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WWII and Holocaust, European Sites and Books/DVDs

WWII and Holocaust, European Sites and Books/DVDs

Dec 4th, 2007, 05:36 AM
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WWII and Holocaust, European Sites and Books/DVDs

Instead of heading off to Spanish "camp" my 17-yr-old daughter has decided that what she'd really like to spend time this summer in Europe doing (perhaps her last for a while as we'll move back to the US next year) is immersing herself in WWII history. She is a history buff and has studied World History which touches on WWII but will not take US History until next year. She will not have time to start her own in-depth research until school lets out, since she's got a lot of schoolwork and the usual SATs etc going on right now. I need to have at least a few eggs in the basket before summer so I can make some reservations and help her put together a bit of a "plan"...and I have lots of time to work on this but was not a history student so I'm starting from scratch.

We live in Zurich, which is central to most of Europe, and so we'll probably take trains, drive, and split the trip up over the course of several months. Her 13-year-old sister will join us for some of it.

I have 2 questions:

1. What cities, monuments, memorials, battlefields, cemeteries, Jewish ghettoes, concentration camps have you visited in Europe that really helped you get a feeling and context for WWII? Did you visit with a teenager and what insight do you have on that?

2. What movies or books (fiction and non-fiction) have you seen/read that you felt dealt effectively with this war and this time period, and might be appropriate/interesting for a mature history student's "library"?

I hope my question isn't too vague. I know the topic is huge and I may need to have her choose a smaller theme...

Thank you for any help you can provide.


gruezi is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 08:13 AM
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First, high marks to you and your daughter for undertaking this task. It can be daunting and obviously can go much deeper and farther-reaching than anyone can manage in a lifetime, let alone a summer.

Rather than taking on the whole scope of the war I might suggest a few books and films that provide a personal, more intimate view of the war and the holocaust. That doesn't make them any less riveting (or shattering) but can help bring it down to human scale.

The Diary of Anne Frank is an obvious choice, as are Night by Elie Wiesel and If This is a Man by Primo Levi. For a riveting day-by-day account of the rise of the Third Reich, I think Bill Shirer's Berlin Diary is a must-read; his opus The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a bit dated now, but still a pretty comprehensive and sweeping view of the war in Europe.

Schindler's List is an obvious movie choice; probably others can recommend other films that are less about shooting and more about people. One of my favorites is Soldier of Orange, Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece about the war in Holland.

For visits, well, Berlin is an obvious choice, as are Dachau (near Munich,) Auschwitz (near Krakow) and Terezin (not too far from Prague.)

However since you're in Europe, could I just throw out a suggestion for a trip to Jerusalem? Aside from its obvious historical attractions, the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial does a remarkable job of making sense of the senselessness of the era. Some places are transformational - I think Yad Vashem is one such, partly because of the somber and devastating subject matter, but also because when you leave Yad Vashem you're immersed in a vibrant, living city and country that shows just how completely Hitler lost the war and had his evil dreams come to naught.

Congratulations and best wishes to you and your daughter.
Gardyloo is online now  
Dec 4th, 2007, 08:56 AM
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If your daughter reads French, I would recommend Jorge Semprun's Quel beau dimanche!, although it also includes stories about his life in the Communist underground after the war. He was in Buchenwald and as a literary person combines his experience with his knowledge of literature which had an ironic meaning in that the KZ was in the woods where Goethe used to take his walks and had Léon Blum as a special prisoner who wrote about Goethe.
Michael is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 09:50 AM
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For excellent fiction about the war by a woman who died in one of the camps, read Suite Française.
Underhill is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 11:06 AM
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I will get back to you later with a more detailed reply since we took a similar trip this summer and my 15YO has shelves and shelves of books on this, but first, would you mind telling us if she is interested in this from a Jewish perspective, or more strictly as a history buff? I don't want to give you too many titles that are more about the Jewish experience if this is not really the focus.

If you click on my name, you should find my trip report, "Heritage, Heartache and Holiday ... (etc.)"
skatedancer is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 11:08 AM
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actually, you can probably find my trip report more easily by clicking on "Poland" or "Lithuania" in the search box.
skatedancer is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 12:27 PM
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We spent some time in the Nazi Documentation Center in Berchtesgaden, Germany, and wished that we could've spent a few more hours there. It is a museum documenting the Nazis, Hitler, etc. with a vast collection of the propaganda materials, information on officers and other important figures, with the exhibit culminating in a display of the tragic results of Nazi control. A bunker system is part of the complex. Descriptions are in English, and English audio headsets are available. The entire experience was an overwhelming and valuable educational tool for us. In the area you can also visit Eagles Nest, as well as some hand-dug bunkers.
meo is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 05:35 PM
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We recently visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and found the experience overwhelmingly haunting. The camp seemed to be out-of-place, nestled in the little village of Dachau. We had underestimated the vastness of the complex, and unfortunately didn't have enough time to visit many parts of the camp, including the crematorium area. They have an audio-guide that you can rent, which was very informative.

