Taking a break from mass murder.” The next wall displays gruesome pictures of the victims of those Nazis. I was consistently surprised by how openly German museums discuss war crimes committed in the name of Germany. Through these discussions, Germany seeks a deeper understanding of the complex factors that contributed to the rise of Nazi ideology and the war itself.

       As we walked through Berlin, we frequently stumbled on memorials and museums dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust and WWII. The Holocaust Memorial occupies a full block in the middle of the city, and many other buildings commemorate other historical events throughout the city including the preserved front of Anhalter Bahnhof, once Germany’s largest train station, near our hotel. Germany does all it can to educate future generations about its history and preserve the memory of victims. Through education, memorials, and ongoing discussions, Germany confronts its past, striving to ensure that the memory of the war serves as a reminder of the consequences of nationalism, intolerance, and hatred. 

Germany’s Honesty

The museums in Berlin differed significantly from any of the museums we had seen before. First, The Topography of Terror is very clear in laying out Nazi Germany’s crimes. It has pieces about the persecution and execution of Jews and tries to bring attention to all the countries that suffered because of them. Most museums only focus on Poland and France when talking about nations that were invaded, but the Topography of Terror has information on Greece, Denmark, and many others. I also appreciated the Topography of Terror’s blunt and straightforward presentation. For example, there are few artifacts or objects to look at, but lots of information to read, for example on the Nazi rise to power and persecution of Jews. The information is clear and well organized, which makes it easy to understand. While the museums in London and Paris predominantly focused on their main leaders during the time, such as Churchill and de Gaulle, Germany’s museums discuss members of the Nazi party other than Hitler. It was helpful to learn about the other leaders because it clarifies how the Nazis exercised power. It was not only Hitler who murdered Jews and started WWII, but many others who worked with and followed him.

In contrast to other nations’ sites, Germany faces Nazi crimes honestly, as its own crimes. The museums in France and Krakow seldom mention collaboration with the Nazis or abusive treatment of Jews. They do not readily admit to their countries’ crimes like Germany does. France and Poland’s crimes were not as severe as Germany’s, but that makes Germany’s admission of guilt the more compelling. We also saw mentions of WWII outside of museums. We toured the Parliament building and our guide discussed how they carefully constructed parliament in the post-war era to prevent another party like the Nazi’s from accumulating so much power. On the ground floor, our guide showed us graffiti left by the Red Army when they took Berlin. It is proudly on display as a reminder of their dark past. Even the Berlin Zoo has a small note about which buildings were destroyed and which survived during the war. The horrors of the past are not avoided in Berlin, and they use their history to learn from it and be better in the future.

Last Stop: Berlin

Sam Husk

Comparative blog


My main question entering Berlin was how the Germans would acknowledge their country’s horrific acts during World War II. I was curious to see if they would go out of their way to make sure they denounced Naziism, or if they would show denial in citizen involvement under Hitler’s reign.


On the first day, we visited the Topography of Terror, a museum built at the site of Nazi police headquarters during the war. This museum discussed much of the terror the Nazis inflicted on Jews, gypsies, Romas, and other outcasts. Yet, much of its focus was on the SS and SD, the military police and security service, rather than Hitler. It provided an extensive discussion of the faults of each branch, but only mentioned Hitler’s name a few times throughout the exhibit. I still ponder what I should interpret from the frequent absence of his name throughout the museum. Are the Germans trying to distance themselves from Hitler out of shame? Do they not acknowledge what Hitler did? Or do they subscribe to the argument he was not as directly involved in the mass murder of millions during the war?

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Brandenburg Gate

We also went to the German Resistance museum, where we learned about Claus von Stauffenberg’s assassination attempt in 1944, and heard numerous stories of German resistance throughout the war, whether it be from prisoners, religious groups, youth leaders, or Jews. I thought this museum brilliantly illustrated all those who were against the Nazi regime, without denying the involvement or approval from the majority of German citizens during the time.

