If you like reading books and watching documentaries on global wars and other events of historical importance, then it is likely that a trip to WWII destinations will excite you. The history lessons that can be gleaned from the experience are immensely valuable and to visit WWII sites is a rare treat.
There are many places ravaged by the catastrophic event such as the Second World War. And since one of the main causes of World War II was Adolf Hitler’s extreme policy of expansion – the Hitler-led Nazi Germany invaded Poland – many of the world’s well-preserved WWII destinations are found in Europe. A good number of these sites have a strong connection with the persecution and extermination of Jews during the infamous Holocaust period between 1933 and 1945. There is barely a city in the continent that’s left untouched by the war.
Most travellers usually anchor their entire trip around food, scenery, arts and culture. However it is also important to learn about its history, however dark and tragic it may seem. Having said that, visits to WWII destinations, whether or not you’re a history buff, will prove to be educational and interesting experiences. And of course, there’s no better way to open your eyes to the ills of war than to actually set foot in the very places that felt the brunt of one of the deadliest wars mankind has ever seen.
With the sheer number of WWII sites – museums, memorials, concentration camps, and locations of pivotal battles – scattered across the globe, choosing which places to visit can be overwhelming. Here are 15 WWII destinations to help you get started.
Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory. The Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory ranks high among the most important WWII destinations in Europe. Oskar Schindler is famous for saving the lives of more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust. He was a member of the Nazi party and a German military intelligence agent. Sometime in 1939, he took over a metal items factory in Krakow, Poland and employed Jews and used his influence and personal fortune to protect the members of his workforce. Through Schindler’s intervention, his employees became industrial workers essential to Germany’s war efforts saving them from the death camps. The Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory now houses two museums, the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow.
Krakow Ghetto Wall. Just like Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, the Krakow Ghetto Wall is a grim reminder of the Krakow Ghetto and other horrific events that transpired before and during the Second World War. The wall is the last remaining wall of those that surrounded the Krakow Ghetto, enclosed slum area that functioned as a holding place for 15,000 Jews. Within the confines of the Krakow Ghetto’s walls, Jews were categorised according to their fitness to render forced labour. Some of the Jews Oskar Schindler saved were from this ghetto. A part of the wall is fitted with a simple plaque commemorating the Krakow Ghetto.
Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Auschwitz-Birkenau is the largest and main death camp during the Holocaust. The prisoners were shipped by train from all over Europe and were subject to inhumane and brutal conditions before they were exterminated in the gas chambers. It is said that the camp claimed more than 1.3 million lives that included Jews, Poles, Romanies, and POWs and has become the symbol of the Holocaust and other hateful crimes of the Second World War. It now hosts a memorial and the Auschwitz Museum that you can tour for a few hours.
Wolf’s Lair. One of the most significant WWII destinations to visit when in Poland is the Wolf’s Lair, Adolf Hitler’s hearquarters in East Prussia. Located in Ketrzyn, a few hours’ drive north of Warsaw, it is actually an expansive bunker complex where Hitler stayed for a really long time during World War II. The Wolf’s Lair is also where Claus von Stauffenberg made an attempt on Hitler’s life.
Warsaw Uprising Museum. A must-visit when vacationing in Warsaw is the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The museum demonstrates the Jews’ fight to free Warsaw from Nazi Germany. Take a trip to the Warsaw Uprising Museum and be amazed by the full sensory experience with its gloomy spaces, graphic images, and even a wall that emits the heartbeats and the loud sounds of battle.
Gestapo Museum. One of the lesser known but nonetheless important WWII destinations in Europe is the Gestapo Museum. Located in a public building, it features an interactive exhibition that gives insight on how the Gestapo operated and how the Jews and other prisoners during the Holocaust and WWII were processed.
Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument. Located in Ludwika Zamenhofa, the monument was built to commemorate those who fought and lost their lives during the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Dachau Concentration Camp. The Dachau Concentration Camp was established shortly after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Operated by the paramilitary elite group SS, the Dachau Concentration Camp housed more than 20,000 detainees that included Jews, homosexuals, and other individuals considered inferior to Aryan Germans. The prisoners in Dachau Concentration Camp suffered from unmentionable living conditions, underwent forced labour, and became subjects in medical experimentations. It said that close to 42,000 people died in Dachau, many of them incinerated. Presently, Dachau is home to a memorial dedicated to the victims of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.
Reichstag. The Reichstag is a historic building in Berlin. Built it 1894 to house the Imperial Diet or Parliament, it fell into disuse after it was damaged during WWII. It was fully restored in 1990, and again became the official seat of the German Parliament. The glass cupola of the Reichstag is one of the best vantage points for enjoying views of Berlin’s cityscape from different angles. You can also see the Bundestag debating chamber from inside the cupola or dome.
Topography of Terror. The Topography of Terror is a museum that stands on grounds that once functioned as the headquarters of the Gestapo and SS, two organizations of terror of Nazi Germany. The Gestapo was the secret police of Nazi Germany while the SS or Schutzstaffel was the elite paramilitary force under Hitler. The museum houses an exhibition on the two Nazi instruments and the crimes their members committed during the Holocaust and WWII. The Topography of Terror is also where you can see the second largest segment of the Berlin Wall.
