A Light in the Dark

Our tours through Berlin have been an enlightening undertaking and are a fitting end to our tour of Europe and study of World War II. Much of what we’ve studied thus far has been focused on military aspects of the war, from the Cabinet War Rooms in London to the D-Day beaches of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. We’ve spent much of our time in Europe tracking the Allied advance and learning about their most important events. It’s only fitting we end in Berlin then, where World War II started with Hitler’s rise to power. But instead of remembering the war for its military matters, Germany contends with a much darker history and a facet of the war they can never forget – the Holocaust. But to give the modern state credit, Germany offers a wide array of tours through museums and other historical sites to teach the people what transpired in the Nazi era.

We toured a great many sites, and all of them were deeply impactful in their own right, but the one that stays foremost in my mind was the German Resistance Museum. Other sites rightly focused on how the Holocaust happened and what it meant for the thirteen million lives that it extinguished, and I would argue that they are a prerequisite to view the Resistance Museum. It is almost impossible to convey the dread seen at sites like the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, but thoughts and feelings linger with you. Understanding and coming to terms with the scope of the industrial slaughter that Nazi Germany wrought instills a deep-seated dread and revulsion that sticks to the soul like tar. But it’s necessary that we tour these sights and try to understand how and why it happened. But the reason I look back at the resistance museum with such a keen memory was its profound story of hope. The feelings and thoughts contained within the museum manifested as a small flicker of light within the vast darkness of the Holocaust’s history.

A wreath and plaque commemorating Claus von Stauffenberg who attempted, and failed, to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. He was executed in the courtyard where this wreath is laid.

We learned from a fellow student that German resistance was fated to be a footnote in history of the Third Reich. A resistance that never was, actions against the German state were small, contained, and rather ineffective as a whole against the sheer weight of indoctrination and machinations of a totalitarian state. Many stood on the sidelines as a matter of self-preservation, apathetic to the suffering of their fellow humans, but the Resistance Museum is dedicated to those who fought back in whatever manner they could. Walking through the exhibits and reading the individual stories was almost invigorating in a sense. The tar-like dread that covered one’s soul felt a small bit lighter after reading these people’s exploits and just how many lives they saved doing so.

Almost all of their stories ended in tragedy, though. Few escaped the wrath of the Gestapo, and the debilitating fear of their reprisals frightened most Germans into apathy or compliance. I have generally softened my heart to those who remain on the sidelines in revolutionary conflicts, but cooperation with the Nazi regime is an omnipresent demon that the German people must contend with. I only pray I am never put I such a situation like that.

We also learned a great deal about how the German people remember and commemorate the war in the face of such a dark history. It’s understandable that the resistance museum has become a beacon of commemoration, even bringing the nation’s Prime Minister in a yearly ceremony to remember the men that tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. We won’t be here to see the event take place, but it does bring some amount of comfort that the German people still keep the events of the Second World War in their hearts and minds as they look towards the future.

An interpretive statue in the same courtyard as the wreath. The statue’s nudity and tied hands can be interpreted as laying oneself bare before God before execution.

It has been a reckoning of the soul to experience the history of the Holocaust in Berlin, but I am grateful to the very core of my being that I had the opportunity to learn, first-hand, all that I have from this study abroad. My deepest and most heartfelt thanks go out to every person who gave me this opportunity to study abroad in Europe. I hope you all carry some small measure of pride in creating this opportunity of learning and enlightenment for us on this tour.

Germany’s Dark Past

The final leg of our trip takes us to Berlin. By now, I have heard from both professors and a student that we have saved the best for last. As we ride the bus towards the German capital, I begin to wonder what the city will be like. Eighty years ago, it was the heart of the Third Reich, where Adolf Hitler believed he would lead Germany to imperial greatness, once again. Now, it is a city with a massive responsibility to never forget what happened. How would the city portray itself? Would it ask for forgiveness? Or would it completely disassociate itself from those who were in charge?