There is an excellent museum in the former maintenance building, which takes you from the rise of Hitler, through the liberation of the camp, and the aftermath of WWII. The bunker (camp prison), where torture and executions were conducted, was very moving - the aura of terror and death permeated our senses.

There are two reconstructed barracks, of the original 34, that you can walk through. They were built to house 200 prisoners, but by the end of the war each barrack was overcrowded with up to 2000 prisoners. The remaining 32 barracks were torn down, but their foundations remain, so you can envision the size of the camp (although small for 68,000 people!)

I would highly recommend a visit to this most powerful remembrance of man's inhumanity to man. Let us never forget.

The Memorial Site is easily accessible from Munich by public transportation. Take the S-2 to Dachau, then transfer to Bus 724. You can use the München XXL Day ticket.

As far as books, before I went to Germany I enjoyed reading Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi, a novel about a young woman who lived in a little village along the Rhine River, and grew up between WWI and WWII. It explores the relationships of the people in her village, and the impact that WWII had on them.

For a first hand account of life in a Nazi concentration camp, I can recommend By Bread Alone by Mel Mermelstein, who happens to be a friend of the family. It chronicles his life and experiences during the war. (Leonard Nimoy made a movie based on several chapters of his life).

I hope you and your daughters have a wonderful time exploring history in Europe. What an adventure for all of you!

Robyn >-

artstuff is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 06:32 PM
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I posted and it's not here,???
"Rescuing the Childen" a holocust memoir with a forward by Elie Wiesel,
written by Vivette Samual, who was social worker at the time in France to save these Jewish children.
"I Never saw nother Butterfly."
children's drawings and poems from Terezín Concentration Camp.
A visit in France to Oroudour-sur-Glan (sp?)
cigalechanta is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 07:59 PM
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The Oppermanns: a novel by Lion Feuchtwanger - one of my favorite books.
Many of Lion Feuchtwanger's books have interesting details of Jewish life at deferent times and places http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_Feuchtwanger

My son took the Holocaust class in collage. Here is the list of the books for the class:
Between Dignity and Despair Jewish life in Nazi Germany by Marion A. Kaplan
War & Genocide A Concise History of the Holocaust by Doris L. Bergen
Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
The Holocaust (Problems in European Civilization Series) by Donald L. Niewyk
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung
Ordinary Men Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning

Movie Sunshine (1999) shows history of Jewish family for three generations in Hungary
travfirst is offline  
Dec 4th, 2007, 11:11 PM
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There are so many places, and each single one is important, so I'll just suggest some from my personal experience:

- Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar (http://www.buchenwald.de/index_en.html), such a cynical closeness to Goethe and Schiller

- 'Topography of Terror' in Berlin, the former site of the SS/Gestapo-headquarters (http://www.topographie.de/en/index.htm), though it doesn't look impressive on first sight

- House of the Wannsee Conference (http://www.ghwk.de/engl/kopfengl.htm), for its utter coldness

- German Resistance Memorial Site (http://www.gdw-berlin.de/ged/geschichte-e.php), too many are still unaware about this, at least until 'Valkyrie' hits the screens soon

- 'Ordensburg Vogelsang' near Aachen
(http://www.vogelsang-ip.de/), a place the future NS-elite was supposed to evolve from. Being one of the few actual remains of NS-architecture, it's IMO a tell-tale place how a mix of architecture and propaganda can be set up to influence and overcome young minds.
- in case you happen to go there, note that there are some remarkable sites nearby, e.g. the Huertgen-forest, where one of the cruellest battles in WWII was fought in winter '44-'45 (though it's 'just' a very peacful forest nowadays, which makes quite a contrast). Just across the border to Belgium, you can find the American cemetery of Henri-Chapelle (http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/hc.php), on your way there, you may spot remains of the 'Westwall' defence system, too (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westwall)

- D-Day beaches (in case you go there, you should pay a visit to nearby WWI sites, too)

- Lidice (near Prague), the town that was destroyed in an act of vengeance for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942

Two more pages I would recommend to you:

a)http://www.ns-gedenkstaetten.de/portal/index.php, - a nearly complete list of NS-related memorial sites in Germany
b) http://www.gedenkstaetten-uebersicht.de/ - a similar list for the whole of Europe (and beyond)

Alas, you'll have to be fairly fluent with German for these. What about the language skills of your kids? It might broaden the choice of books one could suggest.
Nautiker is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 12:55 AM
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I do hope she'll get a chance to consider history as more than a collection of variously terrible and heroic events and individuals. I'd suggest she looks at the relevant chapters of Norman Davies's "Europe", to get some sense of how these things didn't just happen out of the blue.

