When most people think of Europe, they think of its long, agitated history. Kings and queens, wars and battles. It consequently doesn’t come as a surprise that the continent would be pretty high on any history buff’s bucket list. However, very few events gathered as much attention as World War II did, and still does, especially considering it only happened a few decades ago.
World War II Sites in Europe
Berlin is without a doubt the first place people have in mind when they think of World War II, and rightfully so. It starts at the Reichstag, where Hitler used to give the most scary speeches in history. There is also the Topography of Terrors museum, where you will find exclusive photographs of the time and learn more about the propaganda methods the Nazis used – perhaps the most important part of the museum, however, is the fact that it is located where the SS headquarters once were. Another striking Berlin building is the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church, whose bombed spire stands today as a reminder and memorial of the war time. Speaking of which, Berlin does have several important memorials but the two most popular ones are the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe near Brandenburg Gate and the Bebelplatz book burning memorial, both equally moving.
Warsaw, Krakow and Oświęcim, Poland
Poland is not only the most obvious key locations of World War II in Europe, but also the most eloquent. Starting in Warsaw with the ghetto uprising, then in Krakow at the Schindler’s Factory and ending at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Oświęcim, Poland is the only country that truly made me realize the enormity of the war. You can never quite picture its true impact. It’s one thing to read about it in history class, but standing in a Jew crematorium takes it to a whole other level.
While Paris has been occupied for several years and the seat of the French government was transferred to Vichy, the most important location of World War II in France is undoubtedly in Normandy, more precisely on the D-Day beaches of June 6th, 1944, where more than 135,000 men and 20,000 vehicles put their final effort in defeating Germany. The beaches of Omaha, Utah and Juno are the most popular, along with the British cemetery of Bayeux and the American cemetery in Omaha beach.
London, United Kingdom
London suffered severe damage from the air raids, considering its key position within the Allies movement. From the underground shelters to the famous “Keep Calm and Carry On” variations, there are many reminders of the war time, especially on the museum scene: 3 London museums are dedicated to World War II. The Imperial War Museum holds a moving permanent exhibit on the Holocaust that is well-worth the detour for anyone intrigued by the art of war. If you want to have an insider’s look in the British intelligence, make sure to visit the Cabinet War Rooms, Churchill’s secret headquarters in Westminster. And last but not least, the new Britain at War museum in Southwark depicts what it was like to live in Britain during World War II.
While Amsterdam was not nearly as affected as other cities in Europe, I feel like a thorough exploration of key locations of World War II in Europe would not be complete without a visit to Anne Frank Huis, a museum dedicated to the young author of the most famous war journal. The museum takes the visitor through the house and to the narrow staircase that leads to the famous secret annex, so often portrayed by Anne Frank. Standing in that attic that was once the home of a whole family in hiding was a very singular experience that I recommend to anyone fascinated by that era.
Are you a history buff too? Have you visited any of the key locations of World War II in Europe? What was your favorite?