In Prague, students examined the consistent thread of resistance in the city, from the early Protestant reformers to Nazi resistance fighters to dissenters during Soviet occupation. Students visited famous historical sites like Wenceslas Square, location of the Prague Spring 1968 protests and Velvet Revolution of 1989, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, the spot where Czech resistance fighters held their last-stand against Nazi troops after assassinating the high-ranking SS officer and Holocaust architect Reinhard Heydrich. One student described the experience of standing in the crypt underneath Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church: “It was unbelievable to stand in the little narrow cold crypt, on the same exact spot Czech paratroopers took their lives. For a couple of moments it felt so scary and unprotected, as though as we ourselves experienced the terrible situation like the soldiers did in a completely dark closed room.” By visiting these locations, students not only learned the history of these events, they were able to empathize with figures from the past.
Between Prague and Berlin, students visited Terezin, a concentration camp that was used as a transition point between Bohemia and Moravia and larger concentration camps in Germany and Poland during World War II. Terezin’s history is a complicated one, as it was presented as a “model” camp to the Red Cross during the war. In addition, Terezin housed a large number of artists, intellectuals, and musicians, and so students were able to see not only the “official” art that was commissioned by Nazi officials, but also the illicit art that was created surreptitiously by Czech Jews. The visit to Terezin was a powerful moment for many of our students. As one student noted in his reflection: “The thing that caught my eye the most was how there was beautiful nature found in this despicable place. The sun was shining without a cloud in the sky, and birds chirped in the blossoming trees. Spring flowers sprouted out of the grass, and a gentle breeze swept through the air. It was incredibly ominous how so much beauty is found in a place that was filled with so much pain and suffering only seventy years prior. For me, it made me realize how unbelievably cruel and inhumane these camps were.”
In Berlin, students navigated various sites that highlight the difficult balance the city must make between remembering its difficult past and moving forward. Traditional museums like the Topography of Terror and the German Resistance Museum, as well as more abstract memorials, like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Bebelplatz, served as focal points for our examination of this tension within Berlin’s history. In addition to World War II exhibits, students also examined Berlin’s history as a split city during the Cold War. With visits to the East Side Gallery and the Brandenburg Gate, the students considered Berlin’s history as a city divided.
We would like to thank Joel Stembridge and Laura Gaspari for providing administrative support, the Global Education Leadership Fund for providing financial assistance to several of our students, Jamie Rinaldi and Brian Murray for their wisdom and guidance, and George White, who created this study tour 25 years ago.
Faye Cassell, Corey Davison, and Jamie Rinaldi
NSHS Prague Spring 2016 Trip Leaders