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.

Creating on Borrowed Time

The Nazi party adored art.

Hitler and other high ranking officers inspecting artwork as well as participating in purchases

To be more specific, art that was approved by the Fuhrer himself. Any art that was deemed “undesirable” would be destroyed or taken by the Nazis to be displayed in a degenerate art museum.

Themes that were considered perfect German values would be praised and those that were created by Jews or displayed themes that clashed with these values would be rejected.

While in Berlin, I saw examples of the art that was allowed by the Nazi party and art that was rejected entirely. The German History Museum had an extensive WWII exhibit that featured a portion about art censorship and theft. In this portion, I saw the most iconic example of German endorsed art. This painting, titled “Kahlenberger Bauernfamilie (“Farm Family From Kahlenberg) and painted by Adolf Wissel, represented the ideal Aryan family. Hitler purchased this painting at the Great German Art Exhibition in 1939 because he believed in the message that the work portrayed. Alongside this iconic work were other “acceptable” works for reference and also photographs of Hitler inspecting artwork.

The perfect Aryan family in the eyes of the Nazi party

 

Another example of Nazi endorsed artwork was a photograph that I saw at the Topography of Terror Museum (located in the exact place where S.S. Headquarters were during the Second World War). This photo shows two Aryan lovebirds who are cuddling on the sand while surrounded by swastika flags. The work is titled “German Vacation Fun with Swastikas” (ca. 1939). The photograph is beautiful and shows young love yet represents the propaganda that was being circulated in Germany at the beginning of the war.

“German Vacation Fun with Swastikas”

To juxtapose the Nazi support of acceptable art, I also visited the temporary Bauhaus Museum exhibit. The Bauhaus School of Art, located in Berlin, was creating designs in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s that were revolutionary and shocking for the art world. As Germany entered the war, the students at Bauhaus felt the pressure of being labeled a “degenerate artist”. While touring the museum, I came across several examples of female students who ultimately ended up in concentration camps for their art. Choosing to not comply with German standards or fundamentally being the wrong race lead to many artists losing their lives. The possibility of new inspiration and creativity was killed along with them.

Female artists who studied at Bauhaus before being sent to a concentration camp

Thankfully, these artists’ stories are finally being told. While reading about both the acceptable and degenerate art in these exhibits, I felt like there was a sort of justice for those who had been lost. Those who collaborated with the Nazis were listed by name. Those who lost the battle were remembered. It seems to me that the creation art during the Second World War was created on borrowed time and we are lucky to learn about the artists’ struggles in the modern day.

Corrupting Christianity

Although I enjoy most of the classes I take, I often have trouble applying the knowledge I learned in real life scenarios. I had never been put into a situation where I utilized the knowledge I learned from all of my classes to figure out a problem and come to a logical conclusion, but this changed when I visited the German History Museum. Here, I was amazed when I stumbled upon an exhibit which called upon what I learned in my German, history, and religion classes.

As I passed by a seemingly simple quilt, I quickly realized there was much more depth to it. It was a very large quilt with embroidered pictures of a Nazi German town with many houses, townspeople, Nazi soldiers, the Hitler Youth, and the League of German Girls marching towards a church in the center of the town. This seemed pretty straightforward until I realized there was also a long German passage also embroidered into the quilt. As I began to read it, it seemed oddly familiar to me. This is when I realized it was the Lord’s Prayer well known throughout Christianity.

Large quilt depicting the Nazification of Christianity in a German town

Once I figured this out, the entire piece seemed to make so much more sense. It was a pure example of the Nazification of Christianity which was seen throughout WWII in the Third Reich. Coming to this conclusion was very rewarding to me because I finally utilized what I’ve learned in several different classes in real life, and I hope to have more of these moments as I continue to further my education.

