The answer to that question is most definitely yes. The Soviet Union entered the war long before we did, put up far more soldiers, and felt the burden throughout the entire nation. Did we feel the same things? Probably. However, the Soviet Union had somewhere near 10 million military deaths when all was said and done after WWII. The Americans in comparison had only 407,000 military deaths. So do we owe “our” victory to the Soviets? Yes. Did they lose twice as many people as we did? Yes. Was their country torn apart along the way? Yes. Were there women and children raped and murdered by the Germans? Also yes. So its not really our victory to be had. And that is disappointing because that is what we are taught in school. We are taught that America saved the world once again in WWII and came out on top. We did help, and Hitler was defeated, be we owe credit where credit is due.
But why this rant? Because of the place where the cover photo in this blog was taken, Treptower Park. Treptower park is the memorial to the Russian soldiers in WWII and is the largest burial place of Russian soldiers outside of Russia. The Memorial was designed by a Russian, but all maintenance and upkeep costs have been assumed by Germany for all war monuments. I had seen this monument a year ago, and while I remember loving it the first time, I didn’t remember the intensity or magnitude that this place holds. When you walk in to the park, you have no idea what is around the corner. As you turn, your breath is taken away by the sheer scope and beauty of the memorial. At the near end, you can see a women bowing toward the far end of the park, but you really have no idea why. As you continue to walk into the park, you move through an alley of hanging trees, swaying in the wind. The opening to the park is marked by two huge marble structures, meant to represent folding Soviet Flags. At the bottom is two Soviet soldiers bowing. Maybe two hundred feet ahead, you see a huge mound with another statue on top, but from this end, you can’t really make out what it is.
This is where Dr. Pitcock comes in. Lining both ends of the park are marble slabs with pictures of scenes etched into them. There is no board explaining what each one means, so you have to work your way through it. Dr. P had to prompt us to look at certain things, and try to determine the meaning of the pictures on our own. After we got kind of close, he would describe what was happening historically and what the picture meant. The memorial shows how Germany first attacked Russia in its efforts of global domination, the Russian people stood up to protect themselves, and then fought back, finally closing in on Berlin. There were 6 double sided slabs, totaling 12 etched pictures. I loved how this memorial was designed in a way that had you not been familiar with the history from a Russian perspective, you would have had no idea what you were looking at, and the real meaning of the memorial would have been lost. At the final slab, a dead soldier is being carried directly in the direction of the large statue at the far end of the park. When you stop to look up at this final statue, you realize exactly how large he is. He is a Russian soldier, carrying a German baby. Finally, the bowing women at the beginning makes sense. The Russian soldier has saved the fate of many German youth, and the mom of the boy is bowing in appreciation at the Russian soldier. Finally, the whole park makes sense. We climbed the stairs to the feet of the statue, and look at the flowers laid in honor of the dead soldier buried here. Turning around and looking at how far away the entrance to the park is, and realizing how far you’ve come, is an incredibly emotional feeling. The park is quiet with only the sounds of birds chirping, and the stillness is almost unsettling. I felt miniscule in comparison to the awe that this place blossomed within me.
This park and this memorial is probably my favorite place in Berlin. Berlin has a phenomenal way of dealing with its history, and this memorial is no exception. As our group sat at the top of the monument in silence, we felt the weight settle on our shoulders. The pain the Soviets feel runs deep, and can be understood in a small way. I was so appreciative to be sitting with the rest of Alpha group as we took it all in. After maybe 15 minutes, we began to ask questions; of Dr. P, of each other, just savoring the moment. The picture above perfectly captured the moment of Andrea mid question, looking at Dr. Pitcock, and Cassidy absorbing the information and thinking it through. We did this for an hour, truly trying to learn, to understand, and to feel.
Eventually the conversation turned to modern day politics. While there were different views in the group, we mostly discussed the divide that America is facing, and the feeling that history may be repeating itself. The Holocaust started in Germany. A specific sect of people were targeted, marginalized, and eventually brought to their death. This process took years, but it started with negative views toward a religious group. I can’t help but draw similarities to politics today, and I’m almost afraid of what may happen next. “It happened, therefore it can happen again.” This is the first quote you walk in and see at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I desperately hope there will never need to be a memorial to another group of murdered people, but at this rate who knows. It can happen again. Some may argue it IS happening again. But we are also the generation that can do something about it, and should.