As our itinerary focuses on the military history of World War II, I was glad to learn that we would have the opportunity to visit the site of a former concentration camp on our first day in Berlin. The Sachsenhausen concentration camp is located forty minutes north of the city. Opened in 1936, it originally imprisoned political opponents of the Nazi regime. Later, Jews, homosexuals, and the so-called racially “inferior” would be added to the camp. Prisoners had their heads shaved, formed for roll call three times a day, and slept in overcrowded conditions. 50,000 were killed at Sachsenhausen and, after it was liberated in 1945, it was used as a special prison camp by the Soviets.

Gate entrance to Sachsenhausen. “Work sets you free.”

Sachsenhausen washroom

On Monday, we took a walking tour of Berlin that brought us to several sites around the city. Traveling on foot allowed us to see exactly where the Berlin Wall stood, as well as remnant sections of the wall. Our first designated stop was the Memorial to German Resistance. The memorial is located at the Bendler Block, where Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and other members of the German army planned an assassination of Hitler and a coup d’état. After their coup failed, Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were executed in the courtyard of the building. Today, the German population honors Stauffenberg and his team for their resistance, and the Chancellor of Germany places a wreath at the memorial each year. I cannot quite comprehend the courage it must have taken to attempt an assassination of Hitler and gain control of the Nazi government to salvage what was left of Germany. A small museum accompanies the memorial and shines more light on those who resisted the Nazi regime while living in Germany.

Wreath at German Resistance Memorial Center

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (left)

We made a stop at the Soviet War Memorial, where we learned it was quickly erected by the Soviet after the capture of Berlin in 1945. Due to the final treaty detailing the settlement of Germany in the early 1990s, the German government must maintain the memorial and consult Russia before making any changes to it. Afterwards, we visited the location of Hitler’s bunker, where he committed suicide with his wife on April 30th, 1945. Nowadays, the site is an ordinary parking lot, surrounded by apartments and a tea shop. Its low visibility is intentionally purposed, so as not to memorialize the dictator’s place of death.

The Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten. It commemorates Soviet soldiers killed in the Battle of Berlin and was built in November 1945

Underneath this parking lot was once Adolf Hitler’s bunker

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is located right outside of the Tiergarten, close to downtown Berlin. It consists of 2,711 concrete stela arranged in a grid pattern that get increasingly taller as one walks towards the middle of the memorial. I am not the first person to find this memorial to be quite underwhelming. Earlier this semester, our class even discussed an article that criticized it. Surely, the two thousand slabs of concrete will catch one’s eye, but there is nothing that explains what one is looking at. Three of its four sides are noisy, busy streets and the upkeep of the site was lacking, in my opinion. I have noticed that a lot of memorials in Europe rely on interpretation, instead of a clear message. Supposedly, the design of the taller concrete slabs is to make the observer feel disoriented and claustrophobic. I understand art is subjective and meant to be interpreted, but a site intended to remember 6 million murdered people should not be up for interpretation, in my opinion. Several of my classmates appreciated the subjectivity of the memorial, as the designer probably wanted to stoke conversation. However, I find it hard to understand why one would want to encourage debate at a memorial site. If the memorial is going to contain an artistic interpretation, the site can at least have a more visible symbol of what the square is dedicated to. I just do not believe average visitors are being reminded of the Holocaust as they pass the memorial on the sidewalk. In addition to the debate surrounding this memorial, it was only created in 2003. Some would ask why it took so long for Germany to dedicate a block of their city to the Holocaust.

The view of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, from the northwest

Our day concluded with a visit to the Topography of Terror Museum, which used to be the headquarters of the Nazi SS, the terrorizing paramilitary organization under Heinrich Himmler.

On Tuesday, we left Berlin again, for Wannsee and Potsdam. Wannsee is a suburban borough of Berlin where the Wannsee Conference took place in 1942. Located in a lakeside villa, the Conference was where senior Nazi leaders and other government officials met to discuss the Final Solution. It was eerie to tour the former villa, now a museum and memorial, where the decision was made to officially commit mass murder against the Jews.

