May 26th:

The Main Square in Kraków.

While I am looking towards going to Germany, I am glad that Kraków, Poland was a part of our program. Buying food and souvenirs in Kraków were not as blow to the wallet as it has been in previous cities. Kraków also provided many beautiful sites to see and adventures to have. On the first day, the whole Study Abroad group went the Main Square, or Rynek Główny, where we all decided to break into smaller groups to eat dinner. Many of us tried a well-known Central and Eastern European cuisine called pierogi. The Square itself is one the largest medieval town squares in Europe. Despite the food and the man-made structures, these are not the main reasons why that I am glad we went to Kraków. The main reason is a serious one and should be treated as such.

As students, we are always taught certain topics in our history classes and to analyze the consequences of these topics. However, I believe being in a location of such historical significance can further enhance a student’s understanding on a topic. Physically being at the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps made me have a sobering experience about the Holocaust. However, it did leave me with some questions that irked me. We know the despicable political party that was the National Socialist, how they came into power, and with Hitler, enacted policies that discriminated against anti-Semitic and other groups in Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied territories. These policies were based on their twisted Aryan supremacy ideology and in 1941 culminated in the Holocaust; a horrific genocide in which around two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe, along with the Roma people, people with disabilities, and other groups, were persecuted, sent to concentration camps, and murdered. Though we walked through the camps, and saw them with our own eyes, it was hard for me to imagine how one human would let another go through unspeakable atrocities. How would anyone live with themselves after personally witnessing such death and destruction? And how could they come back to the camps day after day?

Crematoria II in Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

As the Soviet Red Army approached Poland in November 1944, the SS scrambled to remove any evidence of the atrocities committed at the Auschwitz concentration camps. They destroyed many written documents, plundered goods stolen from the prisoners, and demolished many of the camps’ buildings. Among these buildings were crematories II and III in Birkenau. They have remained untouched ever since and were shown to us in our guided tour. Looking back at it, I am glad we got to experience the camps because they serve as a reminder to us and future generations of the atrocities that happened there and give us a responsibility to ensure such atrocities on this scale is not repeated.

Thank you for reading this blog. Do widzenia.


May 23rd:

A watermill in Bayeux.

Bayeux, France was a nice change of pace from London, England. The quiet and peaceful town was full of shops and restaurants, ready to please any local townspeople or tourists. Bayeux was one of the first major towns liberated by the Allied forces after the Normandy Invasion. The town is also home to the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England in the 11th -century.

One of the better museums our study abroad group went to while staying in Bayeux was the Caen Memorial Museum. The Museum was built in 1989 and contains two main sections: one focusing on World War II and another on the Cold War. Our main objective was the WWII section, which started us off descending down a spiraling staircase. This indicated the falling infrastructure of France and other countries following WWI. Once we hit the lower level of the section, the magnifying glass was on top of France.

After Nazi Germany defeated France on 6 June 1944, France was split into a territory occupied by the Nazis and the newly formed Vichy France, under the control of Marshal Petain. The new puppet government went down a path of collaboration and offered little resistance. Petain believed the defeat was the result of plotting among “anti-French forces”, embodied by Jews, communists, and foreigners. He sought to bring the nation together; by excluding those he considered responsible for its defeat, and relying on traditional values: work, family, country, piety, and order. Europe falling under Nazi control was an apparent belief in Vichy France and fueled the collaboration between the two countries.

Revolution Nationale poster designed by R. Vachet in 1942.

In 1942, R. Vachet followed this trend when he designed a propaganda poster, Revolution Nationale. The poster depicted a house tumbling down under the Star of David on the left while the house on the right stands firm and peaceful with a resting French flag perched on top of it. This poster paints a clear picture on how the collaborative French state under Petain viewed the Jews as a faulty people. Alongside this poster were Petain memorabilia and other objects that made it obvious who and what Vichy France saw as enemies and its future corruption. With different plaques at other museums, like the Musee de l’Armee in Paris, stating that the French Resistance had a bigger role in liberating France than it actually did creates a disillusionment of the history these museums portray.

On to Poland now! Au revoir!


