International Intern Compares The National WWII Museum to German Museums
Lea Kroener, a student at the Free University of Berlin has been working with the Education Department of The National WWII Museum this Spring. She has been helping to develop lesson plans, helped to organize and judge the New Orleans Regional History Day Contest and even helped score at the Museum’s monthly Pub Quiz. Lea is focusing her studies on the history and culture of the United States. Her internship at the Museum represents her return to Louisiana after previously attending Destrehan High School during a foreign exchange program. Several weeks into her internship, we asked Lea to compare The National WWII Museum to museums she has visited in Germany.
When I started thinking about the differences between the way WWII is exhibited in the United States and in Germany, I realized that I had never been to a WWII Museum in Germany. Sure, there are numerous history museums, especially in the capital Berlin, but not a single one seems to deal with the war exclusively. Instead, German history from 1933-1945 is presented in museums and classrooms with the mission of trying to understand the horrors of the Nazi dictatorship and by searching for safeguards in order to prevent history from repeating itself. In Germany, the battles and other events of the war are overshadowed by the atrocities of the Holocaust. Therefore, there are a lot of museums and memorials intended to serve as memorials to the Holocaust and its millions of victims. One of the most well-known is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the center of Berlin.
Other topics which are more important than the WWII itself include the collapse of the Weimar Republic, Hitler’s rise to power and his establishment of a dictatorship. So most of Germany’s historical museums are not limited to the war but focus on the period from 1933 to 1945 or try to make the connection between WWI and WWII. Another difference is that a German history of WWII focuses on the War in Europe. Most Germans have heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor (first of all through popular movies) but it is mostly just seen as the cause for America’s entry into the war while we are not really aware of the War in the Pacific.
There is also a great difference between the way history is presented in museums in the US and in Germany. My first impression of the WWII Museum was that is very modern and uses a lot of technologies. The learning process is supported by the 4-D movie Beyond All Boundaries, various other video clips, oral histories, and interactive games – which make learning about history a lot of fun. In contrary, going to a museum in Germany seems to be aimed at serious scholars in general. However, museums in Germany are slowly catching up with the use of new media. The Free University of Berlin for example has established a new Master’s Program in Global History in 2008, aiming to prepare students for occupations that require the preparation and dissemination of academic research for the general public.