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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » How Second World War Still Fascinates, Horrifies and Educates

How Second World War Still Fascinates, Horrifies and Educates

 Nazi Death Camps: Visit for Historical Lessons - Logaritmo

People love historical battle re-enactments, but WW2 has unique appeal. There are vast quantities of artifacts to stir memory and teach the next generation.

There are lots of aphorisms about people learning from history, including that people don’t learn from history; that people learn about history not to make the same mistakes, and that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. True or not, the fact remains, people are endlessly fascinated by the Second World War’s history; and many feel that younger generations need to know it too.

It’s guessed that the length of time devoted to footage of and about that War on British television alone has already exceeded the length of the actual conflict, 1939-1945. That’s without counting movies, diaries/recollections, historical books and novels that have been and still are inspired by it.

That such a complex war should prove fascinating over 70 years after it ended, is perhaps not a surprise, as there are almost 40 conflicts going on around the world at present ranging from civil wars, drug wars and territorial disputes to insurgency.

WW II Museums and Memorials

Most places have war memorials, commemorating locals killed in and by war. Coastal areas in Britain still have concrete pill boxes, intended to slow an invasion. Ships sunk at sea in war are designated memorials; cemeteries around the world are filled with foreign combatants. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is one such.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, heads the world’s centres of remembrance, memorial, reconciliation and education, bringing people of all ages, all cultures to a numbing sense of loss, waste and horror, which all wars bring in the end.

However, every museum, each place of tribute has its own unique contribution to the human need to remember. National WW2 Museums list 46 from the USA alone, from Airborne and Special Operations Museum, North Carolina; American Battle Monuments Commission, Arlington, Virginia; Atomic Heritage Foundation,Washington, DC; Battleships Cove, (Massachusetts), Texas, North Carolina and Alabama, right through to US Army Heritage & Education Center, Pennsylvania.

These cover every aspect: army, navy, air force, veterans, ships, tanks, weapons. The Museum of the Marine Corps displays over 1000 artifacts from tactical aircraft to a small field ration can-opener. The Museum of World War II, near Boston is described by London’s Imperial War Museum as ‘the world’s most comprehensive display of original WWII artifacts.

Original uniforms; spy & sabotage weaponry; letters/documents/manuscripts from Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, Stalin, Mussolini and Josef Mengele, for instance; Hitler’s first sketch for the Nazi flag and a Sherman tank from North Africa’s campaign and an original landing craft from the Pacific. The Wright Museum’s brief is to mark the significant and lasting impact of the war on American life with a similar range of artifacts.

WW II Around the World

In France there’s the Airborne Museum,Tank Museum at Saumur, and Le Mémorial de Caen. Australia has one at Canberra; Canada one in Quebec and the Maritime Archive in Newfoundland. In Britain there are Churchill Archives at Cambridge, Imperial War Museum’s Duxford airfield, Churchill Museum and RAF Museum in London, while Malta has Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna (Malta Heritage Trust), Luxembourg National Museum of Military History and Guam has War in the PacificNational Historical Park.

Nazi prison camps were numerous and varied, spread across Europe. For example, there was a labor camp in Alderney, CI; transit camp & prison at Amersfoort, Netherlands; extermination camps at Belzec, Chelmno and Majdanek Poland; concentration camps at Banjica, Serbia; Bredtvet, Norway; Jasenovac, Croatia and Vaivara, Estonia.

Most have long gone, but visits to just three that are open to the public: Dachau, Auschwitz Birkenau and Sachsenhausen explain why this war is still remembered and taught to each new generation. The evidence of experiments carried out of vulnerable peoples gets no less shocking with the passage of time.

Other WW II Actual Sites of Historic Interest

The Cabinet War Rooms a short step from Downing Street are the actual secret bunkers used by war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the dark hours of the blitzing of London.

The Keroman U-boat submarine base, Lorient, Brittany, France built to protect the Nazi attack capabilities against supply vessels in the Atlantic, survived Allied bomb attacks because of its double-skinned concrete construction, and is open to public viewing.

The Channel Islands, closer to France than England, were the only British territory occupied by the Nazis. Jersey War Tunnels are preserved, showing how from 1941-1944, thousands of slave laborers, mostly from German-occupied countries, built ‘Hohlgangsanlage 8’. Daily life during the occupation is graphically recreated.

The actual secret annex hideaway where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years from the Gestapo is open to the public every day in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The warship HMS Belfast is anchored in London’s Thames, open for viewing. Labrador Park, Singapore is a war battery used to defend Keppel Harbour as the Japanese invaded.

As long as war persists, there will be monuments and remembrances for the victims, their bravery and endurance. The sheer number of Second World War artifacts shows that educational-tourism is here to stay.

First published on Suite 101, 5 August 2010.

Photo: Nazi Death Camps: Visit for Historical Lessons – Logaritmo

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