May 14th:

Greetings all. I am reporting from the English Channel, heading towards Bayeux, France. For the past five days, my comrades and I have been in London, England visiting and learning about the different sites pertaining to World War II. When we arrived in London, I was kind of overwhelmed. How so many people could live in compact space was astonishing. However, after getting acquainted with the Tube, the difference of how cars are driven, and adjusting to the other customs of this country, everything started to make sense.

One thing I definitely noticed about the British character was how they pay homage not just to fallen heroes but also innocent civilians. Civilian deaths from World War II almost doubled military deaths. This was due in part to strategic bombing, which is an aerial attack on cities, harbors, workers’ housing, and railways. Nazi Germany used strategic bombing on the Londoners during the war. Great Britain later used the same tactic towards the Nazis in Germany.

As my comrades and I visited the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, something stood out to me. Right behind the sculptures of the seven Bomber Command aircrew, is a message. It states, “This Memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of 1939- 1945.” Though some people may miss this statement given where it is placed, I believe it serves a strong purpose in striving to acknowledge future relations between the British and the Germans. I also admired the sculptures of the aircrew themselves: How they are looking out to the horizon after an air raid, reflecting on their actions gives them life. Some look like they are proud, one tired and another seems to be questioning what just happened.

Unfortunately, this is where today’s blog will end. Until next time. Cheers!

London Through a Comedian’s Newsreel

On my first night in London, I found myself entering an attic in Camden, The Camden Comedy Club, and laughed as a comedian made many jokes and struggled to participate as she referenced politics I didn’t understand. By entering a new nation one enters a knew political and social climate. Suddenly, jokes were centered around the Royal Wedding and Brexit rather than Donald Trump and the Mexican border. The Royal Wedding was a massive buzz everywhere from Trafalgar Square to Kensington. Brexit was whispered around with weighted connotations about future implications for the British people. And yet, what I found most interesting was that these buzz words fluttered across the City of London in a similar manner as any breaking news story would around New York City. It was dealt with in posters, with humor, and with a marked desire for commercial gain. The Royal Wedding is a national celebration of an old English tradition of monarchy as well as capitalism. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s faces were plastered all over shiny mugs and magnets ready to be sold at a kiosk anywhere and everywhere. And while Brexit has serious implications as heavy as any deal Donald Trump is currently pulling out of in the United States, the British people, in their classic British manner reminiscent of Hitler jokes during the Blitz, cope through laughter.

As I watched political history unfold and new skyscrapers rise in London, I could not help but notice a simple fact. The British are not yet over World War II. A few months ago I asked an Englishman named Christopher if I could use the name Chris, and his knee jerk response was “sure sure, anything but Adolf, right?”. It seems that thousands of air raids cannot so easily be forgotten. While I expected to experience World War II memorabilia during our time at the Churchill War Rooms or Bletchley Park, I was not expecting to experience it in everything I did during my free time. Our comedian began making jokes about Winston Churchill and his handling of Dunkirk within twenty minutes of her set. From this moment on I knew, the Second World War was still fresh in English memory. Everywhere from the Tate museum to St. Pauls’ cathedral, plaques were posted commemorating fallen soldiers, and art was on display to celebrate the British strength in World War II. It seems indisputable to assume that, whatever the current political and social climate in the United Kingdom may be, modern London is a direct product of Second World War sufferings and efforts. If a comedian can connect Churchill to a recounting of her failed blind date, then it can transcend into the functioning of modern society from Parliament down to the individual Englishman.