Checkpoint Charlie

Chairs of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Potsdam

These two museums, along with all the others we visited throughout the trip, taught me an important fact about the study of history. While the facts remain the same, the inclusion of them is critical to how people interpret the past. At the Topography of Terror, they included far more detailed descriptions of police action in their museum than the faults of Hitler, leading one to believe that the police were mainly at fault despite Hitler being leader. Absence of details allow people to push narratives differing from fact, even if they did not mention something untrue. It demonstrates how crucial it is to incorporate all the facts, allowing visitors to fully judge the historical effects of past events.

Olympic Stadium

Reckoning With the Past: How Germany, France, and England regard World War II

When visiting the museums of Berlin such as the Topography of Terror, German Resistance, and the Wannsee House, I noticed that Germany took a quite different approach to how they portray the war compared to England or France. All the museums I visited in Germany talked very little about the fighting of the war but focused on Nazi atrocities and the few people who tried to resist. The Topography of Terror Museum was dedicated to the crimes that the Gestapo committed and the condonement of these atrocities by most of the population. Less than 1% of the German population resisted the Nazis, which is surprising both for how open Germany is about admitting this and for how small the figure is considering how cruel the regime was. They do not try to hide their history but rather own up to it to ensure that nothing as awful as the Nazi regime can rise again. 

In the Wannsee House, it is also acknowledged how many of the masterminds behind The Final Solution were never held accountable for their crimes, in yet another example of Germany facing their past. This is much different from the museums of London, which focused more on the battles of the war and the hardships that the British people faced. The French also chose to focus on the fighting in France and their liberation but did not acknowledge their complicity in exporting thousands of Jews to concentration camps. It seems that the Allied nations decided to tell the story of the war in the way they experienced it, with the British focusing more on the battles and the bombings, while the French focused more on occupation and resistance. The Germans, being the aggressors, instead focused more on the atrocities that were committed under the Nazi regime as a way of reckoning with their past.  

I have lots of respect for how Germany has handled their troubled past, as it should be every country’s duty to tell their history as it was, regardless of how awful it may be, to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.  

Looking down the Holocaust Memorial in Central Berlin


A moving quote in the German Resistance Museum

Honesty is the Best Policy: Comparing the Interpretations of World War II Through German and French Museums

Honesty is the Best Policy: Comparing the Interpretations of World War II Through German and French Museums

Comparative Blog

Erik Ehrenfeld

     No country escaped its history. While some nations worked tirelessly to come to terms with the sinister aspects of their pasts, others opted to conceal their failures. Germany, for good reason, fell into the former category, while France was an example of the latter. These differences in collective memory did not simply constitute academic disagreements; rather, they proved that some nations were more historically honest than others.

     The German museums were commendably frank about their nation’s egregious past. Each museum of the Nazi period was essentially a showcase of human depravity on a mass scale. In a poignant example, our guide at the German Resistance Memorial Center immediately stated that less than one percent of Germans resisted the Nazis. Thus, while the individuals and groups depicted at the center were rightly remembered as heroes, contemporary Germans understand that they were brave exceptions to the norm of almost total obedience to a criminal regime. The takeaway was clear and effective: an honest accounting of the past helped visitors to recognize and combat the heinous actions that every human is capable of.

Evidence of German conformity to the Nazi depravity.

     The French museums followed a different course of collective memory. Although historians have proved that few French men and women resisted the Nazi occupation, the French museums deify the brave minority and vilified or, more often, ignored the collaborationist majority. Without previous knowledge of the true situation, most visitors to the French museums would assume that most of the population resisted the occupation. I found this interpretation dangerous and insulting, as it failed to inform the public of the true nature of moral ambiguity under occupation and it trivialized the courage of the few true resistance members. I hope that the French will one day follow the German example and restructure their museums towards historical honesty and away from celebratory propaganda.

Personal effects of General Charles de Gaulle, a favorite subject of French museums.