Holocaust Memorial. Sited next to the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial consists of 2, 711 stelae or tomb-like concrete slabs that represent pages of the Talmud, a collection of writings that accounts for all Jewish laws and traditions. Designed by Peter Eisenmann, the Holocaust Memorial is also called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The attached underground space bears the names of millions of Jewish Holocaust victims.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Anne Frank’s House. Located in the middle of Amsterdam, the Anne Frank’s House was where eight people that included Anne Frank, her family, the van Pels family, and a man named Fritz Pfeffer hid to escape the Nazis during the WWII. Located in Anne Frank’s father’s office, the secret hiding place in the attic is concealed by a moving bookcase. Before they were discovered by the Nazis and brought to concentration camps in different parts of Poland and Germany, the hiding place provided solace to Anne Frank and her companions, as detailed in her diary. Now a museum, the Anne Frank’s House features a collection of artifacts – including the moving bookcase, her diary, photos, letters, and personal items – that demonstrate the ordeal the group had to endure before their capture. The Anne Frank House has become a symbol of hope and strength not only for the large Jewish community in Amsterdam but also for those who are faced with hardships and suffering.
Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach on the coast of Normandy is one of the five D-Day Landing beaches in Normandy and was the site of the catastrophic assault that claimed the lives of many American troops. Discover more of what happened on June 6, 1944 by visiting the Omaha Beach Museum and exploring the exhibits that include dioramas, photographs, military objects, and other artifacts.
Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum. Established in Bayeux, Normandy, the museum showcases a collection that tells a compelling story of the Battle of Normandy and other WWII events that led to the Allied Forces’ victory in Europe. Aside from viewing the WWII collection, you can also view a short film that will give you an overview of the pivotal battle.
Dunkirk 1940 Museum. The museum, located in the coastal city of Dunkirk in Northern France, houses a collection of artefacts left from the May 1940 Dunkirk Evacuation. During this infamous Battle of France, about 330,000 Allied troops trapped by the advancing German forces were systematically evacuated from the beaches by a fleet of 800 vessels. The rescue mission, also called Operation Dynamo, was successful thanks to the destroyers and a wide range of civilian merchant ships, yachts, and fishing boats deployed by Britain.
Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. Located in Westminster, the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms is a bunker that the British government used as a command centre during WWII. The underground complex is situated directly under Her Majesty’s Treasury, and was built in 1938, before WWII broke out.
The Battle of Stalingrad Museum Complex. Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) is a Russian City that’s the site of the Battle of Stalingrad, a major confrontation between Nazi Germany and Soviet Union. About 2 million people perished and were wounded in the battle. Visit the Battle of Stalingrad Museum Complex to learn more about the wartime event that ranks high amongst the bloodiest battles known to man.
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
USS Missouri Memorial. There are a number of WWII destinations in the United States and one that should be on your travel bucket list is the USS Missouri Memorial. Located in Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri Memorial or the ‘Mighty Mo’ was a WWII Located in Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri Memorial or the ‘Mighty Mo’ was a WWII battleship. The warship was where Gen. Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese Instrument of Surrender from the representatives of Japan on September 2, 1945, a momentous event that signaled the end of WWII.
USS Arizona Memorial. Raised to honor the brave men and women who perished during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona Memorial is located over what’s left of the USS Arizona warship. It houses several exhibits about the Pearl Harbor attack. The names of the US military personnel who died on the attack are also inscribed on one of the memorial’s walls.
Changi Museum. Built to let Singaporean citizens and visitors to the city-state remember the events that happened during the Japanese occupation, the Changi Museum is a must-visit for history buffs visiting Southeast Asia. This former prison once held multitudes of civilians and POWs.
Inside the museums are a number of exhibits, and the most captivating of them all is the one that shows the replicas of the famous Changi murals. The murals are a set of paintings made by Stanley Warren, a British POW, during his internment in the Changi prison. Other items available for viewing in the museum include a piece of the prison wall and an original cell door.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also called the A-Bomb Dome, is one of the two most significant WWII destinations in Japan. Originally built as an office building, it was the only building that survived the bombing of Hiroshima. It wasn’t leveled by the atomic bomb even if it was barely 500 feet from the centre of explosion.
The atomic bomb was the United States’ retaliation to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, instantly killing approximately 100,000 people. Thousands more perished due to radiation poisoning years and decades after the gruesome wartime event. The memorial, along with a museum, is located within the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nagasaki Peace Park. The Nagasaki Peace Park was built to commemorate the August 9, 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki by US forces, just three days after Hiroshima was bombed. The bombing leveled approximately 30% of the city and claimed the lives of 74,000 people. The adverse health effects of radiation were still felt in the city decades after the bombing.
Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial. The Battle of Leyte Gulf Memorial, located in the Philippines’ Eastern Visayas region, commemorates the biggest and most historic naval battle of the Second World War and perhaps in history, the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. The battle between American and Japanese air and naval fleets determined who gained control of the Pacific campaign – the United States.
Leyte Landing Memorial National Park. Of all the WWII destinations in the Philippines, the Leyte Landing Memorial in Palo, Leyte, is arguably the most photographed. Aside from being one of the most popular tourist sites in the Philippines’ Eastern Visayas Region, it is also a protected area. Built to commemorate General MacArthur’s arrival in the Leyte Gulf that led to the liberation of the country from the Japanese, the memorial’s main feature is a set of 7 bronze statues. The huge statues, standing on a man-made pool, portray the general alongside his entourage during the historic landing.
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