To wrap up our trip, we toured the Cecilienhof Palace, which was the venue of the Potsdam Conference, and stopped at Berlin’s Olympiastadion, where African American and Ohio State Buckeye Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, in front of Adolf Hitler.

This street outside of the Olympiastadion was renamed in honor of Owens in 1984. Go Buckeyes









German Remembrance of World War II

In our final leg of the trip, we travelled to Berlin and spent four days exploring the city and visiting museums and sights that have to do with World War II. Being in Berlin, it was interesting to see how the Germans remember the atrocities the committed during World War II and how they are determined to not let it ever happen again.

Germans have a very different way of remembering World War II as compared to the victorious powers. In the United States, Great Britain, and even France, museums remembering the war have captured German flags, weapons, and uniforms on display for the public to view. While it is clear that the ideology the Nazis practiced was wrong, the displays are very triumphant and dedicated to the spoils of the war. In Germany, it is the exact opposite. Of course, the Germans lost so World War II is not a war they remember fondly and commemorate, but there is a much larger reason why they do not commemorate the war and focus on teaching its lessons instead.

The Nazi ideology was one of pure evil. They targeted groups of people that they viewed as subhuman and tried to systemically exterminate them. The German people to this day are ashamed of how they treated other humans and the atrocities that in many cases their grandparents helped commit. This is seen in how they design their museums. In the Topography of Terror and the Wannsee Conference house, there is a very clear attitude that is demonstrated. The Nazis were evil, and what they wrought can never be allowed to happen again. The museums do not display artifacts or if they do, they are papers, photographs, documents that show how evil they were. There are no helmets, flags, uniforms or tangible things. This is on one hand because Nazi paraphernalia is banned in Germany, but also because Germany is determined to make sure Nazi artifacts are used as shrines and places of remembrance by neo-Nazis.

The museums focus on education, with a heavy emphasis on how sadistic the Nazis were. Panels with information dominate the halls as they explains how widespread Nazi ideals were and how most Germans collaborated with Hitler’s regime. Even in the German resistance museum, there is a sense of how incredibly small resistance groups were. These museums show how easy it was to fall into the Nazi ideology and stress how important it is to remain vigilant and not let the nations fall into that trap ever again.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was a large example of that. The compound did not only consist of a concentration camp, but also a training camp for SS soldiers. After the war, the SS training facility was turned into the Brandenburg Police Academy. The reason the academy is on those grounds is to remember how evil following a group blindly and treating people as subhuman can be. Having the training facility next to the concentration camp serves as a reminder, look what we are capable of, do not let it happen ever again. There is a sign on the ground that states the reason the Academy is next to the concentration camp to promote anti-Nazi ideals.

As well as the Brandenburg Police academy, all German army recruits visit the Von Stauffenburg memorial during training to engrain that it is important to keep strong morals and that it is okay to say no to an order if it is immoral. German schoolchildren have to visit at least three Holocaust sites in order to teach how evil the Nazis were and how it can never again be allowed to happen. The Germans are very adamant about making sure their past is remembered as shameful and somber to ensure they never let Nazism to rise again in Germany.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Visiting the Sachsenhausen concentration camp is one of the most impactful experiences in my life thus far. The grounds’ entrance before the camp looks and feels like any other museum. After briefly looking over the entrance exhibit, I began walking on the main road of the camp, one that eventually would lead me to the front gate. At this point in the tour, I was “museumed out” so to speak, so on the two-minute walk to the front gate, I was mostly just taking in the beautiful nature surrounding the camp. At this point, I was lost in thought when I rounded the corner and saw the front gate for the very first time. Instantly, the air turned heavy. The gate stood before me and you could feel what had happened at this place. As I walked into the camp and turned, I became aware that that gate could be seen from all sides of the camp. As the Audio-guide explained in the next thirty seconds, everything in the camp was designed to terrify and beat down those imprisoned there.

