11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

“This was the most meaningful tour I have ever been on. I wish every American had the chance to go on this tour.”
G. Brown – Moline, IL

It would be hard to miss the marks left across Europe from the effects of World War II. The war hit the continent hard, destroying much in its path. Many monuments, buildings, cultural artifacts, and of course lives were lost during this time.

While the war significantly changed the 20th century, we wouldn’t be where we are today without it. It’s important to take time to visit the places where the world was so drastically altered, and there’s no better way to see it all than with a European World War II Memorial Tour.

 

1. Learn about the Nuremberg Trials where they actually took place.

In 1945, the war was finally over. But the leaders of the Nazi party still needed to answer for their crimes. And so, the Nuremberg Trials took place in Germany, bringing many to justice. Nuremberg was chosen for a few reasons—its Palace of Justice remained relatively undamaged and had a large prison to keep the war criminals, and Nuremberg was an important platform for Nazi rallies; having the trials there marked the end of the Nazi era.

The trials began with the Trial of Major War Criminals, bringing 24 Nazi leaders in front of the court. Unlike most trials, there was no jury, but rather a group of judges (tribunal) who decided the Nazi leaders’ fates.

While visiting Nuremberg, stop by the Nazi Party Rally Grounds where many of the propaganda speeches took place to get an idea of the scope of these rallies. You can also visit the Palace of Justice to see exactly where the trials occured and justice prevailed.

 

2. Reflect on the incomprehensible at Dachau Concentration Camp.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

It’s unimaginable. It’s incomprehensible. And yet it happened. During the time of the concentration camps, 11 million people were killed. The world cannot and should not forget what happened at places like Dachau—and maybe visiting them will help the world never let it happen again.

Dachau Concentration Camp was the first of its kind in Germany. It opened in 1933, as a prison for political prisoners, but was soon turned into a death camp. And those who were not executed worked as slaves, suffering from malnutrition and injuries. While the prisoners consisted mainly of Jews, other groups of people including Jehovah’s Witnesses, artists, the mentally and physically disabled, and homosexuals were also held captive.

As you walk through the camp, reflect on what happened here. Think of how you can ensure the world will not abuse or kill people simply for their heritage, beliefs, disabilities, etc.

 

3. Don’t miss out on seeing Salzburg, filming location for The Sound of Music.

One of the most beloved movies of all time takes place during World War II—The Sound of Music. The Austrian Von Trapp family escapes from the Nazis by crossing the border into Switzerland, but not before the audience learns how to sing “Do-Re-Mi” and all about “My Favorite Things.”

Many old Hollywood films were filmed on sound stages, but The Sound of Music was greatly filmed on location in Salzburg. While visiting Austria, be sure to check out the many places like the gazebo where Liesl sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”

Near Salzburg is Eagle’s Nest, a hideaway mountain home of Hitler’s. It was presented to him in 1939 as a gift for his 50th birthday. An ornately decorated elevator takes guests the final 124 meters to the top of the mountain for entry. Inside you can see the remains of a red, marble fireplace. The marble was a gift from Mussolini, but Allied soldiers chipped off pieces as souvenirs after their victory.

 

4. See the grave of the wily Rommel, aka the “Desert Fox,” and ponder his defeat at El Alamein.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

Erwin Rommel played a significant role in World War II. He was a German general, forced to choose death after being suspected of a murder plot against Hitler. Rommel bit into a cyanide capsule in exchange for immunity for his family. But did he actually plan to kill Hitler? Likely no. Rommel was just another casualty thanks to the Nazi party and its leader.

He earned his nickname “Desert Fox” during his time in North Africa. Initially, Rommel was able to push back the Allies. His most famous battle there, a loss at El Alamein, turned the tide of the war for the Allies in Africa. Two months later, Rommel was back in Europe.

Visit his grave near Ulm, a German town known for its record-breaking church steeple at Ulm Minster—it’s the tallest in the world.

 

5. France’s eastern border with Germany created a big stage for World War II.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

In the Vosges Mountains lies a French town with an important history. Saverne and its liberation bolstered the French Army and other Allies towards winning the way just a year later. Pushing the Germans out of Saverne and nearby Strasbourg was not an easy fight, but it greatly helped the Allied forces and France.

