Many in our group joined the World War 2 tour specifically for this day. Like my spouse David, some had relatives who landed on June 6, 1944 and have waited a lifetime to get here. It’s difficult to describe all that we saw today; but no one left disappointed.
Maps provided indicate American locations of Utah and Omaha beaches. The British landed at Gold and Sword beaches, Canadians at Juno, and the French assisted at Sword.
The Normandy countryside is beautiful, its architecture unchanged since the war. Churches are narrow and rectangular. Very old cemeteries are surrounded by stone walls.
Beginning at the East
We begin at Pointe du Hoc, east of the main Omaha Beach landing, to view the well-preserved German fortifications—batteries, bunkers, dugouts and craters. It’s our first view of the channel coast. Then on to Utah Beach where many of the British 82nd Airborne glider paratroopers landed. These landings are described in a former post
St. Mere-Eglise is the quaint, well-preserved town that David’s father, Dick, visited after the landing. The battle near here lasted several weeks as the Germans remained active. We buy gifts at the many shops and eat on benches in the town square. Our sandwiches are from a bakery which you can still see in WW2 films and photographs of the street at the time of the landing.
We visit the Airborne Museum. A replica paratrooper still hangs from the church. (Remember Red Buttons in The Longest Day, stuck hanging there, watching the carnage of his comrades below?)
David finally makes it to the Omaha Beach landing site. The beautiful American Cemetery of Normandie, above the site where his father’s 29th Easy Company landed, has a small museum and visitor center.
We file out to the expansive coast at low tide. Most group members take the customary handful of sand from the beach for gifts back home. The sand is placed either in plastic reseal-able bags or the Omaha Beach-labeled glass vials purchased in St. Mere-Eglise shops. We use a bag as David plans to use his woodworking skills to craft gifts holding the sand for our children.
Our walk through the cemetery brings us to a grave site where Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt II rest together, although they perished in different wars, Quentin earlier in The Great War. Graves of the Ryan boys, remembered in the film Saving Private Ryan, are nearby.
Dick had three pals in his company, and none of the three made it past the beach. They were all Ivy-league graduates. Dick graduated high school from a small town in Ohio. We guess he made it into officer training school because of his excellent athletic record. He was playing baseball in the minors when the war started. He never got over the irony that he made it and they didn't or the events of that day.
After stopping along the road to see more German batteries facing the shore, we stop for dinner and more shopping at the small seaside village of Arromanches. Ruins of the German -built Atlantic Wall and artificial harbors are now more of a resort area with lots of shops and small restaurants. As it is Sunday and late fall, many close at 7 pm. We eat at a fast food café of sorts, but with good service, where we enjoy chardonnay wine, and the apple cider that the area is famous for. It’s a short bus trip back to our hotel.
Next time: Paris
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s, and preparing for future works by blogging about a recent World War 2 European tour. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com.
The Longest Day
Our visit to The Museum of the Pegasus Bridge Campaign takes us back to the British 6th Airborne Division’s capture of the bridge which was instrumental in deterring a German counter attack. They were the first liberators to arrive in Normandy in the dark of night on June 5, 1944 in advance of the June 6 D-Day invasion. The bridge might sound familiar from the 1962 film, The Longest Day. Glider flyers and paratroopers landed in French cities on June 5.
Before visiting the Museum, we have lunch near the Pegasus Bridge Cafe which looks much as it did in June 1944. We are warned that the owner insists on a purchase to visit and photograph memorabilia inside the cafe.
The museum includes a replica of a Horsa Glider and a Bailey Bridge (images below). These light-weight, portable pre-fabricated bridges, an invention of Englishman Donald Bailey, could be constructed quickly without special tools, and were used extensively throughout the war.
Many feel that history hasn’t given these 139 heroes enough credit, their stories lost in the bigger picture of the events that week. Twenty men to a glider, many died or were captured. You can read a first person account here
Caen Peace Memorial
This memorial and its excellent museum provide the history of WW2 beginning at the end of WW1. The factors contributing to WW2 are detailed in moving and disturbing year-by-year, country-by-country accounts. I decided against visiting the Holocaust room, having seen much of that history at Dachau, Nuremberg and elsewhere along the trip. The sorrow is unforgettable.
Although we’ve seen many documentaries on the war during our travels, the films at this exhibit are helpful. It’s difficult to understand how French citizens of Vichy France could carry on as if nothing had changed. Of course, many were underground fighters and others wanted to be in the best position possible if Germany won the war, which seemed likely early on.