The Germans used their gift of engineering in the most perverted way possible. The camp is designed in an equilateral triangle walled in with concrete, with the main gate exactly in the middle. Starting on the sides of the gate, there was an electrified barbed wire fence and a gravel pathway before the barbed wire fence. Sachsenhausen guards would be rewarded with a bonus and leave they were able to shoot any prisoner who stepped on the pathway. Because of this, desperate prisoners that had given up would race to a relatively quick death on the barbed wire, only to be shot by a guard who saw them as a payday – one of the many sick games played by the SS at Sachsenhausen.

Seeing the medical experiments inflicted on some of the prisoners outlined how the Nazis felt about those who were, to quote the SS, “undeserving of life.” One of the plaques from the medical center explained that the SS doctors did not see anyone in the camp as human, but merely the closest animal substitute for humans. The SS felt no shame in injecting children as young as seven with hepatitis and performing a liver biopsy, all done without anesthesia. But the most impactful part of the concentration camp was the crematorium. This is where the air felt the heaviest and brought up a cocktail of emotions all at once: anger, confusion, and sadness. As I worked through those, I came to a true realization as to why everything is preserved. It is to make sure that something like this never happens again. I recommend everyone reading this who gets a chance to go to Europe to put a concentration camp at the top of their list. It isn’t fun or something to post on your Facebook. But it is the most impactful historical site that you will visit.

“If you tell a lie big enough, and keep repeating it, people will come to believe it.” – Joseph Goebbels – Chief Propagandist for the Nazi Regime

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp



On our first day in Berlin, we visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which housed over 200,000 prisoners between 1936 and 1945. This concentration camp was not built purely for people of the Jewish faith, but for general enemies of the Nazi ideology, anybody they didn’t like, and anybody who didn’t like them. The former camp, now museum, did nothing to hide the murderous Nazi intent or the crimes that were committed there, thereby highlighting both the Nazi brutality and the recent German apologetic stance on the Holocaust.

Since World War II ended, Germany has apologized profusely for the Holocaust and the war in general. It has owned up to what it did and has been up front about the horrific things that happened during the war. This is shown in how truthful the museum at Sachsenhausen was. The museum did not shy away from detailing the tortures that occurred there, nor the forced labor, nor the sex slaves, killings, or crematoria. Many of these details were gruesome, accompanied by photos or drawings, giving the reader an accurate picture of the atrocities that went on. Prisoners went through unbelievably brutal experiences, including torture (such as being hung by their wrists), forced marches to test military footwear, food deprivation, extremely tight living spaces, death marches, and beatings.









Pictures of some of the tortures the SS would enjoy inflicting on the prisoners. Prisoners were hung from the wood poles in such a position that their shoulders were dislocated. Many died from tortures like this.

Describing these horrid actions brings to light Germany’s truthfulness, its owning up to its hateful past, denying nothing about its fateful decisions and criminal actions. They have given a lot of effort in changing the world’s perception of their country, making great strides to heal their country and separate today’s Germany from Nazi-ruled Germany.

As a sign of penitence, the words of former prisoner Andrzej Szczypiorski are inscribed at the camp today: “And I know one thing more – that the Europe of the future cannot exist without commemorating all those, regardless of their nationality, who were killed at that time with complete contempt and hate, who were tortured to death, starved, gassed, incinerated and hanged…”.