In Conclusion

May 25th– We left Krakow by coach and began our journey to our final destination: Berlin. Krakow to Berlin is a seven-hour drive, so that is not much to report from the bus. Once we arrived in Berlin, we has no time to waste. We quickly hoped on their metro and went down the Brandenburg gate to walk to the Bundestag. The Bundestag is where the German parliament meets, and one of the workers there gave us a guided tour. Our guide was excellent, and seemed to know everything there is no to know about the magnificent building. The most interesting part of the building is its connection to the past—especially WWII. Up until then I had been a little skeptical of how Germany handled the war and their Nazi past, and no country would want to focus on something so awful. However, I was quick to discover that Germany is handling the war in a respectful way, without glorifying it. The Bundestag features testaments to the war, such as the Soviet graffiti that has been left on the walls. The most interesting part of this is that it is in the middle of their workspace, and even the building has been remodeled since then, the German people have decided to preserve it. For me that was the most interesting part, and they preserved something reminding them of their defeat, which is not something most countries would not be willing to do. Nevertheless, what amazed me the most is the monument in the basement, to those elected democratically in Germany. There is even a box for Adolf Hitler, despite what later happened under his rule. The box had to be filled with concrete however as it was kicked in more than once. Despite his box, the years 1941-1945 are missing, as a mark of the dark times and Germany and the utter lack of democracy during those years. The Bundestag is a central building for German democracy, and yet in it sits a reminder of the dark times they once faced, perhaps to remind them of the importance of freedom in society, and what happens when it is taken away. After the tour, we made our way to an authentic German restaurant for some pretzels.

May 27th

Another day exploring how Germany remembers the war, today focused on the resistance however. Despite the overwhelming Nazi power in Germany, there were resisters, even high in the Nazi ranks. We made our way to the Bendlerbloc-Von Stauffenberg Memorial at the site of the German Resistance Museum to learn about the July 20th, 1944 plot to kill Hitler. On July 20th, 1944, Claus Von Stauffenberg and other high ranking Nazi officials attempted to assassinate Hitler with a bomb. Von Stauffenberg planted the bomb and then returned to Berlin, believing Hitler to be dead when hearing about the explosion later on. However, as all other attempts to kill Hitler has failed in the past, this one had too. Hitler had somehow survived and the resisting officers plan to take power in berlin (Operation Valkyrie) was foiled shortly thereafter. Stauffenberg and those immediately assumed guilty were executed in the courtyard of what is not the museum that night, and a witch-hunt that resulted in the deaths of family members and people unrelated to the attempt followed. The memorial is centered outside the museum, and is in the exact spot the men were shot. The museum is incredibly detailed, and features stories of resisters from all lifestyles. From the church, the army, the public and even the Jewish community, the museum pays tribute to those who lost their lives attempting to stop the Nazi party. It is clear that in constructing these places the German people made no attempts to glorify anything, and the men are by no means made out to be heroes. Rather they are shown as people who just attempted to stop it for a number of reasons, not necessarily because they did not agree with it. After the resistance museum, we walked over to the Soviet memorial in the Tier garden. The memorial is dedicated to the soviets who fought in Berlin, and later captured it. It also serves as an example of Germany’s acceptance of their part in the war, as they allow the victors to construct memorials in the city. We then made our way to the Holocaust memorial that sits right next to the Brandenburg gate. The memorial is made of various sized concrete steels, and is a maze in itself. The intention is to show how fast people disappeared in the war, and how one second someone would be there and they next would be gone without a trace. It is interesting to walk through, and as the ground changes and the steels grow bigger, one gets a sense of uneasiness, such as the Jews in Europe would have felt during the early years of the Nazi regime. It is a simple memorial, but that does not take away from its power. We ended the day at the former Hitler bunker, located about a block from the Holocaust memorial. Rather than preserve it as an exhibit, it is a parking lot. The Germans decided not to preserve it, and one cannot blame them for giving him nothing better—as he did not deserve it. It is a stark contrast to the German resistance museum, and gives a vital look into how the Germans treat the war and their Nazi past, they do not ignore it, but they by no means glorify it or give it no more attention than they feel it deserves.

May 28th

Today was focused on one of the most complex relationships of the war, the Soviet and Germans. We rode the train out to the Soviet cemetery, which differed from every cemetery we had seen thus far due to its lack of single graves. It is still a powerful place however, as it houses a statue carrying a child and stepping on a swastika while impaling it. It was there we discussed operation Barbarossa, and how it is believed to have ultimately cost Hitler the war. Though originally the Soviets and Germans were “allies” in the sense they had a non-aggression pact, but that soon faltered when Hitler decided to invade Russia. Hence, Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler assumed the Soviet Union would fall as Poland had, and decided to invade and conquer planning on a swift victory. He found anything but that with Stalin and the red army. The red army had more people, and despite its initial struggles eventually pushed back the Germans and took Berlin. Hitler’s invasion forced the Soviets into an unlikely alliance with the allies, and thus gave him a two-front war with his enemies coming at him from both sides. The Russians, though eventually successful suffered mass causalities during the war, with both civilians and soldiers dying at unprecedented rates compared to their fellow allies. The Soviet Cemetery houses the remains of about 5,000 soldiers who fought for their freedom and helped win the war, and stands as a testament to the enormous sacrifices Russia made during the war.

