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.