The “total war” exhibit is disturbing. When all sides were frustrated, they countered Germany’s bombing of cities with bombing of their own- killing citizens anonymously (now called collateral damage). The exhibit also focuses on the impact and methods of brainwashing used in the media at that time.
Next time: Normandy Landing
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s, and preparing for future works by blogging about a recent World War 2 European tour. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com.
The next stop on the World War 2 Tour takes us to Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Ardennes region, site of the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
A Visual Contrast
On the way to the Luxembourg American Cemetery we stop at a small German military cemetery. Unlike American and French soldiers, the Germans are buried in a small space, four to a plot, sharing a small blackish-grey headstone. We wonder if the cross at the end of the cemetery symbolizes a Christian Cross or the German military Iron Cross.
Like all cemeteries under the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Luxembourg American Cemetery is pristine with a beautiful, small chapel and visitor center. The information chart indicates that there are 5,076 headstones, including twenty-two sets of brothers and a female Army nurse. American families had the choice of burying their soldiers here or taking them home, and nearly seventy percent brought them home to the U. S.
General George Patton, commander of the Third U.S. Army in the war, has an honored place here (photo below). As elsewhere on our travels, guides remind us that it is Patton, not Eisenhower, who many Europeans feel is responsible for running the Germans into retreat and restoring their freedom.
Those buried here participated in the last major counteroffensive against the Germans, starting on December 16, 1944, with an objective of travelling through the Ardennes to Antwerp. This is the offensive that immortalized Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe at Bastogne. On December 22, with his troops surrounded, the Germans demanded surrender. His response: “Nuts!”
By January 25, the “Bulge” was overtaken, and for the next two months the First and Third Armies crossed over the Rhine into Germany. David’s father, Dick, was with the First in the prelude to the final offensive.
Battle of the Bulge
In the Ardennes region we stop at Diekirch, Luxembourg, an ancient Celtic stronghold. We agree that their Luxembourg National Museum of Military History, primarily dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45, is the best military museum we have seen on the trip so far. Its mission is to present a balanced and objective historical representation of military operations from American, German and civilian perspectives.
Dioramas, including the important night-time Sauer River crossing by units of the 5th U.S. Infantry Division on January 18, 1945, give insight into the difficult situations soldiers and civilians experienced. Showrooms are filled with extensive collections of everything military, such as equipment, uniforms, weapons, maps and personal belongings.
We proceed to Bastogne. The town isn’t as quaint as others we’ve visited due to extensive fighting and bombing that took place. Individuals old enough to remember, or whose relatives experienced the battle, share their family experiences.
David and others in the group whose relatives fought here now have a better understanding of what their ancestors experienced.
Next time: The Road to Normandy Coast
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s, and preparing for future works by blogging about a recent World War 2 European tour. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com
Categories: WW2, military, Germany, Ann Otto author, George Patton
One of the more interesting stops on World War 2’s Western Front is the Hackenberg in Veckring, France. Hidden under wooded hilltops of the Moselle River Valley, it was part of the Maginot Line in Lorraine. After the Great War (World War 1), France worried about a future war against Germany, and wanted to make sure that it could delay any future invasion force long enough for French forces to mobilize and counterattack. The Hackenberg, one of many such installations, was constructed on the French side of its borders with Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Luxemburg.
The Maginot Line
The Hackenberg was the largest fortress and bunker on the line with nineteen combat blocks which had two levels, one for artillery and the other to accommodate the troops, and over six miles of underground tunnels. Held by the Germans during much of World War 2, it was later recaptured by the Allies. The fortress provides a first-hand look at French military engineering at the time, and the conditions in which the French troops lived and operated underground. It includes a large World War 2 museum.
Preservation on the fortress began in 1975. The tour starts at the main ammunition entrance. The original installations and infrastructure are in perfect working order, including an electrical plant and generators that are still operational. Living and work spaces have been renovated to their original conditions. The bunker had state-of-the-art living conditions for the troops, including air conditioning and eating areas.
On our walk to the next block, we see one of the 135 mm guns that once defended nearby valleys. We also hear the story of how the US Army under General Patton captured the fort from the Germans in November 1944.
Block 8 still bears the marks of the intense fighting of 1944 between the German and American troops. Hackenberg is one of the few military fortifications that has a marked pedestrian trail above it. From there, we can appreciate the tops of the 19 infantry and artillery blocks as well as the 800-meter-long and 8-meter-tall anti-tank walls. The Maginot Line was nearly invincible to aerial bombings and tank fire and had underground railways as a backup. We take a mile-long ride on one of these narrow-gauged, underground railways to Block 9 to see a gun turret in action. We eventually move outside the fort to see the turret in action. We eventually move outside the fort to see the turrets.