Walking through the camp itself was a somber experience, forcing me to reflect on what happened here. Everywhere I walked or stood, thousands of prisoners had walked or stood before me, and in more pain than I will ever know. That knowledge brought a crushing weight upon me; I couldn’t help but think of the thousands who suffered right where I was standing, the hundreds who had been killed right where I was walking. The reality of the murderous Nazi cruelty stuck with me through the end of the day, an almost draining feeling. Countless times walking through the camp I thought to myself and questioned how this insane magnitude of hate and murder could have happened. I was confused how anyone could commit such violence every day and act like it’s normal, and I am not sure I will ever understand. However dreadful it felt to walk through such sadistic history, it is important to experience it, to see with one’s own eyes the barracks the prisoners were held in, the crematoria where the dead were burned, the wooden stakes where prisoners were held aloft by their wrists; to hear accounts of prisoners who witnessed the unthinkable; to see how indifferent the SS soldiers were to the suffering of others. This is important with respect to the  German memory of the history; it must be so that it can never be forgotten.

Modern Germany has done a great job at distancing itself from Nazi Germany.  In fact, the heroes of World War II that Germany now idolizes were the people who tried to assassinate Hitler. One of the earliest assassination attempts was undertaken by Georg Elser, who failed and was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen until 1945. He was then transferred to Dachau and shot under order by Hitler. Now considered a hero, Georg Elser is memorialized at Sachsenhausen:



Inscription on his memorial: “… He was a few minutes short of changing the course of history. Commenting on his deed, George Elser said “I wanted to prevent the war”… With this memorial stone, we honour a man who recognized the criminal intentions of the Nazi Party earlier and more clearly than most of his compatriots. His deed ranks him among the important German resistance fighters – and his name must never be forgotten…. “

Elser wasn’t the only one to get a memorial there, however. There was an area at Sachsenhausen where family members or groups could put up their own memorials to people or groups of prisoners who were sent there. I was moved by  this part of the museum, because it showed that each individual killed at this camp, and every other camp, had his or her own story. There were around 80,000 to 100,000 deaths at Sachsenhausen, but looking at this memorial section reminds one that every one of those 80,000 prisoners who died, every one of the 200,000 inmates had a family who loved them, friends who cared for them, an entire life that could have been.

Some of the memorials:





Reads: “We remember August Dickmann (Born 1910), one of Jehovah’s witnesses, who on September 15, 1939, became the first conscientious objector to be publicly shot by the SS.”




Translates to: “In memory of Wlodzimierz Dlugoszewski (1905-1945), Captain of the Polish Rowing Team which won the Bronze Medal at the 1936  Olympic Games in Berlin.”




Reads: “In memory of the great North Frisian poet Jens E. Mungard, 9 February 1885 – 13 February 1940. He bravely trod his own path. The Frisians’ freedom he held aloft. He had to die for it at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Sea holly is my bloom, they call me sea holly too.

She grows on the dunes’ sand, as I upon life’s strand,

and both of us have thorns!”








Courage In The Face Of Terror

Our time in Berlin as well as being together as Buckeyes touring Europe is at an end and I have been thankful not only to travel with my fellow students but also to travel with my friends. I have come to enjoy the company of so many who think and interpret history in a way that I do not. It has been refreshing to do “debriefs” after we tour a museum or see a sight and listen to one another. Here in Berlin, we have visited a host of museums and sites dedicated to remembering Nazi atrocities and how they had nearly the entire population swept up in hatred and contempt for anyone deemed “other.”  I have constantly been overwhelmed with emotion as we visited these areas, and mostly filled with a mixture of contempt for those who started this and to those who let it continue on. I have felt deep sadness and dread at the cost of human life and at seeing the cruelty that man can do to fellow man. Learning it firsthand at the actual locations of what took place made it powerful in ways I did not expect. I found this to be more moving than any text I have read, any movie or documentary I have watched or any photo I have seen. As I spoke about in my last blog, the weight of history is all around us and nowhere else has it been so potent and moving and all I could think of is how could anyone let this go on. I felt heavy with this on my shoulders, even though we are some eighty years removed from the Nazi era and even though my only connection to the war is that both of my grandfathers fought in the Army in the push through Europe.  