After the cometary, we headed to the German-Russian museum, which offers an unprecedented look at the battle in the east and how it truly devastated Russia. The museum focuses on the Russian civilians, and how the Nazis imprisoned many of them in attempts to end communism. The museum is very Russian- centric however, and tends to avoid how Stalin treated his own people, but that is a point for another time. Rather it places the blame on the Germans, and how they decimated Russia during their invasion. Overall, it was not my favorite museum, but I left appreciating the sacrifices of the Russian people in order to help the allies win the war.

May 29th

Our final day in Berlin was spent at the Wannsee house, a spot where it is said that the Final Solution was officially determined. Though there is no definitive proof that this was determined here, it is still an eerie feeling to walk through the place where Hitler and other officials may have decided to murder the 11 million Jewish people living in Germany. The museum is small, but has a grander purpose: the intentionalist v. functionalism debate. The museum takes a intentionalist perspective, and therefore highlights the idea that the mass murder of the European Jews as Hitler’s goal from the beginning. This is highlighted in excerpts from his speeches in the early 1920s which blame the Jews for the loss of WWI, as well as the concise timeline showing the rise of fascism and the ultimate creation of “death factories” for the Jews. This view is something that can be ignored, however it is not the only explanation behind what ultimately became the final solution. There is also the functionalist view, which is the idea that the final solution came about after a series of failures by the Nazi regime and was not the original goal, but the reaction to what they faced as they attempted to answer the so-called “Jewish question”. I personally believe neither is right over the other, and when one looks at the final solution there are elements of both theories, and what should be focused on the is systematic murder of 6 million people. The regime had the goal of ridding Europe of the Jewish people from the start, but whether they had the goal of murdering all of them is unclear. Making it seem to be the result of troubles normalizes it in a sense, as it makes it seem that they would not have turned to this had things worked out. However, this cannot be normalized; it must be treated as abnormal so that it does not happen again. What must come out the debate is that people died, and no matter what ultimately determined their fate, they must not be ignored or become simply the byproduct of theories.

On a lighter note, our final stop in Berlin was the Olympic stadium. Having never seen an Olympic stadium before, I could not help but smile knowing the incredible events that happened there. Including the world record and full gold medals earned there by fellow Buckeye—Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens is a personal idol of mine as I also run, and his performance at these Olympics is nothing short of legendary. Despite Hitler’s racist regime watching, Owens went on to win four gold medals and only annoy Hitler, as he was proved wrong. Seeing where Jesse Owens once ran was nothing short of incredible, and knowing he shared my passion is what makes him someone worth looking up to for me. I took quite a few pictures with his sign, in starting race position of course.

After our day out, we reconvened for our final group dinner. It was full of German food, beer, and many laughs as we reflected on all we had learned—and the bonds we had forged throughout the semester. It amazes me how vibrant Berlin is, for a city divided just under 30 years ago. It is diverse, it is colorful, and yet it is still healing. Germany has by no means had an easy past, and its presentation of that blew me away. They accept responsibility for what they did, and they own their history in effort to teach others. Berlin holds years of history. From Soviet graffiti to the Berlin wall, it stands as a testament of the ability of people to bounce back from bad times, and even though Germany is still a country healing from its deep wounds, it is a country that has managed to showcase both the worst of humanity, and even the good as they attempt to right their wrongs and open their past to educate the world—no matter how painful it is.

This trip has brought me new insight into the war, and how it is treated in a global context. I have learned about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Though I may be leaving where it happened, I can now understand why it has such a global impact, and why is it still studied even today. It was a truly incredible experience, and I cannot begin to describe how this trip has affected me in ways I have not seen yet.  Not only has it given me 22 new friendships, but it has made a better historian—and that is truly a gift in itself.

Reichstag building

Wansee House

A night out in Berlin

Memorial to Van Stauffenberg