Earlier Roman Invasions
We spend the night in the small village of Igel, a municipality in the Trier-Saarburg district, in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Igel is known for the Igel column, a 98-foot high Roman-decorated tomb that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounding Trier.
Made of Roman sandstone, the column dates to 250 A.D., and is the burial monument of the Secundinii cloth merchant family. The bas-reliefs on the sculptured frieze feature a procession of six men bringing donations to the house of their master. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments.
The area is also known for its wines, and several small stores with offerings surround our hotel. But it’s late and time for some rest.
Sources for the Hackenberg :
Next time: The American Cemetery, General Patton, and the “Battle of the Bulge"
Email Ann your WW2 stories at email@example.com
Ann Otto writes fiction based on documented and oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings and their journeys and struggles relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s. She can be reached through the website, on Facebook @Annottoauthor, or www.Goodreads.com.
The next stop on our World War 2 tour takes us through the Voges mountains to Lorraine’s American Cemetery in St. Avold, one of many French, German and American cemeteries on the tour. It also provides excellent historical context to this period of the war. Linden trees line the avenue leading up to the visitor building.
We are the only ones here except for maintenance workers. It provides a feeling of solitude. No one speaks. We quietly walk the rows of markers, and then walk up to the overlook.
Two large, glazed ceramic maps on the chapel’s south wall show military operations in western Europe, including fighting in the St. Avold region. These troops, including African-Americans, pursued German forces across eastern France beginning in early September 1944 when the US Third Army’s Fifth Infantry Division crossed the Moselle River near Dornot. By late November, the Third and Seventh Armies had liberated Sarrebourg, Metz and finally St. Avold.
On December 19, the Third Army, including Dave’s father Dick, left, moving north toward what would become the Battle of the Bulge. March 9, they crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim, reaching Frankfurt on March 26. The war ended when the Seventh Army entered Munich on April 30. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7 at Reims, and V-E Day was May 8.
One of the most interesting experiences is hearing from a St. Avold citizen who was nine years old during the months when war surrounded the town. He described daily living conditions—and fears—during that fall, and the lasting memories those in St. Avold hold for the Americans who came to their rescue. He also reminded us that for the children, there was some levity as well. There was no school.
On to the next stop on our tour. For that, we go underground.
Next time: Fort Hackenburg on the Western Front
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at http://www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history; writing; and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s, and preparing for future works by blogging about a recent World War 2 European tour. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard..
Traffic on the German autobahn is challenging today, so to get to the next stops on our World War 2 tour, the driver chooses to take country roads, which turns out badly for him, but good for us. It’s especially helpful for me to see the type of terrain that soldiers traversed in World War 1, which plays a role in my next book.
Highest German Spire
We can see Ulm Minster from a distance. The highest spire in Germany reminds me of the grandeur of other inspiring cathedrals I’ve seen, such as Salisbury in England, except that Ulm now sits in a crowed downtown area. The first large, venerable cathedral I ever saw was York Minster while on a trip with my son years ago. Inspiring religious sites are my favorite on any trip, whether in Gaudi’s 20thcentury Barcelona or ancient Luxor in Egypt.
Ulm Minster was developed over many time periods. The first plan for the church was in 1377, and it was consecrated, uncompleted, in 1405. What makes it unique for me is the work of Jorg Syrlin the Elder from 1469-1474. The master carver lined its choir with an elaborate set of eighty-nine wooden stalls. Ninety busts of male and female saints, sibyls, Old Testament figures and classical thinkers adorn the benches, the wall revetments and the overhanging canopies. The north side wall depicts men, women the south wall, with one of my favorites, the sibyl, Hellespontica. Syrlin was aided by a team of sculptors and joiners. At the end of each group of stalls are fully carved busts of sibyls (south) and scholars (north). The choir stalls reflect the collective wisdom and faith of classical, Jewish and Christian people. (The Web Gallery of Art).
Ulm’s old town near the Danube is beautiful. We walked with other tourists along the ancient buildings mixed with new, residences and shops. It's a Monday in late September and you can hear a pin drop. So different from busy Salzberg the day before. We eat lunch at an outdoor café along the water, surrounded by colorful flowers. (below right)
The afternoon is dedicated to sites in remembrance of German general Edwin Rommel, known as “The Desert Fox.” The home where he lived during the war years is in a lovely section of the small town of Herrlingen. We are told the story of how Hitler lost trust in Rommel, assuming him an instigator of one of the assignation plots against the Fuhrer.