The Bendlerblock area is rather plain and unadorned; if you did not know where you were going you would stroll by and assume it was just another block of office buildings.  Yet inside, the truth of Germany’s past is laid out, the good and the evil from their time under the Nazi banner. Upon visiting the German Resistance Museum, you must pass through the courtyard where a statue and a plaque are dedicated to the memory of the officers executed here on the night of July 20, 1944 after their failed attempt to kill Hitler. When you walk into the first floor of the museum you are hit immediately with the staggering cost of Nazi ideology. In plain, bold text they have the sum total painted onto the wall, thirteen million men and women. Thirteen million souls snuffed out in the darkness that was the Nazi regime. Six million of them were Jewish, the other seven million composed of anyone the Nazi state decreed wasn’t fit to live, including political prisoners, Soviet POWs, homosexuals, church members and Roma and Sinti peoples, and many other subsets of people defined on ethnic lines. This staggering number–the weight of all those lives that never got to be lived out in full–is the cost of Nazi German ideology. 

Yet, in the blackness of Nazi oppression there was some light, as there were people from a host of different backgrounds who did not trade their moral standings for public conformity. I found each and every one of their stories deeply touching on a human level, as many of them had been willing to risk their lives in an effort to save just one person. Those who followed their moral compass did what they could, as they could in the face of darkness. My earlier feelings of contempt and anger softened, as I did not know the extent of this before visiting the German Resistance Museum, but became thankful to see the scattered accounts of light and to know that in times of great evil, some men and women will stand against it even at cost to themselves. I am glad that we made time to stop here, to read and reflect on the stories, because it  allowed me to grow past my first wave of feelings and develop empathy for those living in such conditions that I hope to never know.

While touring the sites of remembrance, these words, from Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor, stuck with me: “We cannot understand, but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard…because what happened can happen again…For this reason, it is everyone’s duty to reflect on what happened.” It is now more important than ever to stand in solidarity with all peoples who face targeted attacks from hate groups, and to remain watchful of those who would attempt to unite the many against the few. I will carry with me from this experience a renewed sense of compassion and empathy, not only for the victims but for those who would risk all in order to help. This trip to Berlin has affirmed to me that even in the darkest of times, light will still shine through.


Our World War II history program across Europe has come to an end, with Berlin as the final destination to close out the journey. Throughout this entire month, I have had the opportunity to see firsthand what each country I visited went through during the war and what they do to remember it. The perspective Germany takes in remembering the war is confessing to their sins and the atrocities they committed. Those killed directly and indirectly during World War II were estimated to be between seventy to eighty-five million and six million of those killed were Jews. Germany has taken precautionary measures since the end of the war to make sure that their past never happens again by putting laws in place preventing anyone from owning Nazi paraphernalia or arresting those who openly deny the Holocaust ever happening.

Visiting the German Resistance Memorial Center displayed those who disagreed with Hitler and the Nazi beliefs and praised those who participated in Operation Valkyrie, led by German aristocrat and army officer Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. I learned that roughly two hundred German resisters were involved in the coup to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944, as well as the forty-two other failed assassination attempts on his life. Von Stauffenberg said before Operation Valkyrie, “It is now time that something be done. The man, however, who dares to do something must be aware that he will probably go down in German history as a traitor. Yet if he refrains from acting, he would be a traitor to his own conscience.” This memorial commemorates those who lost their lives trying to fight for what they believed in, even though it went against the current of the Nazi regime.

Seeing Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and walking the grounds where the SS did inhumane things to Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and political traitors was very emotional. Outlining the outer wall of the camp was a barbed-wire electric fence, and in front of this fence was a gravel pathway. I learned that German soldiers would receive a pay bonus and be granted leave if they could shoot anyone trying to make a run toward the fence before they could kill themselves on the electric barbed wire. They treated the Jews and prisoners as target practice and were rewarded for their “good behavior” in brutally murdering these people. Each barracks would hold up to four hundred people, and they all had thirty minutes in the morning and at night to use the limited restroom facilities and clean themselves. There are accounts of German soldiers drowning Jews in the washing basin for fun or because they washed their feet when they should not have. Standing on the concentration camp site was surreal and terrifying to think about the control Hitler had over these Nazi soldiers that would convince them to do such terrible things.

