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.


Continuing our journey throughout Europe, we left France and arrived in Bastogne, Belgium. Here we saw the Bastogne War Museum and the Mardasson Memorial, dedicated to the soldiers of the U.S. Army and their valiant efforts during the Battle of the Bulge. During this trip, I have seen different viewpoints of the war from each country. Britain’s perspective focuses on the teamwork of the Allies defeating Germany together, and the French approach is geared towards remembering the suffering that happened and honoring those who lost their lives. The Bastogne War Museum’s viewpoint was that of the people who experienced the war in their towns and how it affected their personal lives.
While walking through the museum and looking at artifacts and personal accounts, we listened to four different perspectives of those in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The first character introduced is Emile Mostade, a thirteen-year-old whose father owned a bike repair shop. The second character introduced is a young school teacher named Mathilde Devillers. Hans Wegmüller is the third character introduced, and he is a German lieutenant of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division, the unit charged with seizing Bastogne. The last character is Robert Keane, a corporal of the 101st Airborne Division, the unit deployed to defend Bastogne. Positioned in the woods surrounding the city, he participated in action on the front line, as did Hans Wegmüller. This museum told the stories of these four people, who ended up meeting in an underground cellar in Bastogne to take shelter from a German air attack. Hans was a POW guarded by Keane, and Emile and Mathilde were walking through the city when they took refuge.

Before Emile Mostade was separated from his parents, his father told him they would bike to the sea together. When the Germans started bombing Bastogne, Emile’s parents sent him away to find shelter from the oncoming attack. He found shelter from the bombing inside a cellar with several other townspeople. Here he realized that his cellar-living lifestyle was not so bad compared to some people who could not bathe or sit by a fire to warm up. After the bombing had subsided, Emile learned that his parents had been killed, leaving him in the care of an uncle who lived nearby.

Mathilde Devillers was a schoolteacher before the war. Once the Germans invaded, she had to change her form of teaching to secret meetings in closed areas, and then eventually was not able to teach for some time as she joined the Belgian resistance movement. After the war, she resumed teaching again, but things were not the same as she was missing several children in her class who had been killed because of the war.

Robert Keane was a corporal in the 101st Airborne Division whose mission was to defend the city of Bastogne and to keep the Germans from recapturing it. He suffered long, cold nights out in his foxhole defending the town and eventually took injured Hans Wegmüller prisoner. When they entered the city, the bombing started, and they took shelter in the same cellar as Emile and Mathilde. The other locals gave Hans smug looks and questioned his presence in the cellar, while Mathilde gave them soup and tried to fix Hans’ wound. Keane and Hans talked late at night and got to know each other. Once the bombing had stopped and they could leave the cellar, Keane took Hans to the infirmary to get checked out, where they shared a farewell. Hans realized for the first time the people who were being affected by the war in that cellar.

This museum showed me that everyone experiencing the war was still human, no matter their background. Although these stories were based on true events and people, the dialogue was fabricated to tell a story. They wanted to present what a family went through or how a soldier felt after an attack. Whether you were fighting for the Allies or Axis, or were a teacher or a child, the impact of the war did not have favorites and affected everyone, and this museum portrayed that very well.


After spending the first leg of the trip in London, where we learned about the British perspective during World War II, we set sail for Northern France. While in Bayeux, we visited the British, German, and American cemeteries and the famous beaches of Normandy that tell the story of young men and their sacrifices not only for their countries but also for the entire world. The narrative in a movie at the American military cemetery said, “They did not know it at the time, but the fate of the entire free world rested on their very young shoulders.” Our time in France has shown me the difference between the British and French perspectives on the war. The French believe in not glorifying winning the war but in remembering the suffering that came from the sacrifice involved.

I think the heaviest moment of this trip for me so far has been seeing the beachfront in Normandy. We arrived at Omaha Beach at low tide rising, the same conditions as on the morning of the D-Day invasion, and the distance from the water across the beach and to the hills was astounding. It gave me chills to picture Allied troops storing ashore across such a vast span. You can read about this invasion and see photos, but seeing the beach for myself and realizing how far those men had to advance through gunfire with their friends being gunned down beside them really weighed down on me.  I am so very glad that I will never have to experience that for myself because of the sacrifices made by those brave men almost eighty years ago.

The cemeteries we visited portrayed three different impressions: the British cemetery gave off a warm feeling, the German cemetery was somber, and the American cemetery felt triumphant. The fact that France has burial grounds dedicated to the German soldiers who also fought in the war was something I had never thought of before. They remembered the men on their own, winning side, yet they also thought to provide a resting place for everyone, no matter the cause for which they fought. “Man is not entirely to blame; it was not he who started history; nor is he entirely innocent, since he continues it.” This quote by the French philosopher Albert Camus describes how the French display the history of the war very well. The terrible war caused the suffering of many, and France recognizes the suffering and hardship of everyone (while not glorifying those who fought for Nazi Germany) and chooses never to forget the tragedy of World War II.

The Imperial War Museum

Opening our tour in London was an excellent way to begin a month-long trip of learning. The sites of the Churchill War Rooms, the Imperial War Museum, the Bomber Command Memorial, and Bletchley Park put into perspective what the British people went through during the war. Going on this trip has been immensely humbling, and I am genuinely thankful for the opportunity to be present. I think the Imperial War Museum was by far my favorite place in England. This building had tons of history on display from World War I and World War II, telling the story of Great Britain and the Allies’ hard-fought victory against Nazi Germany.

One of the most moving and somber moments in the Imperial War Museum was walking through the Holocaust remembrance exhibit. The first room was filled with pictures and names of Jewish people before the war on Jews began. Displaying loving families and their pursuit to live everyday lives, as well as Jewish athletes and their accomplishments, really struck an emotional cord in me. Reading about the torture that these people endured through made me sick to my stomach that someone could do such a thing to another human being and feel no remorse. I read a letter from one of the German officers in charge at Auschwitz, writing home to his wife saying when he first started killing Jews on the trains was difficult, and he had to work up the courage beforehand in order to do so. After multiple times, he said that he and the other soldiers would begin firing at the Jews before the train car doors even finished opening. This overwhelming shroud of numbness that paralyzed the German soldier to the atrocities he and his peers committed showed me that war changes people.

The vibe that the museums gave off was more of a focus on all of the Allies coming together and helping Britain pull through to end the war, compared to the view in the United States with the “we are the greatest country, and we single-handedly won the war” mindset. Although I knew that the United States was not alone in fighting back against Germany, the standpoint from the English side made it more prevalent that it was a joint effort. Overall, my experience in London was both inspirational and moving, where I saw the tragedies of World War II overcome by the joint effort of all the Allies.