Part of the quilt which shows a couple lines of the Lord’s Prayer in German

The Objective Perspective

Over the course of the month we visited many, many museums, each of which had its own narrative of the war to tell. The Churchill War Rooms wanted to show that Churchill was an exceptional man of the people and a crucial asset to the People’s War. The museum did this by showcasing Churchill’s everyday routines and hobbies thus making him more average and relatable. The Caen Memorial Museum in France pushed forward the idea that the French resistance was so effective that the Allies were not really needed to liberate the country… The Schindler museum in Krakow clearly laid out the Polish narrative of collective victimhood; our guide continuously made clear that there were good Polish people and bad Polish people, good Jews and bad Jews, and that overall Poland suffered as a whole. But the German museums I found the most interesting because they did not seem to push any sort of narrative at all. They were all very objective and fact based leaving the visitor to interpret the information as such. This objective perspective also seemed to really embody Germany’s collective memory of remorse – we did it, and we are sorry.

To me the objectivity was their way of taking responsibility. Sticking to the facts leaves no room for twisting the story into something it wasn’t. German museums were much wordier and held many less pictures; pictures tend to evoke more emotion than words do and leave more room for subjective interpretation. The Topography of Terror was probably the most word-heavy of the museums we visited in Berlin and the pictures that it had were often placed in a very calculated way – pictures of tormented Jews were often

The juxtaposition of photos in the Topography of Terror Museum.

placed in close proximity to pictures of Nazi officers doing everyday tasks or having fun and in this placement a sort of tension and discomfort was created. The museum displays were also hanging from the ceiling. If someone touched them or if the air conditioner was blowing, they would begin to sway. This also created feelings of discomfort and even made me feel as though I was going to pass out while reading them.

As I visited more museums in Berlin, I began to notice that many of them seemed to use this method physical discomfort through layout and

One of the void spaces in the Jewish Museum of Berlin that was intended to evoke feelings of isolation that the Jews would’ve felt.

architecture which I found most interesting. The Jewish Museum of Berlin used tilted floors and dark, empty rooms with 24m high ceilings to create feelings of discomfort and loneliness that the Jews may have felt while in isolation and under oppression. These rooms reminded me of the “sunken place” from the movie Get Outif you are familiar with the film.

Overall, I thought that the German’s most effectively conveyed the message of WWII. The factual perspective exuded a sense of honesty and responsibility that none of the other museums in any of the other countries seemed to acknowledge, especially not Poland and France. I so appreciated seeing that the Germans took this viewpoint because, honestly, I was little nervous to see what they’d say.

Taking Full Responsibility

Acknowledging and learning from mistakes is no easy task even in everyday life. The German people are faced with recognizing how they were a part of one of the most evil and violent regimes the world has ever known, a role in which they whole-heartedly accept. The German National Museum, the Wannsee House, the Topography of Terror Documentation Center, and other sites and museums provide evidence that the German people seek to admit total responsibility for the actions of Nazi Germany. Endless paragraphs of text, factual documentation, and displays fill these museums, no narrative or excuses present in any way.

The German National Museum gives an excellent exhibit on the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic government in the inter-war period, and the conditions that allowed Hitler and the Nazi Party to rise to power. The Germans are not deceiving on the support they held for Hitler, one quote from the German Resistance Memorial Center states, “Most Germans welcomed the new authorities and their politics. Only a minority mounted resistance…” The same museum also maintains that the Nazis were the aggressors during the war, definitively explaining that the Second World War began when Germany invaded Poland. A quote from the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, holds the same sentiment by asserting, “The Second World War unleashed by the German Reich claims over 50 million lives.”

The exhibits at the Wannsee House continue to refute the claims of Holocaust deniers by providing the document formed there on January 20, 1942 surrounding the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” Translations in multiple languages give readers the opportunity to digest the rhetoric that Reinhard Heydrich and other Nazi officials created when determining the fate of all European Jews. Further displays give evidence of how this plan was put into action and the end result of its implementation – the extermination of millions of men, women, and children.