I am very thankful to have witnessed both the good and the bad of what happened during World War II in the four countries we visited, and grateful to the donors who made this trip possible. This was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I am very appreciative. I will take what I have learned on this trip and pass it on to others to remember the past and those who fought for freedom and never forget the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

The End of Our Journey

We have finally come to our last stop on our three-week excursion: Berlin.

Somber. The tone of the Berlin museums we visited were nothing like the Allied nations that won the war. The Topography of Terror Museum was brilliant in my opinion because unlike many other museums this one walks you through the SS and Nazi police state system. I liked how they displayedall types of the Nazi police forces, which made me understand the process behind the power of the Nazi government. It was surreal to me that we were walking on the site of the former SS headquarters. The museum offered photos of every country the Nazis invaded and showed photos of their Jewish people being deported. It’s mind boggling how many countries the Nazi’s conquered so quickly with no one to stand in their way.

Site of Berlin Wall at TOTM

The Soviet war memorial was very interesting as well. The statue felt so awkward placed in this city because of the tens of thousands of rapes perpetrated by Soviet soldiers as the conquered Germany. Yes, they fought for liberation but in their own way they took freedom away from the people in East Berlin. The USSR stands for communism; why have a memorial in their honor today? At the base of the memorial people were leaving flowers and bouquets in memory of those lost. It makes me question the motivation of the soldiers buried there; were they naïve young men fighting for their country or were they soldiers taking revenge for the atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht and the SS in the Soviet Union?

Our visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp made me notice the stained red grass on the roll call area. Walking through the entrance gate made me uncomfortable in a way that haunted me as I looked around. You immediately see barbed wire, stone walls, watch towers, and the notorious roll call area. This area was the spot for all prisoners in the camp to stand ensuring everyone was there. The grass presently was red, I’m not sure why, but it was very saddening nonetheless. The thought that young and old men had to stand in that spot for hours twice a day, no matter the weather condition, was devastating.

Being in Berlin was much different than London or Paris. The architecture was modern with few relics of the past like the Brandenburg Gate and parts of the Berlin Wall. The city also had fewer skyscrapers than normal which I thought interesting, so when on the S-Baum you can actually see most of the city without buildings in the way. I really enjoyed the Tiergarten and its hefty size relative to the city; it is strewn with memorials, bridges, and flower gardens that make it very unique. Hyde Park in London had a bigger open area for sporting activities and in Paris, Luxemburg park had cafes and sporting courts making it much more commercialized. This park in Berlin was the best of the three, having me walk miles and miles just in one day.

I am so thankful for this lovely journey I was able to participate in and being able to blog our stops along the way. I’m happy to say the knowledge I’ve gained and the new perspectives opens my mind to all the other chapters of the WW2 story.

Very Dearly,

Sophia L. Bruck




How to Tell a Loser’s Story: The Modern German Perspective on World War II

Leaving Allied territory, we ended our tour of Europe at the start of it all: Germany. In control of Hitler and the National Socialist (NAZI) Party, Germany initiated the Second World War and some of the most terrifying historical events. Compared to the triumphant atmosphere and memorials of the Allied Nations, the modern perspective of the war in Germany takes a much different approach: the ownership of atrocities while memorializing the victims.

Unlike sites in France and the United Kingdom, Germany has very few memorials due to the nature of the war they fought. In memorializing the attempted coup against Hitler on July 20, 1944, the German Resistance Memorial Center highlighted a different battle. The memorial center highlights resistance efforts through the lives and stories of those who did what they could to oppose Hitler and the Nazi regime. One explicitly highlighted story was that of Georg Elser’s assassination attempt on Hitler on November 8, 1939. While this museum memorialized those deemed outliers in society, it aimed to make one think of what they would do in a government that denied human rights to its citizens.

