G. Brown - Moline, IL
It would be hard to miss the marks left across Europe from 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 impacted 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 happened
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. Nuremberg was also an important platform for Nazi rallies. Having the trials there marked the end of the Nazi era.
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 occurred and justice prevailed.
2. Reflect at Dachau Concentration Camp
The 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. Those who were not executed worked as slaves, often 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, or other differences. Our differences are what make us special, they should never be what separates us.
3. Visit Hitler’s vacation home and the filming location of the Sound of Music
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. 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.
Salzburg is also the birthplace of celebrated composer, Mozart, and the filming location of one of the most beloved movies of all time The Sound of Music. Many old Hollywood films were filmed on sound stages, but The Sound of Music was filmed on location in Salzburg.
4. See the grave of Erwin Rommel, aka the “Desert Fox”
Erwin Rommel 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.
Visit his grave near Ulm, a German town on the northern edge of Germany’s Black Forest known for its record-breaking church steeple at Ulm Minster—it’s the tallest in the world.
5. Experience the Lorraine American Cemetery
One important site for Americans in France, is the Lorraine American Cemetery, the largest American cemetery in Europe. Stop to pay your respects to the almost 11,000 fallen American heroes laid to rest there. 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 freedom.
The Vosges Mountains were the site of heavy fighting in the fall of 1944. The town of Saverne is nearby, and its liberation bolstered the French Army and other Allies towards winning the war just a year later. Pushing the Germans out of Saverne and nearby Strasbourg was not an easy fight, but it helped the Allied forces and France enormously.
Visit Fort Hackenberg, part of The Maginot Line, intended to prevent German forces from crossing into France, which did not succeed.
6. Visit the grave of war hero George S. Patton in Luxembourg
Every American knows the name, George S. Patton. He was instrumental in winning the war for the Allies and liberating Germany from the Nazis. You can see his grave when you visit Luxembourg’s American Cemetery. Check out the Luxembourg National Museum of Military History in Diekirch for even more World War II history.
Belgium’s Ardennes 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 the show, “Band of Brothers,” you’ll be interested to see the fox holes used by the Easy Company.
7. Take in Reims, where the war ended
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 held their coronations at the Reims Cathedral since the 9th century.
8. Find peace while exploring Caen and Pegasus Bridge
Caen, in northern France, is the site of a famous bridge that 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 British friends.
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
If you’ve ever watched the opening of Saving Private Ryan, you know the American troops' arrival on the beaches at Normandy was a gruesome day. Visit the beaches of D-Day: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
The bloody battles fought on these beaches 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. Visit the Dutch bridges that were key in the Allied war
The Netherlands’ 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 the city of Arnhem. However, 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.
Visit the Waal bridge in Nijmegen, a city liberated by American troops during the war. This is the site of the crossing by American paratroopers which was decisive in taking control of this strategic asset.
11. End your journey at the Ludendorff Bridge, the last standing on the Rhine
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.
These days, you can enjoy a riverboat 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. Thanks to the heroics of so many people many decades ago, Germany is a different country today.
Remember the fallen…
We know that a tour like this isn’t for the faint-hearted. It is, however, important to remind ourselves of the freedom we fought for in the war. If you’d like to experience these important places for yourself, get in touch to sign up for our World War II Memorial tour today.