Learning from the past

Sarah

“Every individual has a right to a decent and just state.”

It’s hard to sum up an entire two weeks abroad into a few short paragraphs. Since my return from Europe I have been constantly asked, “What was your favorite part? Where was your favorite place to visit?”

It’s impossible to pick just one site, just one experience, just one moment, when this whole trip was so much more than I could have ever imagined.

The quote from above was from the German Resistance Museum my classmates and I visited and it really resonated with me. When people talk about World War II and the Holocaust, there is so much focus on the horrors and despair. But there isn’t much discussion on those who resisted and stood up for what they believe in. I could not stop thinking about this quote. There was so much pain, so much suffering, but there was still light and hope coming from those who believed in the greater good.

This quote and this museum changed my perspective on the trip a bit. As Roosevelt students, the importance of social justice is incorporated into our classes, organizations and everyday lives on campus. We are taught to not be afraid to speak out, to stand up for what we believe in and fight for equality and justice. That is exactly what these brave individuals did during this horrific time in history.

We are taught to not be afraid to speak out, to stand up for what we believe in and fight for equality and justice.

The German Resistance Museum was just one of the many stops on our trip. We traveled from Berlin to Amsterdam to Paris in two short weeks. My classmates and I had numerous eye opening and moving experiences at different sites throughout the trip. As we sat in the Paris airport ready to head home, I asked some of my classmates what was the most defining moment for them on the trip. I wanted to share some of their experiences as well because each of us were moved by different places and different moments on this trip.

Connor, a history major with a focus on Holocaust studies, was most moved by our day trip to the concentration camp, Ravensbruck. To him, reading about and seeing footage from the Holocaust could only convey so much. But to actually be on site gave him a different perspective to the severity of it all.

Ravensbruck
Ravensbruck

Also at Ravensbruck, Ali was most moved by a baby bonnet on display, a child’s object but a harrowing physical reminder of the extent to which the war affected everyone and everything, even children. How something so innocent could be part of an event so terrible deeply affected Ali, preventing her from entering the camp’s crematorium.

Soldier’s grave at American cemetery in Normandy
Soldier’s grave at American cemetery in Normandy

Natalia had one of her defining moments in the prison located on the campgrounds — a descendant of a Polish family, Natalia was moved visiting a memorial room dedicated to Polish people during war times.

Ravensbruck Memorial
Ravensbruck Memorial

D-Day was one of the first World War II events Jordan learned about in class, inspiring him to consume as much media about the Normandy landings as possible. Standing on the ground where thousands of soldiers and civilians lost their lives, replaced with kids playing on the beaches and normal life carrying on, Jordan was at a loss for words.

The statue at Omaha Beach
The statue at Omaha Beach

Bianca lamented the retrospective treatment of some German soldiers from World War II, many of whom were forced to fight contrary to their personal feelings or beliefs. At La Cambe German war cemetery in Normandy, Bianca was saddened that these select groups of men were commemorated simply as the war’s losers, unforgiven for their representing the Axis powers.

La Cambe German war cemetery in Normandy
La Cambe German war cemetery in Normandy

Eric felt visiting the Anne Frank House was an eerie experience, having read about its place in history without ever seeing it firsthand. We are usually so far removed from the situation, but in this case were so close. He felt that it was very jarring to be in the Anne Frank house and to see how people had to live in seclusion for so many years.

Anne Frank statue
Anne Frank statue

Russell’s most defining site visit was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the first of our trip. The museum’s striking architecture, the stelae in particular (pictured below), was a stark companion to its subject matter. To learn about the millions of families destroyed by the Holocaust, coupled with powerful stories of survivors, was a potent history lesson for Russell.

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Jess’ most moving moment was atop the Ravensbruck watch tower in the camp’s main administrative building. After climbing the stairs, Jess captured the photo below, showing the camp’s vast expanse of land where prisoners were held.

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View from Ravensbruck watch tower

I still don’t know what most moved me during this journey. Was it standing on Omaha Beach with the sand between my toes, reflecting on how many soldiers lost their lives on D-Day? Or was it walking through Anne Frank’s room adorned with magazine clippings on its walls, realizing this bright teenage girl’s life was ruined by one of the worst atrocities in human history? Or was it standing in the roll call area at Ravensbruck and listening to our tour guide discuss the awful, inhumane conditions of the many concentration camps?

We must keep these memories alive and continue to learn from the past.

I never thought I would be given the opportunity to spend two weeks traveling around Europe expanding my knowledge of history. If anything, this trip made me realize the importance of memory. We must continue to visit these places and educate ourselves on not only the horrors of the past, but the memories of those who survived and overcame great oppression. We must keep these memories alive and continue to learn from the past. I am so grateful for my classmates, my professors and for Roosevelt for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I hope many more students like me get to appreciate.

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