Germany explains how many Nazi officials, party members, and war criminals were able to return to everyday life following the war. They also indicate how widespread acceptance of their nation’s past did not arise until later generations of Germans began learning the full truth about the Nazis. Germany today takes full responsibility for their sinister role in this period of history and seek to educate others about it.

Germany: 75 Years Later

Thinking about World War II from a modern-day German’s perspective is certainly complicated. How do you go about studying such a painful chapter in your country’s history? Throughout the museums and monuments I visited in Germany, it was clear that Germans take responsibility for the war. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is one of many examples of remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. Small “stumbling stones” along sidewalks and streets mark the locations of Jewish victims’ homes prior to the Holocaust and collectively may be more significant than any giant monument or museum. Other museums such as the Topography of Terror and the German Historical Museum explain how the Nazis consolidated power and launched Germany into war. They seem to serve as reminders of what can happen when civil liberties are suppressed, and dissent is punished. Additionally, the museums are not hesitant to admit the widespread support for the German war effort or the quest for dominance over Europe. Still, they honor those who spoke out against Nazism and defied Hitler; people like Claus von Stauffenberg and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The Reichstag building is the perfect representation of modern Germany. The chamber was not the home of democracy for nearly six decades and architecturally it does look like there is a sixty-year gap between the old and the new. From the outside, it is an old building with a long history. The interior, however, represents the future of Germany; with fresh looking blue chairs and a spiraling dome that rises above Berlin, it is an architectural marvel. The Wannsee House, where the Final Solution was finalized, was one of the more memorable sites I visited. The house is gorgeous, surrounded by gardens and looking out over the lake. It is hard to miss the irony while walking on the grounds. How could such a beautiful place be most known for one of the most wicked conferences ever held? It is also fitting that Hitler’s bunker, where he spent most of his final months in Berlin, is now a parking lot. A large sign describes the significance of the location where he committed suicide, but otherwise, you could drive by without having any idea.

Overall, Berlin taught me a lot about Germany both in the mid-20th century and today. Fortunately, after nearly fifty years of division following the end of the war, Germany has come together over the past three decades and become a world power once again. I believe the rest of the world can learn a lot from the way the Germans remember their past and how they prepare for the future.

Germany’s Atonement and France’s Blind Spots

By the end of our time in Berlin, I couldn’t handle the huge paragraphs of text that German museums presented me at every turn. I often thought that several museums would be more effective with their information placards printed and bound in a book rather than hanging on walls. Why do the Germans dote upon documents and details? Why don’t the French or British?

It’s hard to be peppy in Germany when museums are filled with chilling thoughts instead of glowing triumphs. The Topography of Terror museum, for example, exhibits the below photo of Kurt Meyer, commander of the 12th SS Panzer Division and supervisor of war crimes in Normandy, celebrating at a reunion for Waffen-SS soldiers. Like many SS men convicted by West Germany and the Allies, Meyer’s sentence got his sentence commuted. He was free by 1954.

Kurt Meyer (front left), war criminal, celebrates with other former members of the Waffen-SS in July 1957. The Topography of Terror museum prominently displays this photo along others of Nazis who “got away with it.”

The French deal with war criminals in their museums, but not with their Meyer equivalents. Moreover, they almost never mention their own men who participated in the Holocaust (save Laval), let alone draw attention to the leniency that the Republic showed the perpetrators. Instead, they choose to overstate the role of the Résistance in liberating France, despite the group being militarily irrelevant for most of the war. Funnily enough, the Deutsches Historisches Museum and Topography of Terror exhibit had greater documentation of French collaboration with the Nazi occupation than did the French themselves. Recent French media, like the film La Rafle (an account of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup in Paris), have begun to deal with the realities and complexities of resistance and collaboration, but most museums lag behind.

In this candid, a French gendarme confers with an SS officer. Source: not a French museum, but the Wannsee House, in Potsdam. The French prefer to devote space to the Maquis of the Resistance.

