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. 

Unique Bastogne Museum

This week, I embarked on a profound journey through liberated Europe, tracing the footsteps of the Allies during 1944 and 1945. One of my notable stops was Bastogne, where I encountered a remarkably unique World War II museum. Upon entering, I was handed a headset that transported me through the museum’s exhibits, presenting a compelling narrative from four distinct perspectives. I heard the story of a young boy who witnessed the Battle of the Bulge unfold in Bastogne, an adult Belgian woman involved in the resistance, a German soldier, and an American soldier. Remarkably, these were all true stories. Each narrative was also brought to life through an innovative 3D theater experience. 

I had never encountered such an unconventional approach to a museum before. The method employed truly captivated my attention and ensured that I remained engrossed in the museum and its narratives. More importantly, it succeeded in humanizing the stories, reminding me that the artifacts I encountered were not mere relics, but objects that had shaped the lives of countless individuals. The weapons on display had once claimed lives of family members and loved ones, the propaganda posters had led neighbors to betray each other, resulting in tragic consequences, and the rations ledgers had inflicted hardships on ordinary people. As I examined the uniforms, the two soldiers vividly recounted their experiences as warriors and the rigorous training they endured. Meanwhile, while perusing domestic items, the woman and the boy spoke of the deterioration of their lives when the Germans took control. 

The 3D theater experience added another layer of realism to the stories. In one theater, I found myself immersed in a wooded area where soldiers sought refuge in foxholes, shielding themselves from the enemy. As screens at the back of the theater described the battle’s progression, I felt a semblance of the fear that gripped those soldiers and gained insight into the intensity of their experiences. In another theater, a scene in a café unfolded before my eyes. The American soldier had taken a German soldier hostage, while the woman and the boy sought refuge in the café. When the bombs started raining down, the woman invited the American soldier to seek shelter inside, and they all huddled in the basement for several arduous days. In a breathtaking moment, the floor lifted to reveal the very cellar in which they had hidden. This evocative depiction granted me a glimpse into the harsh realities endured during that time. Both this unique theater experience as well as the narrations succeeded in captivating me in a way that no other museum ever has. 

The Importance of Personal Letters in History


This week in Bayeux, I visited many amazing places that I have never been and tried things that I have never tried. I visited the beautiful beach and oceanside town and cliffs of Arromanches, saw beautiful stained-glass windows at the Bayeux cathedral and a 1000-year-old tapestry, and tried escargot for the first time (something that I never thought I would have the stomach to do). Even more significant for me, I visited the British military cemetery in Bayeux, a place I would not have seen except for this class.  Walking the cemetery grounds and reading the inscriptions of the headstones of thousands of fallen soldiers was more important and impactful than I would have ever imagined. 

The British cemetery differed in key ways from the nearby American and German military cemeteries that we also visited.  At the German cemetery, flat black stones provide basic information about the soldiers laid to rest there, two per grave, giving a very somber feeling. The American cemetery has a much more triumphal feeling, with headstones depicting a Christian cross or a Jewish Star of David on which are inscribed essential data about each soldier. These religious markings are bright white, which combined with the grand entry, landscape, and fountains, promotes a feeling of celebration of victory, while honoring those lost in the process. 

By contrast, the British cemetery has a more personal and welcoming feeling.  An inscription at the entrance declared, “their names liveth forevermore”.   The gravesites featured rounded, grayish headstones inscribed with personal messages. This makes this cemetery impactful on the visitor seeking some understanding of the tragedy inherent in war. 

These inscriptions were composed or selected by the family of each fallen soldier. Some are religious words (such as lines of Scripture) or excerpts from famous poems.  Common messages included “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember him” and “greater love hath no man than this”. The inscriptions that I found the most impactful were those composed by the family, because they revealed the personality of the soldier and the agony of the family. These inscriptions invoked strong feelings of contemplation in me, thinking about my family and loved ones and how they would feel if I were one of the men lost in a war. I was moved to tears by some of the verse’s messages. These messages made me consider the cruel and inhumane nature of war, which is the most important virtue that a war cemetery or museum can portray. 

The cruel and inhumane nature of war is something that can be challenging to communicate, especially to a generation of people that have never seen war. In my visits to various museums, there were some personal letters but very few. Reading even these small bits of a family writing about a loved one, I had infinitely more appreciation for the sacrifice made by soldiers and the unfair nature of war. Personal letters make the far-reaching effects of war personal not only to the recipient, but also to anyone reading the letter. Putting these letters in a museum or a memorial reminds the reader that these soldiers were real, and that a conflict such as World War II did awfully cruel things to real people. To me, these letters accomplish the purpose of communicating the horrors of war far more than any display of weaponry or picture can do. The main goal of war museums should be to communicate how awful and tragic war is, so that the public can understand what they are voting for and supporting when a country decides to go to war, as well as honoring the sacrifices of those who fought. War museums would be far more successful in accomplishing this if they were to display more personal letters. 

World War 2 Rememberance in London

During my sojourn in London, I explored the city and learned a tremendous amount about the role London played in World War II, as well as the long-term history of London and its culture. 

I was highly impressed by how well the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms site was preserved, and thoroughly enjoyed walking through the displays. As I sat on a bench outside after my visit, an older woman sat next to me and as we chatted, she told me that she had lived through the war and remembered German bombers flying over her house. This bolstered my museum experience and reminded me that the people who fought in this war and lived on the home front were real, not just museum exhibits. 

The Imperial War Museum impressed me by its overall high quality, with displays focusing on World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, and a temporary exhibit about whether video games capture the reality of war. I found the World War I and Holocaust displays to be very moving. The World War I display was quite somber, showcasing the horrors of war and focusing on the soldiers experiences. Compared to U.S. museums, its tone and mood were not as triumphal. The Holocaust display was also quite moving, taking the viewer on a journey through photos of the 1930s and 1940s. It started by showing happy Jewish families, playing in the park and enjoying themselves, and thereafter moved into Germany’s descent into Nazism and the perpetration of mass murder. I found the way that I was slowly pulled into the story to be highly compelling, saying that human nature did not simply jump into committing atrocities but slowly marched toward it. 

Bletchley Park was also an excellent museum, displaying many huts where intelligence work was done. I thought that it was very intriguing in the way that it compared 1940s intelligence work to intelligence work today. For example, in one room they had filing cabinets full of notecards from intercepted messages, and right next to it they displayed a computer server which replaced these physical databases. I enjoyed the way that the museum focused on the 9,000 odd people who worked there and not just Alan Turing, as the movie “The Imitation Game” did. The displays showed these people’s everyday lives such as living accommodations and methods of travel.  

Aside from the museums, in my free time I hung out with various group members and saw the major sites of London. I visited Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, the Tower of London, Greenwich, the British Museum, the British Library, and some neighborhood pubs. Other than these attractions, I also enjoyed wandering the city and riding the Tube. Since the coronation was going on, London was different than I had heard it normally is with flags being raised everywhere. The overall impression that I got from British nationals with whom I interacted reflected apathy towards the coronation ceremonies.