One day, SS troops came to Rommel’s home and took him to a nearby forest. His option: his family would be protected if he would commit suicide. Germany would be told that their hero died of complications of a surgery he recently had. Even the Furher was afraid of public repercussions if the famous Rommel, beloved hero of two wars, was murdered by the party. Rommel did what was asked. We visited the site where it occurred. A large rock in a natural setting marks the spot.
Our next stop was at Rommel’s grave and marker in a small cemetery. We are surprised that this is the extent of tribute to someone so loved by the German people. However, he was a Nazi, so in the cultural climate since World War 2, it’s understandable.
Edge of the Black Forest
Road closures make for a very long drive to our hotel. The detours bring us to Bad Herrenalb on the northern edge of the Black Forest, part of Baden-Wurttemberg, where Dave and I both have roots. The town is so small it is hard to find on a map. And we are again transported back to another time, centuries ago. The town was founded in 1148. Much of the reason that foreigners choose to travel Europe is historic preservation. We’re just beginning to appreciate that in our own America.
Next time: World War 2 Fort Hackenberg and the Lorraine American Cemetary in St. Avold, France
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com.
A main attraction for David on our World War 2 memorial tour was a visit to Adolph Hitler’s tea house atop the rocky summit of the Kehlstein peak near Berchtesgaden in the German Bavarian Alps. His father visited the bunker at the base of the mountains and possibly Hitler’s hideaway as well.
An Infamous Meeting Place
The tea house, thousands of feet above the town of Berchtesgaden, was a meeting and entertainment site for the Nazi elite. Hitler became chancellor in 1930. In 1936 an eighty-building compound was fenced off in the Berchtesgaden area, fifteen miles from Salzburg and three miles from Obersalzberg, the “cradle of the 3rd Reich.” In 1939 the National Socialist German Workers’ Party presented Hitler with the Kehlsteinhaus (now known as the Eagle’s Nest) for his 50th birthday.
We often see the same newsreel of him there with Eva Braun and friends. Why usually only that one? According to travel guides, he only visited the Nest fourteen times. He was claustrophobic and afraid of heights. The newsreel shows large black cars delivering dignitaries up the four-mile road to a cliff-side turn-around point. We take special tourist buses. After walking through a dark ¾-mile tunnel (left), we reach the brass-paneled elevator and ride the same distance vertically to reach the Nest.
One can understand Hitler’s hesitancy in visiting. The Eagle’s Nest is now the responsibility of the Berchtesgadener Landesstiftung, and with the local tourism association, the trust leases the Nest to a concessionaire as a café and restaurant. The three large rooms are filled near lunchtime on this Sunday afternoon. We go out the back door and see the path leading straight up to the mountain tip. The walk up is not for the faint-hearted (above), but we take it. Black birds circle continuously in the skies above. Below, we see the houses of key Nazis which David’s father visited in 1945. The underground bunker, with its four miles of tunnels, built in 1943 after the Battle of Stalingrad, is closed today.
Sounds of Music
We travel back down the Kehlstein for a short drive to Salzburg. We visited here two years ago with a tour guide and saw the castle level, the ministry, and the Sound of Music park where the von Trapp children sang in costumes made of curtain fabric. This time, we are able to use our free time to blend in with the community.
A large festival is going on throughout the city: nostalgic and beautifully crafted carnival rides; crafters; and lots of food and drink, especially beer vendors in tents and beer halls. Their version of Octoberfest. To avoid the crowds in the last half hour of our visit, we stop for wine and hard cider at an outdoor café at the edge of town center.
Dinner in a small village on the way back to Kufstein is memorable. Our plates are small, round wooden cheese-boards. The main course, ribs, arrives ceremoniously on a long wooden plank with glittering sparklers on top. The large wine and beer pours are appreciated after a long day.
For more on the Eagle’s Nest, visit https://www.obersalzberg.de/obersalzberg-home.html?&L=1
Next time: Ulm Minster and the Black Forest
The next stops on our memorial tour are contrasts in setting—one for solemn reflection, the other for hedonist celebrations. Welcome to Dachau and Munich.