The French also have a messy totalitarian legacy in Pétain, dictator of the “French State” in World War II, but they don’t have Germany’s neo-Nazi/Holocaust-denier problem. Germany has volunteered its leadership in combatting the bad history of those above plus others who perpetuate myths like the “clean Wehrmacht.” That added anti-Nazi goal can alone explain why the nation’s museums stick so closely to documents: it’s hard for an apologist to argue with a huge body of primary sources. Like the Poles at Auschwitz, the Germans seek to warn the world far more than entertain: the Deutsches Historisches Museum spends as much space on the rise of Nazism as it does on its effects of the war.

“Officers of Tomorrow.” The Germans do not point at old propaganda with glee, as many French may with old signs for Free France, but with abjection. One might remember that boys were indoctrinated in the Hitler Youth so that they would die for the state by the millions. The most glee propaganda in the German museums is also the most chilling.

The Wannsee House’s exhibit ends with a series of quotes from Holocaust survivors and their families. One stuck with me, from Joseph Wulf: “I have published 18 books here about the Third Reich, but this had no impact. You can publish things for the Germans until you’re blue in the face, there may be the most democratic government in Bonn, but the mass murderers wander about freely, have their little houses and grow flowers.” Mr. Wulf, perhaps not enough Germans had learned the lessons of the National Socialist dictatorship by the 1960s, but today, the Germans go to the ends of the earth to disprove Holocaust-deniers and apologists with exhaustive and unflinching documentation.

Coming to Terms with the Past

Looking toward the lake

When we arrived at Wannsee, a longtime “getaway lake” for Berliners, I was immediately taken back by how familiar it looked to my ocean-side hometown.  Walking along the lake’s edge to hear water gently lapping against the dock, boats clinking against pylons, birds chirping, and a small outboard motor putting across the flat water was reminiscent of Merrick, New York.  The place was utterly peaceful it was.  Turning away from the lake, I was greeted by a beautiful villa surrounded by bright pink flowers.

It was at this seemingly peaceful location, however, that some of the most sinister documents in human history were created at the Wannsee Conference.  On January 20th, 1942, the 90-minute meeting took place, led by Reinhard Heydrich, to define the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Question” of how to annihilate the Jews.  This conference defined “Jewishness” and what it means to be a “mixed blood” German (someone who had one Aryan and one Jewish parent or grandparent, for example), the Jewish demographic within different occupied countries, and how easily those Jewish populations could be dissolved.  Most disturbingly, however, was the ambiguity behind how this persecution would be carried out.  The documents do not mention the methods for which the “solution” was to be carried out, but do state that mass-deportations to “‘so-called’ ghettos”

The house on the hill

should be carried out at once in the occupied territories so as not to let the local populations become “apprehensive.”

The Wannsee Conference Building is today a memorial and museum.  Within its walls are a chronological display and explanation of anti-Semitism in Germany dating back to the 18th century as well information on the horrible atrocities and the people who committed them throughout the war.  The most striking part of the display, however, is the meticulous use of documents, images, and recordings from the Nazi-era to produce a numb and strictly fact-based museum.  In fact, the only touch of a personal narrative was through the explanation of three Jewish families’ stories throughout this period, from Kristallnacht to capitulation.

The displays within this museum and others in Germany are reminiscent of an idea that I have studied in previous classes known as Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “coming to terms with the past.”  The process of overcoming guilt with the war is one that Germany has been forced to face.  They are stewards to their own history – a national shame that affects the world – and have come leaps and bounds in recognizing the horrible acts of Nazi Germany.  Whereas in the past the Nazi atrocities were simply not talked about, they are now displayed to the most minute detail.  In fact, it is even illegal in Germany to deny that the Holocaust happened.