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

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

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

A the Site of Resistance

            As I marveled at the vast country of Germany, it was undeniable how deep the history runs. Throughout my studies in the States, we have analyzed countless sources to further our understanding and prepare us for the journey we embarked on overseas. Truthfully, nothing could have prepared us for the emotions and level of comprehension achieved when being physically present in the locations instead of just reading about them.

            Upon entering the Resistance Memorial Museum in Germany, you are greeted by a large statue of Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who led Operation Valkyrie. This operation was a failed bomb attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in late July 1944. The wall to your left holds a wreath that marks the exact  spot where Stauffenberg was shot and killed after being captured. Although we had discussed this man, his crew, and his plot in class, nothing prepared us for being in the execution place of a man who was just moments away from saving millions of lives.

            The Memorial Museum did a phenomenal job explaining the significance of minor mistakes made. Stauffenberg had sustained injuries and was forced to use special pliers and equipment to compensate for his damaged hand. As he drove off away from the blast of the bomb, the equipment was discarded on the side of the road. Once found he was convicted almost immediately due to his special equipment. The site itself was historic and told a story. The men were speaking loudly against the Nazi party in prayer until the rifles were fired, killing them instantly. Stauffenberg was a Nazi but was revolting against the corruption of the Nazi party. He aimed to keep Germany whole and “cleansed” but was unsupportive of Hitler’s plans.

            Grasping the concept of war is difficult and treacherous, especially a war as horrendous as World War II. Germans were in a time of peril, and Hitler rose to power by offering them everything the people wanted, he just painted it through a rose- tinted lens. But there were opponents. Operation Valkyrie was a prime example of a coup formed against the Nazi party.

            A large portion of the Nazi party supported Hitler due to his promises of bettering the economy and state of being. Soon, Hitler began utilizing his brute force to ensure compliance leading to a compliant majority. The Resistance Memorial Museum offers insight that sites are sources themselves because they offer a personal experience to the few who kept their humility and humanity by resisting a force they felt was in control of too much power. Even with the majority of the people supporting the Nazi party, there were few who decided their ideas were worth fighting for.

Jewish Museum Berlin: Using Space to Convey an Emotional Experience

By Cecelia Minard

The Jewish experience during World War II was highlighted in nearly every museum we visited, but none of them demonstrated this as poignantly as the Jewish Museum in Berlin. This museum managed to use space to convey the emotional experience of Jewish people in Germany throughout history, making it a truly unforgettable site.

The Imperial War Museum in London had a moving Holocaust exhibit, which included many family photographs, individual stories, and personal belongings. A photograph of a little boy with his friends only months before his death brought me to tears. The Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin did not shy away from the harsh reality of what the Nazis did to the Jewish people, always using the term “murder” rather than “execution.” While the Oscar Schindler Museum in Krakow dissembled the Polish people’s part in the annihilation of the Jews, the museum did show the Jewish experience in an interesting way by recreating the concrete walls of the ghettos and a house of the ghetto.

Despite these museums’ strengths, none compared to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. What made this museum so unique was its ability to capture emotional experiences through physical spaces. Upon entering the permanent exhibit, which consists of three long white intersecting hallways, I immediately felt dizzy but was at first unsure why. I then realized the floors and walls were tilted, and nothing was at a 90-degree angle. The architecture was meant to disorient. The three intersecting hallways were each axes meant to represent an aspect of the Jewish experience. The first was Continuity and Change, showing Jewish history in Germany, the second was Emigration and Exile, which delves into the experience of being forced to leave their homes, and the third was The Holocaust, focusing on the genocide.


The axes of Emigration and Exile lead the visitors to an outdoor exhibit called the Garden of Exile, which consists of a field of 3-meter-tall concrete columns on uneven ground. Walking through these columns evokes a sense of disorientation, meant to represent the instability the displaced Jewish people felt during the Holocaust.

