Monday, October 26, 2015

Our Little Corner of the World...a somber day in Nuremburg, visiting the historical sites of WWII.

       When we were in Nuremburg, we went on a tour of WWII historical sites. WWII was not of my generation, but was very much a part of my parent's lives.  When Hitler invaded Poland, my mother was traveling in Europe with her family friend, Nelbert Chouinard. When I was in Junior High School, she told me the story of them traveling in Hungary at the time.  She told me that when they realized what was happening, they took off for Switzerland where my mother's extended family is from.  She told me that they had a car, and put American flags on each corner of the car.  She also told me that they picked up two American gentlemen, who she actually thought were American spies!
        My mother was quite affected by her time there when literally, all Hell was breaking loose. Prior to her travel in Hungary she had been in Berlin going to the University as a graduate student in languages.  She had photos of Hitler speaking and his army goose stepping in the streets of Berlin.
As I said, I was in Junior High when we talked about this.  At the time the big fashion trend in shoes was boots...and I wanted a particular pair.  When I told my mom that I wanted a pair of boots, she looked at me harshly and said in no uncertain terms that I would not get any boots because "boots were made for German soldiers to kick the heads of Jews in".   I can still feel the intensity of her statement to this day, so many years since then.  Later, she realized her emotional over reaction to the fashion of the day and she did let me get a pair.  But, can you imagine the impact that that statement had on me?  She showed me the pictures she had of Hitler and the goosestepping soldiers and talked a bit about what that time period meant to her.  She was not one to be emotionally vulnerable, but in this situation, she shared a very emotional part of her.
      As I'm sure most of you all did too, no matter what country you are from, we studied WWII in Junior High and High School.  I grew up watching all the John Wayne war movies, as well as "From Here to Eternity", and of course, "The Nuremburg Trials".  So yes...WWII was very much a part of my life experience.
      When I went to Europe the first time, I visited Dachau.  One of the most moving experiences of my life...(which resulted in an 8 hour stint in the Hofbrau Hause with a couple of fellow travelers I met while touring the concentration camp).  So it was a natural for me to want to see Nuremburg through the lens of WWII history.  We had a wonderful guide, a young German man, about 35 or 40. 
He told us what it was like growing up in Germany, and where even after so many years had passed,  when we was going to school, they were only just starting to allow WWII history to be taught in the schools.  He was very candid about his Grandfather who was a soldier in the German army in the war.
He told us how his father and uncle tried for years to get him to talk about his experiences until the Grandfather threatened to throw them out if they asked again.  After the grandfather passed away, his uncle researched his father's time in the army and found out that yes, his father had been a Nazi.  He  trained pilots to fly fighter planes.  It was so moving to hear this young man speak so poignantly about his family and his country's past to a group of predominantly American travelers.
      Our guide spoke of these things while we were sitting in the very courtroom where the Nuremburg trials were held.  It was absolutely mesmerizing.  We all sat in absolute silence, listening to his very poignant story.  It was fascinating, it was an emotionally vulnerable moment for all of us, and especially for the guide.  It was a healing experience.

      Our tour began at the grandstand in the Zeppelinfeld.  You might remember seeing movie clips of the large Swastika on top of the building, being blown up at the end of the war.  Remembering the old photos my mother showed me, I believe this is the location where my mother heard Hitler speak, and took photos of the soldiers.  I know we've all seen photos of this grandstand with Hitler speaking from the mid level, with citizens seated in the bleachers, and soldiers marching on the road in front. 
And now there are weeds growing up through the benches.  A fitting end, in my mind, to a mad man's dream.

       This is Congress Hall, the biggest preserved national socialist monumental building.  The plan was for this to be the congress center for the National Socialist German Workers Party, or NSDAP/AO  (don't ask me why the initials don't match the name...I couldn't find an explanation!)
At the end of the war, the building was unfinished and did not have a roof.  Since 2001, the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelande (Documentation Center Nazi Party Rallying Grounds),  a museurm that now houses a permanent exhibit Faszination und Gewalt Fascination and Terror.  We went through the after photo of the rise of Hitler and WWII.
A fascinating and terrifying exhibit. 

      This is a photo of the entire Congress Hall as displayed in the museum.  As you can see, the roof
was finally installed, and the building is in use, to a certain degree.  And is a fitting setting for the museum's exhibits.

      This is the front of the Nuremburg Court House where the famous trials took place.

      This is the very court room where the famous trials took place in 1945 and 46.  The arrangement of the courtroom has changed somewhat, but the interior design is very much the same.  Imagine, if you will, hearing from this young German man, the history of the room, and of his family...

      As you can see, the set up is slightly different in the photo from the museum.  The Judges dais is
on the right side of the room, underneath the windows, where as in the court room today the judge is behind the railing.  Currently, it is still being used as a courtroom, though certainly not holding court of such historic proportions.

      It has taken great courage on the part of the German people to move past this very dark period of 
their country's history.  I applaud their willingness to share the history as they have in this very moving museum exhibit.  I applaud their willingness to open the concentration camps to visitors as 
well.  It cannot be easy to face this squarely and openly.  Every country in the world has had dark periods in their histories.  We can blame, we can vilify, we can rant and rave about how awful a country's history may have been, but isn't it so much better to listen and learn, and move on...using the history as lessons and correcting our paths as we go?

To visit more little corners of the on the image below...


  1. If only we would take these sombre lessons to heart!

    1. I think a lot of the world has LadyFi...but there are certainly corners of the world where genocide and holocaust seem to be a daily experience.

  2. The courthouse would definitely draw me in, given what happened there.

    My parents were children in the Netherlands during the War, old enough that they had memories of it (I was born quite late and unexpected). If the war had gone on a few more months, one of them or both of them would have starved to death, so I've always been very aware of the fact that I owe my own life to liberation.

    1. An amazing story William...My mother was lucky as she was an American citizen, and had family in Switzerland at the time. I can't imagine the horror that people like your parents lived with day in and day out...

  3. Hopelijk blijft er bij iedereen iets van hangen en trekken wij er allemaal lering van,

    1. Ik ben het eens Bas ... Ik geloof dat zelfs kleine dingen zoals onze blogging met mensen uit alle hoeken van de wereld is een stap in de richting van de ongrijpbare begrip World Peace ". Bedankt voor uw bezoek!

  4. One of your most eloquent and beautiful posts, Kathy. Germany has come a long way. It's a beautiful country. I do not visit the sins of the fathers upon their children.

    1. Thank you Petrea. It was so fascinating to talk with the young guide. It definitely was an example of these things taking time to heal...several generations...but healing never the less.

  5. When the history of that terrible time is tied in with accounts of people (or their families) who were directly affected, it becomes even more moving. What a terrible time for the entire world.
    One of the best posts I've ever read. Thanks Kathryn...


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