What impressed me in the German museums is the ownership of their actions during World War II, especially regarding the atrocities the Nazis committed. In contrast to the Allies’ museums, German museums have very few, if any, artifacts and are supplemented almost entirely by photographs and textual historical information. This especially holds true in the Topography of Terror Museum, set upon the ground where the SS headquarters once stood, and the sign denoting the location of Hitler’s Bunker, now a parking lot.

The Topography of Terror extensively covered the Third Reich police state, the SS’s institutions, and the war crimes committed by Germany. While I learned that women, too, were involved in the SS, I found the end of the primary exhibit to be the most important. Unlike French museums, which lack acknowledgment of the collaboration of the population, the Topography of Terror owns up to the German atrocities and the lack of punishment for most perpetrators in the postwar war crime trials.

Unlike the Churchill War Rooms, Hitler’s Bunker is nearly impossible to find without the sign, as a parking lot covers its remains. The fact that the bunker and its contents were destroyed aids the telling of the loser’s side of the story, as without the bunker, Nazi Germany and Hitler could not be memorialized, and in turn, hate ideals cannot be glorified.

The most emotionally heavy sites we visited were the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I found these locations particularly moving as it is one thing to read about the Holocaust but another to be on the ground where it happened. I also appreciate the German effort to memorialize and shed light on this event, even if it was a stain in their history.

Despite its controversy and my prior uncertainty with the memorial, I found the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe valuable. Located on a prime real estate surrounded by buildings, it is hard to miss the many dark, gray stone blocks—a sight which I felt was symbolic to the German population knowing of the horrors of the Holocaust. The blocks were bare, reflecting how the Germans saw those “unworthy” as blank, nameless individuals. Walking into the memorials, I began to see less sun and hear less of the city, which made me reflect on how the victims must have felt: separated from society and lost with no clear light at the end of the tunnel.

Ultimately, reflecting not only upon the winners’ glory but also the losers’ story is valuable. Memorializing those who unjustly lost their lives does not take back a nation’s actions. Still, it shows ownership of the deeds and educates the current generations so that we can prevent the same story from happening again.

German Resistance Museum

As I near the end of my journey, I want to share my thoughts on my last stop in Berlin—the German Resistance Museum at the Bendlerblock. While I explored the city’s iconic sites like the Brandenburg Gate and Tiergarten, I was pleasantly surprised by this hidden gem that left a lasting impression on me. 

This museum pays tribute to those who bravely resisted the Nazis and those who provided shelter to persecuted individuals during the 1930s and 1940s. What struck me the most were the personal stories of resistance. I learned about the inspiring acts of the White Rose group, the July 20 conspirators, and the remarkable Oskar Schindler. The museum did an excellent job weaving together their stories while providing a broader understanding of the historical context in Germany. 

One story that stayed with me was that of Falk Harnack. Despite the execution of his brother, Falk continued his resistance activities. Once captured, he managed to escape conviction and was sent to military service. In a courageous move, Falk deserted his unit in Greece and joined the partisan fighters against Germany. This example reminded me of the importance of honoring those who stood up against the odds. I appreciated the museum’s honesty in referring to the Gestapo, SS, and Wehrmacht as German forces and acknowledging that their victims were murdered. 

The museum also acknowledged the unsung heroes who covertly provided shelter and support to the persecuted. Many of them were young secretaries, only 19 or 20 years old, who displayed incredible maturity and bravery. I was moved by a statement by one of them: “I need to work as much as possible and resist the urge to sleep. Every hour of sleep I get, 30 people die.” Although their work often went unnoticed, these individuals demonstrated extraordinary courage. 

Overall, I left the museum deeply satisfied. It was not afraid to confront the complicity of everyday German citizens in the Nazi atrocities while also honoring those who resisted and made great sacrifices. The museum did justice to the brave souls who stood up for what was right.