While not always an enjoyable experience per se, remembering the past is important for providing perspective and insight into past actions and events. Throughout much of Europe, there’s barely a city that doesn’t echo memories from both World Wars. With numerous battlefields, museums and memorials throughout the continent, there are plenty of sites that you can visit and pay respect to the past.
Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, France
Located in the Somme Valley, overlooking Amiens and between the villages of Villers-Bretonneux and Fouilloy in France is the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery and the Australian National Memorial. The memorial was made after the Armistice by bringing together the graves from the surrounding battlefields and nearby burial grounds. There are more than 2100 servicemen from World War I buried here (of which, more than 600 remain unidentified) and 2 New Zealand Airmen from the Second World War.
The Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres Belgium
Historically, the Menin Gate of Ypres was a crossing point from Ypres through the old wall defences in the direction of Menin. However, it had a special significance for troops during World War I; it was the spot where thousands of soldiers set towards the front line – many never returning. The Menin Gate at Ypres records the names of the 55,000 troops missing in Belgium; 6000 of which are Australian. Today (and every day since 1928), buglers from the Last Post Association play the Last Post at the Menin Gate at 8pm, regardless of the number of attendants and weather.
ANZAC Cove, Turkey
ANZAC Cove, which covers a small area of Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula, holds a huge amount of significance for Australians and New Zealanders, as it is where Australian and New Zealand troops landed on 25 April 1915. The ANZAC Cove landings were part of the 8-month Gallipoli Campaign, an effort by the Commonwealth and French to remove Turkey from WWI.
Anne Frank Huis, Netherlands
Now a biographical museum in the heart of Amsterdam on the canal at Prinsengracht, Anne Frank House was once the hiding place of the Frank family during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.
Dachau Memorial and Museum, Germany
Dachau was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in 1933 and was used to hold political prisoners. In the 12 years of its existence, over 200,000 people were imprisoned at Dachau and its subsidiary camps. 41,500 prisoners were murdered. The camp was liberated by American troops on 29 April 1945. Today, the memorial site (which was established in 1965) sits on the grounds of the former concentration camp and can be visited by the public.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, located in north-east Poland, is notorious for its past as the largest Nazi concentration camp. Liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 January 1945, it’s estimated that there were over 1.1 million deaths carried out on the property. Today, the camp is now a memorial and museum complex.
Holocaust Memorial, Germany
Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, the 4.7 acre Holocaust Memorial site in Berlin serves as a tribute to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The site consists of 2711 concrete slabs, or ‘stelae’, which are arranged in a grid pattern. The memorial also holds the names of the 3 million Holocaust victims.
Beaches of Normandy, France
Along the Normandy coast are the five beaches – Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah – where the D-Day Landings of 6 June 1944 took place. Forces of the French, British, Canadian and American armies successfully landed and commenced an operation that changed the course of the war to favour the allies. Today, visitors can pay their respects at several memorials found at the beaches, military cemeteries for each army and at various museums.