We enter the gate that reads Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work Sets You Free”), which appeared on entrances to Auschwitz and other concentration camps like Dachau. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the center of the courtyard and the breathtaking sculpture known as the International Monument (right). Hitler established this first camp in 1933 for political prisoners. I’d expressed concerns about visiting this site on the trip, remembering sorrowful feelings after touring the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Group members who have visited Dachau before say that this was a political camp, not a death camp. I can’t fathom the difference.
Several buildings remain as museums. Commanded by the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel, or “Protective Echelon”), over 200,000 prisoners from throughout Europe were imprisoned in the twelve years that the camp was open, and one in five prisoners died. The camp was liberated by the Americans on April 29, 1945. While Dave visits the crematorium area, I visit the nearby Russian Orthodox church, one of several religious monuments on the grounds.
Unlike many sites visited on our trip, everyone, youth included, are silent and well behaved. We walk through buildings where prisoners slept and ate, tables and chairs just as they left them. One locker remains open so we can see how sparingly they lived. We return to the bus, still in whispers. We are glad Dachau is still here to archive and educate future generations.
October in Munich
It’s the opening weekend of Octoberfest in Munich for us—and three million others from around the world. For Germany, that means plentiful beer and food. Dave and I have German roots, and his are around the Munich area in Bavaria. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but when we hear the logistics of getting to the official Octoberfest grounds and the crowds expected, we decide not to join the dozen of our group who chance it. The brochure isn’t encouraging, either. If a tent is full (which most would be), you can’t enter, and you can’t purchase anything, including the € 11 liter of beer, unless you have a seat. You are “permitted to dance on the benches, but it is not permitted to stand on the tables.” Probably difficult to control given the inebriated consumers. We wouldn’t have survived.
Downtown Munich was also beyond crowded with cheerful Tyrolean peasant-dressed visitors everywhere. We attempt to go to the famous Hofbrauhaus (right), but no empty seats remain in the great hall or any of the other eating areas. These are the tourists waiting for evening to join the annual festivities. We walk a block down the street and find a corner café with outside seating, lovely sandwiches, and coffee. We’ll save the wine and beer for evening. We shop in the pedestrian-only streets and admire the squares and the Cathedral. Munich has charm. We decide to return—but not in October.
At the end of the day, we are relieved to travel through small villages in Bavaria and Tyrol toward the small city of Kufstein for the night. The citizens are cleaning up from a day celebrating their own small Octoberfest. From our hotel window, we look directly above us to the fortress that has watched over the city for eight hundred years (left).
A perfect spot for the night. It was a very long day.
Learn more about Dachau at the official site: https://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/index-e.html
See more photos of Dachau, Munich and Kufstein at the Yours in a Hurry Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/YoursinaHurry/
Next time: Salzburg and Hitler’s hide away, the Eagle’s Nest
Our Memorial Tour starts in Frankfurt. It’s the fifth largest city in Germany and has Europe’s busiest airport. You hear a lot about German efficiency. That isn’t our experience.
Two large flights arrive at the same time, and we are in the under-staffed and uncontrolled customs line for about an hour. Soon after our bus enters the autobahn on way to Nuremberg, traffic stops—and remains stopped for five hours. As we watch from the bus, some people get out of cars, sit in lawn chairs, and read books. School children see friends in neighboring cars and start playing. The busload of Americans can’t help thinking what would happen on one of our expressways in a situation like this. Heads would roll! Later we find out that two large trucks collided in a narrow construction area.
Once beyond the stop, we pass many exits on this new roadway that looks American with most of our fast food chains represented. Our guide tells us that McDonald’s, known as “The American Embassy,” is very popular.
The Nazi Parade Grounds
The next morning our tour starts at the Nazi Parade Grounds. You’ve probably seen photos of this site your whole life, in history books and in historical film footage, with Hitler speaking enthusiastically to thousands of Germans, their arms raised in unison in a “Heil Hitler” salute. (photo right) Aside from the main structure where Hitler stood, a guide must describe what the rest once looked like. He directs us to large photos covered in plastic. Now it’s deserted, crumbling in areas and overgrown with weeds, except for a few tourists and joggers. We speak in quiet tones. Standing in this spot, I see ghosts. There were so many. They must be here. (photo below)
While here, we learn that there’s talk about beginning to acknowledge those who fought for Germany during World War 2. It’s been frowned upon so long, this history. Maybe bring the Parade Grounds back to its former glory, they say, or better preserve it as a tourist
As we leave to visit the site of the Nuremberg trials, it feels like preservation is a better idea.