PatrickLondon is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 01:17 AM
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What about the Anne Frank huis in Amsterdam?
Not Holocaust related but still important in WW2 is the Arnhem area for Operation Market Garden (A bridge too far)? you can see the John Frost bridge, and visit the museum at Oosterbeek. Also in Holland is a fascinating museum in Overloon called Liberty Park http://tinyurl.com/26nsdd, and the US War cemetry in Margraten.
hetismij is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 01:46 AM
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Knowledge of the past is important. More important is knowledge of the present and intimations of what may come. A study of what Europe is today as opposed to 1945 could help make forecasts of Europe tomorrow. Some of Europe has not changed since 1940-1945. Learn about the effects of immigration on any European country. Today, the UK is a different area...first came the Africans and the Asians, and now the Central Europeans. A study about the effects of 2,000,000 Polish immigrants on the UK life style should keep any student busy.
Re: Cinema: View, Katyñ. Books: Try, The Painted Bird.
GSteed is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 03:55 AM
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Along with Patrick_London, I think it is important to work against seeing WWII as more than just a list of atrocities; this makes it too much about the perpetrator, and not enough about the people in the camps.
Inside the camps, people were not just passive objects, they retained their individuality and continued to develop inside the camps, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Top of the reading list has to be Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning." Dr. Frankl retained his belief in hope and life despite an almost unimaginably cruel life inside of Auschwitz, and despite losing much of his family to the Holocaust.

James Clavell's "King Rat" is a novel set in a Japanese POW camp and introduces one to how power and morality figures amongst the prisoners themselves, not just between themselves and their captors.

Then there's J G Ballard's "Empire of the Sun", a novel based on his own experiences as a child in a Japanese civilian internment camp. (It was later made into a film directed by Stephen Spielberg. ) It's the most fascinating study I've yet seen of someone doing what he must to survive, and yet nonetheless recognizing that without duty to someone else, life is meaningless. There is also a profound message of faith in humanity: the young boy finds an unexpected friend amongst the 'enemy', who is revealed to be just as trapped by the war as are the inmates of the camp. That said, the movie in particular makes it plain just how scarring was the experience of life inside war, not just camps, especially for children.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 04:08 AM
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I visited Dachau as a 16 year old in 1989. I found it a very somber, but moving experience. I agree with the comments written by artstuff.


speckles is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 04:38 AM
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Hi G,

Quite a task.

For a beginner, I suggest:


Rise and Fall of the Third Reich William Shirer

Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock

Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox 1882-1940 by James MacGregor Burns
Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom: 1940-1945 by James MacGregor Burns

LIFE: World War II: History's Greatest Conflict in Pictures
by Richard B. Stolley


Triumph Of The Will by Leni Riefenstahl

Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg

Shoah by Lanzmann (Get the much less expensive Korean version)


"Victory at Sea"


The New Yorker from 1933 to 1945


Dachau and/or Auschwitz

The Jewish quarter of Prague
The Ghetto in Venice
The Jewish quarter of Paris (rue des rosiers)

Hope this helps

ira is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 04:50 AM
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So much stuff and where to begin!
You are so lucky to have received such fantastic suggestions, many of which I too will use!!

My personal interest has always been Normandy, there is so much to see regarding the invasion etc, also information is quite easy to find.
My more recent interest and something I am currently looking at is Reinhard Heydrich as Nautiker mentioned.

I have some good books to begin with, lets start with just 2.
The life and Times of Reinhard Heydrich and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. These 2 books paint a good picture of this animal.

When I was in Prague I followed the route where the assasination attempt took place, then visited the Church of St Cyril where the assasins hid out, then followed the story to Lidice where reprisals took place and capped it off with a visit to Terezine camp in Cz.

This kind of encapsulates a large part of the Heydrich history in Prague and doesn't take up too much time.

These places take us to within the real story, from the bullet scarred church in Prage to the memorial for all the children in Lidice and on to the firing squad wall and gallows at Terezine.

Good Luck to your Daughter, please let us know what she decides to do !! And she must come and tell us all about it.

Mucky is offline  
Dec 5th, 2007, 05:03 AM
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Here are 2 recent films, both available on DVD, about the period:


I recommend both.

Easy reading for a 17-year-old and excellent is the book:

Eva's Cousin by S. Knauss
ekscrunchy is online now  
Dec 5th, 2007, 07:56 AM
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My personal recommendation is to include cities where thriving Jewish communities existed before the WW II. You can get very good Jewish tours of Jewish neighbourhoods in Budapest, Prague, Krakow, to name a few. Many of these cities have good Jewish museums where you can put things into historical perspectives, not just focusing on horrors of Holocaust. Amsterdam also has an excellent museum inside the synagogue. Walk around, see what it must have been like to be in the 1930s and 40s. You can put a human face to a historical event.

Aside from many books, there are some excellent movies. Aside from the obvious Schindler's List (my sister-in-law's stepfather was among the survivors on the list), I recommend Life is Beautiful, Au Revoir les Enfants.
W9London is offline  

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