These museums also prove that the German narrative of the war has no room for error.  No story can be embellished and no experience undermined.  In other nations, museum displays presented the historical narrative quite differently.  In Paris, France, at the Musée de l’Armée, the war was painted like a story with colorful verbiage inflating several events to mask the blow of defeat.  When describing the Battle of France in 1940, the museum said that, “The Maginot Line, even encircled, resisted at every attack and did not capitulate.”  Unlike in France, the Germans cannot inflate their war narrative and this shows in the fact that it is displayed in a very impersonal and emotionless manner.  Military heroes are few and far between, and the atrocities that were committed can only be depicted as rote fact.

Looking toward Wannsee

 

Interpretations from I to Us

By Matthew Bonner

We arrived in Berlin, Germany on May 24th after a day-long charter bus ride from Krakow. While in Berlin, we visited numerous museums, but two that stood out the most were the Topography of Terror and German Resistance Memorial Center. The Topography of Terror is located on the site of the previous SS and Gestapo headquarters. The museum is at a cross section of Berlin’s history, as a portion of the Berlin Wall is still standing in the complex along with recently excavated SS underground torture chambers. The German Resistance Memorial Center is a museum dedicated to German resistance in all forms. The center is located on the site where members of the failed July 20 plot that attempted to assassinate Hitler were executed.

Both museums are examples of the theme we discussed in class of the German struggle with the reality of mass support for the Nazis. The museums are unique compared to other countries’ museums because they focus on the individual, rather than the collective. The Topography of Terror is one of the only museums that focused on the perpetrators, rather than the victims, of Nazi persecution. The exhibits highlight how individual German Nazis were supporters of the Third Reich’s actions. One of the most shocking and disturbing takeaways from the museum was the human element of perpetrators, as a photo revealed SS men and women having a fun time on a sunny afternoon only a short distance away from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Topography of Terror exhibit depicting SS men and women at a retreat 30 km south of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In the German Resistance Memorial Center the focus was again on the individual, taking us through different assassination attempts and resistance by Christian Churches, networks of Communists, and Social Democrat groups. Though it is overwhelming to read about all the different resistance movements and individuals active in opposing the Hitler regime, the museum does not disguise that a majority of Germans supported the Nazi Party and that there was never an effective large scale resistance movement mobilized. The two museums in Germany both highlight individual stories and actions in an attempt to come to terms with the actions of a whole country and “the resistance that never was”.

A wall showcasing the individuals behind resistance efforts at the German Resistance Memorial Center.

This depiction and focus on the individual from Germany is in direct contrast to the museums we visited in Krakow, Poland. Poland largely interprets the war and its aftermath as a claim to national innocence and focused on how the war affected the unified people of Poland. Specifically, the Schindler Museum walked us through the war’s impact on both Poland and the city of Krakow. We were guided by a tour guide from Krakow, who added an extra level of insight through her Polish perspective. For example, she constantly mentioned how the war was a war against all Poles and described how Jews had been assimilated into Polish society for centuries. In addition, one of her main themes throughout the tour was that there are always both good and bad people in a society as a way to explain many of the atrocities that occurred in the country under occupation. In the museum, the exhibits largely focused on the Polish people, instead of individuals and specific populations. Oskar Schindler himself was only allotted two rooms in the museum to describe his contribution, with the focus instead on the Polish experience during the war as one collective memory.

Recreation of Oskar Schindler’s office where he worked to save 1,200 Jews from concentration camps.

Both the individual and collective interpretations can be harmful for a society post-war. Many German museums highlight the individual in an attempt to showcase the heroes during a horrible time in its history. However, other museums vitally depict how the German people were largely complicit in the Nazi rise to power. In contrast, Poland focuses on the collective – often washing out individual stories – with the claim that the war was terrible for everyone. This collective memory fails to acknowledge the stories of specific populations in Poland, such as Jews, that had drastically different experiences in the war. Ultimately, this duality is critical to understand because the best way to come to terms with the war is through a combination of both the individual and collective perspectives. History and people are not clearly defined as good and bad or black and white, and only through a comprehensive and inclusive look at the past can we begin to fully understand World War II and its impact.