At the end of the axis of The Holocaust is the Holocaust Tower. The tall concrete room is only lit by a small slit in the ceiling, and an eerie ringing noise fades in and out. A feeling of loss and isolation immediately settled over me and my peers and we sat on the floor for about ten minutes, each in silent introspection. This room allowed us to reflect on the devastation of the Holocaust and the cruelty of which humans are capable.

Accepting Responsibility

As I explored the museums in Berlin, I observed a strong effort to maintain what the conflict meant for Germany, even when it was difficult or reflected poorly on the nation. The Topography of Terror Museum explained the horrors committed by the SS and Gestapo. The museums was simply laid out and long text descriptions retold the history in detail. One display  that described the murders of Soviet POWs by Gestapo and SS agents stood out to me in particular. Another image showed Gestapo and SS officials enjoying dinner, possibly after executing three Poles earlier that day. Both these displays underscored the brutality of the Gestapo/SS when dealing with Eastern Europeans and how industrialized their actions became.

Gestapo Dinner

The German Resistance Museum gave a different perspective but still maintained the same level of detail. Numerous walls were devoted to acknowledging the Germans who actively resisted the Nazi regime, even when it cost them their lives. The museum also gave special attention to the failed July 20th assassination attempt and commemorated Claus Von Stauffenberg for trying to kill Hitler. Similar to the Topography of Terror Museum, there were long text descriptions, but there were also far more photographs sharing the faces of Nazi resistance.

Even though these museums share very different sides of Germany in WWII, they both provide the same perspective on the country’s collective memory of the conflict. Germans accept their role in starting the conflict and the atrocities that were committed over the course of the war. These museums didn’t try to cover up the Nazi’s actions or rid themselves of the blame, they presented the information bluntly. At the same time, there is a desire to remember how the German people did maintain some sliver of humanity, which was evident in the Resistance Museum. Out of all the countries we visited, the museums here interested me the most because I wasn’t sure how the information would be presented. Although it may have been a bit much to read sometimes, the museums provided the information clearly and it was fascinating to be in spots where history took place.

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.

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. 



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

Memories of Resistance and Democracy in Postwar Germany

Germany does not shirk from its collective responsibility for World War II and the Holocaust. The German Historical Museum, for example, does not sugarcoat popular support for the Nazi Party during the interwar period. Instead, historians ask how the Nazis obtained power and why they were able to keep it. By answering these difficult questions, the Federal Republic of Germany acknowledges and wrestles with its dark past, which proves that democracy is never guaranteed in our turbulent world but it can rise out of our darkest experiences.

The Topography of Terror Museum documents the rise and ruthlessness of the Nazi Party through propaganda, intimidation, and violence. The steel building stands where the Gestapo Headquarters and Reich Main Security Office once stood. It was here at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse that Gleichschaltung (i.e. the totalitarian process of subjugating every element of society to Adolf Hitler) became a reality. To solidify their grip on power, Nazi brownshirts arrested political opponents in the Reichstag, paraded elected officials through the streets, terrorized German-Jews, and persecuted the professional classes. Under Heinrich Himmler and Reinhart Heydrich, the Reich Main Security Office fused police forces into the ranks of the SS. The Museum includes pictures of Nazi officials alongside walls of text that explain the roles of individuals in Nazi terrorism. The Nazis targeted the upper echelons of German civil society and removed safeguards that should prevent the acceptance of evil regimes and boundless war.

The Bendlerblock Memorial to German Resistance remembers the few with the courage to oppose the Nazi regime in its atmosphere of terror, especially those who sacrificed their lives in the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. One could easily miss the unassuming courtyard where firings squads executed Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators. The Memorial consists of a stone slab, two copper plaques, and a statue of a naked and bound man. It does not make excuses for the plot’s failure or conjecture about what might have been. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt noted that key leaders of Operation Valkyrie planned to ask for a separate peace as well as other terms to which the Allies would never have agreed. Instead, the Memorial humbly and factually reminds visitors that some paid the ultimate price in defiance of Hitler’s Germany. The Bendlerblock also contains a series of exhibits on resistance from individuals in many segments of German society, including the army, churches, schools, and governments. While resistance to Nazi Germany was anything but widespread, the Bendlerblock Memorial shows that the Nazis failed to eradicate civil society.