Also in France is the Lorraine American Cemetery. Stop to pay your respects to the almost 11,000 fallen American heroes laid to rest there. It is the largest American World War II cemetery in Europe, covering 113.5 acres. As you walk around, be sure to check out the many monuments and memorials throughout the cemetery, paying homage to those who lost their lives for our freedoms.

Later, visit Fort Hackenberg, which is part of the Maginot Line. The Maginot Line was supposed to prevent German forces from crossing into France, but alas, it did not succeed.

 

6. The small country of Luxembourg was right in the middle of the war.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

Every American knows the name George S. Patton. He was instrumental in winning the war for the Allies and liberating Germany from the Nazis. And he is buried in Luxembourg of all places. You can see his grave when you visit the country’s American Cemetery. Before leaving Luxembourg, check out the Luxembourg National Museum of Military History in Diekirch for even more World War II history.

Belgium’s Ardennes Region holds the Mardasson Memorial, a star-shaped tribute to the soldiers who were injured or died in the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle for Americans in World War II. All 50 states are inscribed on the walls as well as 10 passages commemorating the battle. If you’ve seen “Band of Brothers,” you will be interested to see the fox holes used by Easy Company, who the show is based on.

 

7. Witness where World War II finally came to a close.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

See Reims, the city where the Second World War ended. German General Alfred Jodl signed papers ending the war in both the East and the West on May 7, 1945. With the Soviet Union and Allied Forces coming at the Nazis from both sides, there was no other option. General Jodl was tried, convicted, and subsequently hanged during the Nuremberg Trials, but later found not guilty in 1953.

Reims is famous for more than just World War II—all French royalty have had their coronations held at the Cathedral since the 9th century.

 

8. Find peace while exploring Caen, less than an hour from Omaha Beach.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

At the north of France is Caen, whose bridge played an important role in stopping the germans. The British captured Pegasus Bridge, keeping the Germans from a counter-attack after the Normandy invasion. See the bridge and think of our United Kingdom friends, who helped us out significantly.

In the spirit of friendship, head on to the Caen Peace and Memorial Museum, which recognizes all who favor peace and continue to fight for it.

 

9. Spend a solemn day strolling the Normandy Beaches.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

If you’ve ever watched the opening of Saving Private Ryan, you know the arrival to the Normandy Beaches was a gruesome day. But unless you were there, you could never truly understand what our soldiers experienced.

While you can’t travel back in time, you can travel to the beaches of D-Day: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword. These bloody battles opened up the possibility of an Allied victory. Walking on the same sand upon which the combat took place is humbling and solemn, but it helps keep alive the memory of those who died for their fellow citizens.

Pointe du Hoc, a German fortification, is also nearby. See where the Germans set up their fortification and how the Allies captured it.

 

10. Holland played a big part in liberation efforts during the War.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

Holland’s position next to Germany made it a great location for war efforts for both sides. The Allies’ Operation Market Garden’s air and ground strikes set out to liberate Arnhem, but the ground troops never made it to the bridge, coining the battle “a bridge too far.” The bridge and other sites of this failed operation are still around today.

Nijmegen, however, was liberated by American troops during the war. Visit the Waal River bridge, where the crossing by American paratroopers was decisive in taking control of this strategic asset.

 

11. Finish your World War II journey in the Rhine River region of Germany.

11 Places Every American Should Visit to Discover Europe’s World War II History

Close to the end of the war, Americans captured Ludendorff Bridge, the last standing bridge on the Rhine River. That was March 7, 1945, exactly two months before the end of World War II. And so you end your time visiting the European sites of the Second World War.

Enjoy a river boat ride past enchanting castles, idyllic vineyards, and charming villages. Taste the distinctive Rhine wines and end your evening with a festive dinner before your return home. Germany is a different country today, thanks to the heroics of so many decades ago.

 

Remember the fallen…

If you would like to see these important places for yourself, get in touch to sign up for our World War II Memorial tour today.

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