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!”








Comparing the Battle of the Bulge to Omaha Beach

Elijah Bohman             Blog Post 3      5/21/23

Comparing Battle of the Bulge to Omaha Beach:

The battle on Omaha Beach was brutal, violent, and notorious as one of the bloodiest in American history. The Battle of the Bulge is one of the few battles in history that can claim to have been bloodier and more ferocious. As the Allies approached Germany from the West, Hitler launched a surprise counterattack against the Allied forces in Belgium. The German Army was ruthless and efficient in the move, killing many and pushing into Allied lines. While in the end a failure, the German counterattack was savage, causing over 76,000 Allied casualties and making the Battle of the Bulge the fiercest battle America fought in World War II.

While I was on Omaha beach, I was surprised at the size of the beach, the distance men had to cross to reach their enemies. The sheer width as well shocked me, as the soldiers were deployed along six miles of flat beach while being shot at constantly. That situation, however, pales in comparison to the Battle of the Bulge. The latter engagement was fought over an entire countryside, stretching across Belgium and the Ardennes Forest. We visited Bastogne, at the center of the expanse where the Battle of the Bulge took place. We then drove an hour to Baugnez and were still in an area where the battle was fought. We drove through the battlegrounds, where thousands of men on both sides fought and died, struggling to push past the other. Even now, after driving through it, it is difficult to think of the immense size of the battle that spread over an entire front. Omaha Beach was very deadly, with over 2,400 Americans killed there on D-Day . The Battle of the Bulge was somehow even more chaotic in the beginning. Surprising the Allies initially, the Germans killed an estimated 8,100 U.S. soldiers. Total casualties were around 76,000, as seen in this remembrance plaque at the Mardasson Memorial:

During the Battle of the Bulge, the Waffen SS massacred over 70 American prisoners of war in a field by the Baugnez Crossroads, a site that we visited. It was very quiet there, and standing next to the field where so many Americans prisoners were murdered generated the sad thought that those men could and should have lived and seen a full life after the war–but for the brutality of the Nazis.

Picture of field:






Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach


A month before the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, we visited Omaha Beach, where thousands of Americans attacked into Nazi-occupied Normandy. Their objective was to take the beach, clear the German defenses, and push further inland. Unluckily, the aerial and naval bombardments did not destroy German defenses and emplacements, which led to Omaha being the bloodiest beach taken on D-Day. Around 2,400 Americans died on June 6 at Omaha alone, yet through individual perseverance and courage they created a beachhead and made a foothold in Normandy strong enough to hold and use for their push across France.


Omaha Beach perfectly aligned with what I learned in my research on World War II– although I found that standing on and seeing the exact place where a famous battle took place is quite different from reading about it in a book or hearing a lecture about it . One can hear someone can say “US soldiers jumped from their Higgins boats over 400 meters away from the German machine guns”, but one cannot get a full grasp of that distance until one has stood there and seen it. Although we arrived at an hour when the tide was rising, I was still surprised at the distance between the waves and the German emplacements. It was much farther than what I had visualized, and the soldiers in the first wave had an even larger distance between them and the enemy. Tasked with crossing that huge stretch of flat beach, with very little cover, and under fire from German defenders, I cannot imagine the fear and terror the soldiers must have had in those moments. After learning, watching documentaries and movies, and reading books about Omaha Beach, being on the beach itself had a special, almost otherworldly feel to it, as it is one of the most famous battles in American history.

Today, one must know some military history and use some imagination to understand and appreciate the drama of the battle that happened here.  That is because Omaha is now a public swimming beach, from which  all the defensive works–the Belgian gates, logposts, hedgehogs, and log ramps–have been removed. While the memorials at the two ends of the beach recall the drama and heroism of the battle, I think that preserving some of the German defensive works  on a small section of the beach, even just a few meters wide, would help visitors appreciate the history of the battle. The empty beach requires a lot of imagination—and makes it easy for we as a people to forget.






This was a defensive structure called a Czech hedgehog,

intended to stop or slow down tanks, vehicles, and even

ships from getting further up the beach.





For me, standing on Omaha beach was an incredibly powerful experience.  At first, I spent a few minutes looking seaward, imagining thousands of soldiers jumping from their boats into the sea, finding their way across the sand, advancing in the face of determined and violent resistance.  Although the tide has cleaned the blood from these shores, I could still feel the gravity and heaviness of this place, even after 79 years. I could feel the soldiers struggle in the surf. I could sense death in the quietude, the brutal violence in the ever-crashing waves, and the importance of their cause in the peaceful town nearby.



On our visit to the American Cemetery in Normandy, each of us had the honor to place a flag on the grave of one of the 12 Buckeyes buried in the American Military Cemetery.  This picture is the headstone of Robert Smith, a Cincinnati native who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, class of 1940.  Smith was a Lieutenant Colonel in the 394th Fighter Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Forces, and he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.  He was killed in action on June 22, 1944, while engaged in an aerial attack on German forces in Cherbourg.

It was a very special moment for all of us, to decorate the headstones of a soldiers from Ohio State, who gave their lives to stop  Nazi tyranny.


Bomber Command Memorial

Elijah Bohman

Blog Post #1

Bomber Command Memorial

The Bomber Command Memorial was the most unique testimonial we visited in London. The memorial consisted of a tall statue of seven RAF fighter pilots preparing to go on a mission, surrounded by a Parthenon-esque building. The Imperial War Museum, Bletchley Park, and all the other places we visited were huge museums or giant landscapes. The Bomber Command Memorial, by contrast, was compact in size and presentation. but it packed a measure of history equal to its more expansive cousins. .

The memorial remembers the 55,573 Allied airmen who lost their lives while fighting under British command during World War II.  It does a great job of remembering them, focusing on the soldiers who died rather than what they achieved. In the presence of the statue, one gains a sense of the bravery these men demonstrated by entering into air combat missions at a time of extraordinary casualty rates.  The average bomber crew lasted only 12-13 missions before being killed, while they needed to complete 25 missions in order to rotate home. With chances like that, the pilots who served must have been incredibly brave to face such daunting odds. The great detail in the statue’s human features reminds one that these were young men that were thrown into war, leaving behind mourning family and friends.

The memorial bears an inscription reading: “The bombers alone provide means of victory” – Winston Churchill, 1940. This quotation refers to Bomber Command’s plan to bomb civilians and thereby break German morale and win the war.  These words sound triumphal, and suggest that the 55,573 airmen gave their lives to secure the Allied victory.  It is important to note, however, that Churchill spoke them years before anyone would know how effective the plan would be.


As it turned out, the original plan did not break German morale or produce an easy or early victory, and it caused enormous losses of lives and resources.  Some critics conclude that it killed innumerable German fighter pilots and civilians for little to no Allied gain, and even that Allied bombings could have been construed as atrocities under modern conventions of war. In stark contrast to Churchill’s words inscribed on the memorial, Bomber Command’s legacy thus was murky.

While the 1940 inscription might have been a bit different from the historical reality, I took interest in another inscription: “This memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of 1939-1945.”  In addition to the airmen who died, the memorial thus remembers those civilians on both sides who died in the bombings as well.  Looking at the statue, I am humbled at the sheer bravery of these airmen, and saddened at the tragic enormity of their losses.