Tens of thousands of people are fleeing civil war and unrest (Syria being at the heart of it) to find new homes in Europe. Experts believe that the migrant crisis is the worst since World War II. Surprisingly, Germany, with the stroke of a pen, has made it easy for hundreds of Syrian families to start a new life in Germany (unlike before, they will not be deported back). Ironically, Germany was responsible for causing millions of deaths during World War II. September 1, 1939 is generally considered to be the start of World war II in Europe; it began with the German invasion of Poland; Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later.
With an estimated 50-85 million fatalities, World War II is often described as the deadliest conflict in human history. The anniversary of the beginning of world war II is the perfect time for a historical tour of the cities that bore the brunt of the Nazi invasion.
Here’s a walk through six world war sites in Europe.
Krakow – Auschwitz
At Auschwitz concentration camp, the atrocities against deported Jews changed the definition of human monstrosity forever. Several Hollywood movies have been filmed, with the Auschwitz concentration camp being at the center of the plot.
The railway tracks, barbed wires, personal belongings of the victims (there’s fabric made of human hair|) all narrate horrifying tales of Nazi cruelty.
Millions of Jews were gassed to death. In Krakow, synagogues were destroyed, Jews rounded up.
But one man rekindled faith in humanity – Oskar Schindler. He saved nearly 1,200 Jews by providing them employment in his factory (Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ is a true story based on Oskar Schindler).
Must See: Take a guided tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp (check with the hotel concierge in Krakow’ then plan day tours). Go to Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Not many are aware of this, but even Netherlands found itself dragged into this war.
Initially, the Netherlands stayed neutral in the war but it was invaded by Germany on May 10, 1940. Five days later, it surrendered to the Germans. During the four day campaign, about 2,300 Dutch soldiers were killed and 7,000 wounded.
‘Anne Frank’ was born in Amsterdam. during World War II, she hid from the Nazis in a secret Annexe in a canal house which is now a museum. Anne Frank did not survive the war but her diary is one of the most poignant accounts of the war.
Must See: Anne Frank’s house; Auschwitz Memorial; De Dokwerker (in honour of masterdammers who stood up against the violence on Jews); Monument of Jewish resistance; Monument to the women in the Ravensbruck Nazi concentration camp); Verzets Museum (about the resistance against the German occupation during World War II).
Warsaw was completely bombed and destroyed during Wold war II. On Black Monday (September 25, 1939), 500 tons of high explosive bombs and 72 tons of incendiary bombs were dropped, and there was heavy artillery shelling. Jews were rounded up and forced into a ghetto. Overall, Warsaw suffered approximately 25,800 civilian deaths. The
Warsaw of today is an exact restoration of what it was before the War.
Must See: Warsaw Uprising Museum; Gestapo Museum; Fragments of Ghetto Wall (look for a wall in 55 Siena street and 62 Zlota street); Little Insurgent Monument (a child
wearing an over-sized helmet, representing heroic children who fought against the occupiers in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising).
Berlin was the capital of the Nazi Germany and was air-raided 363 times during World War II. The Americans dropped 23,000 tons of bombs, and the British, 45,517 tons.
Bombings continued relentlessly. By May 1945, nearly 14 percent of Berliners had fled the city.
Must See: Anti-War Museum (has an original air raid shelter from World War II); Anne Frank Center; Book Burning Memorial; Marianfelde Refugees Centre Museum; Sachsenhausen (one of the largest concentration camps of the Reich between 1936 and 1945); Memorial to the Murdered jews of Europe.
On June 6, 1944 (called D-Day), more than 156,000 American, Canadian and British forces and 20,000 vehicles mustered their might, landed n a 50-mile stretch of beaches to push the Nazis out of Western Europe. Code-named ‘Operation Overlord’, the Battle of Normandy was one of the largest amphibious attacks in history and is often called the beginning of the end of World War II.
Must See: Caen Memorial (history of the 20th century with video footage); Centre Juno Beach (only museum along the landing beaches dedicated to Canadian forces); Arromanches 360 (built to commemorate 50 years of D-day landings); Montormel Memorial; Merville Battery Museum; Airborne Museum; American Cemetery.
London was in the eye of the war storm and history will never forget the Blitz. German bombers appeared in London skies on September 7, 1940 and for 57 consecutive days London was bombed. During the Blitz, 18000 tons of high explosives were dropped on England killing around 18,500 men, 16,000 women, and close to 5,000 children.
There are many who feel that of all the major cities in Europe, London bore the major brunt of the war.
Must See: The Imperial War Museum; Merchant Seamen’s Memorial Gaden; Kindertransport (bears 16 milestones, each in the name of a city from where some 10,000 Jewish Children fled Nazi persecution for refuge in Britain from 1938 to 1940); Monument to the women of World War II; Cabinet War Rooms (where Winston Churchill and his government operated during the War); War Museum in Southwark (depicts what it was like to live in Britain during the War).