After World War II, Germany was realistic about its culpability for the Nazi regime. Unlike postwar France, there were no myths of a vast and powerful resistance. It was undeniable that many contributed to the collapse of the young Weimar Republic into the Third Reich. The Reich Chancellery and Reichstag lay in ruins, and rubble filled the streets of Berlin until 1950. The Führer Bunker where Hitler took his own life is now a parking lot. From ground zero, Germans participated in de-Nazification and formed a new government. After its reunification in 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany was – arguably – the most modern democracy in the world. The Bundestag, formerly the Reichstag, reflects postwar Germany’s dark history and impressive progress through its design. I interpreted its open glass top as indicative of the transparency necessary for parliamentary representation. There is preserved graffiti from Soviet soldiers on the walls. Germany is a product of its experiences, and it does not intend for the suffering of its people (esp. victims and resistors) to be in vain. With democracy in crisis across the West, perhaps the future lies in remembering the darkness of Germany’s past alongside the mirrors and light of the Bundestag spire.

The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and German growth after WWII

When we think of Germany, we often think of them as the awful perpetrators in the Holocaust and of who’s to blame for World War II. But what is their identity today? This year will be 74 years since the end of WWII. From their laws against swastikas and SS symbols to the banning of the Nazi salute in public, Germany appears to be recognizing the past and taking steps to ensure it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes. Yet, there was still one thing that stood out to me as being nonprogressive towards ending Nazism: The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.

Talks of building the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe was in the works all the way back in the 1980s, but it wasn’t awarded funding by the German Federal Parliament until 1999 and construction didn’t begin until 2003. Finally, the Memorial was completed and opened to the public in 2005. The fact that it took nearly 25 years to get this memorial established in such a key place in Germany was really striking to me. Whether this was due to the fact that many perpetrators, collaborators, and bystanders of World War II and the Holocaust were still alive during that time period or if it was Germany’s unwillingness to take responsibility for their past, this seemed like a job that was well overdue.

The name of this memorial also stood out to me because it does not disclose who murdered the Jews of Europe, when or exactly where they were murdered, nor does it include any mention of the Holocaust or Nazism. In addition, the historical placement of this site is important because it in the city center where most of the deportations took place. The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe is also located around the corner from the infamous Führerbunker where Hitler committed suicide. This could be seen as problematic in the fact that it takes the attention off of the Jewish memorial itself.

Since its opening in 2005, there have also been problems of tourists and locals alike, taking pictures, posing on top of and vandalizing the rows of Memorial stones. These acts of insensitivity are extremely dangerous and give the impression that people do not know or care about the genocide of the Jewish people. Like Hannah Arendt pointed out, these “nobodies” are the most dangerous of all when it comes to the Holocaust. This bears the question if the memorial had a stronger and more descriptive name, would people be more empathetic to it?

The only thing this memorial seems to have done right would be in the actual construction and design of the Memorial. It consists of various rows of gray rectangle blocks that vary in size, shape, and texture, with an unstable ground that changes in elevation. Visiting this memorial with my comrades only intensified the experience. Walking through the blocks I would see my friends one second and then they were gone the next. There was a sense of uncertainty with no set direction as to how to walk through the memorial and a feeling of instability and chaos in the precarious ground, where you are almost never able to properly catch your footing. The exposure you feel when standing by the short blocks and a sense of isolation you feel while standing by the tall blocks was also something I encountered while visiting. These were all feelings that the Jewish people experienced during the Holocaust. You leave the memorial feeling uncomfortable and unsure, only a minute part of what these victims felt every day of their lives during World War II. This memorial does seem to be a step up against Nazism, but as we can see in the lengthy timeline of construction, vagueness in the title of the memorial and in the insensitivity of visitors, there is still a long way to go for Germany.