Palace of Justice
From fall of 1945 until fall of 1946, the International Military Tribunal convened in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice to try individuals responsible for war crimes. The site was chosen because of the large space in the building, including many offices and the eighty courtrooms. The building was spared during the war, and a prison was part of the complex.
The twenty-four Nazi leaders were tried on four points: conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; panning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. The Tribunal opened in Berlin, but moved to Nuremberg on November 20, 1945. The trials lasted 218 days, with testimony from 360 witnesses, and more than 1,000 personnel assisting in the trials. The verdicts were announced on September 30 and October 1: twelve sentenced to death by hanging, seven sentences of life imprisonment, and three acquittals.
The courtroom has been remodeled, even more since we were last here several years ago. (photo right) The museum upstairs is spacious and describes the history well. What happened here may be one of the best examples of the quote attributed to George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
As we leave the site, Dave asks one of our new travel mates, “Was your father in the war?” “Yes,” he replied, “but on the other side.” Hans, an American veteran post-World War 2, was orphaned at birth. His father was in the German navy and died when the German ship Bismarck sunk. His mother later brought her young son to America. We realize that the trip has a special meaning for Hans and his family, just as it does for Dave.
I can't leave Nuremberg without commenting on what a vibrant city it is today. These photos show the multiculturalism (yes, that's a shushi stand outside Nuremberg cathedral). We also got a taste of what we'd experience on our next day. Many German towns and villages were celebrating the beginning of Octoberfest in Munich that weekend with their own local festivals, and Nuremberg was no exception.
Details on Nuremberg war history can be found at https://museums.nuernberg.de/nuremberg-municipal-museums/.
Send your World War 2 stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next time: Dachau and Munich
“My travels taught me that there was no area of Europe free from the memories and monument of the First World War.” Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
I echo Gilbert’s comment. We saw these memorials in our travels, too. You can find small monuments to military leaders and battles in cities and small villages throughout Europe that were ravaged in two wars. An example below is the one hidden in Germany's Black Forest area, a tribute to Erwin Rommel. It's close to his home, and unlike the more formal monument near his grave, this is at the site of his forced suicide by the Nazi regime.
I found Gilbert’s book when doing research for my next novel. He also wrote a book on World War 2, and he has a way of connecting events and individuals that helps us understand how history can take societies in directions both planned and unplanned. Most of the politicians and commanders involved in World War 2 participated in some way in the Great War. That’s why Gilbert’s books are considered good ones to start with if you’re interested in reading or studying either of these wars.
Only an Intermission
The root causes of World War 2 began with the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. The process of developing that document ruined American President Woodrow Wilson, and it changed much of Europe and the Middle East—but particularly Germany. As the world economy worsened after the Great War and reached its nadir in the 1929 depression, Germans became increasingly angry, and it was easy for someone with a promise of national renewal and revenge to develop a following. Scapegoats—such as Jews, Poles, and Socialists—provided common enemies on whom to vent frustration and anger.
Many see World War 2 as caused by one man’s insanity: Adolph Hitler. What we saw at Dachau makes one wonder about man’s inhumanity toward man—and how one person could have such an effect. I haven’t read much about the German psyche during this period, and it’s hard for me to understand. But our tour guides along the way explained much about the French during the occupation and why more didn’t join in the resistance. Some feared for their lives if they didn’t accept Nazi rule. Others felt that the Germans were sure to win the war and wanted to position themselves for that eventuality. Add these perspectives to the Germans’ feelings of being punished into a deep depression after the Great War, and one can see why few of them resisted.
Ironies of War
Gilbert reminds us that more soldiers were killed in the Great War than any other war in history—8.6 million—a fact that many Americans forget given our brief time in that war in comparison to our losses in World War 2. During that war, Americans lost 48,000, not counting the 62,000 who died of influenza.
The American cemeteries in Europe for the two wars are pristine, like the American Cemetery in St. Avold, France, pictured. Ironically, many of the Great War’s cemeteries were being formally dedicated in the summer of 1937 while Hitler was moving into the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. On Easter 1939, survivors of a British Gun Corp met in Albert, a small French town, to dedicate a plaque commemorating their service and lost comrades in the Battle of the Somme, which lasted five months in 1918. Less than six months later, the Germans would come again. This time they would stay for over four years.
I hope you read Martin Gilbert’s works. If you are interested in the Great War, I recommend M. K. Tod’s website, A Writer of History. Her historical novels are well researched, and you can read blogs concerning the wars, some of which involve her family’s letters.
Next time: Nuremberg