After a long pause on our Battlefield Return Programs, we’ve just returned from an amazing program to Germany. We were so lucky to help six WWII veterans return back to Germany, some of them for the first time in 75+ years. The program was packed with extremely impactful ceremonies, battlefield tours, celebrations, and remembrance events.
Day 1 of our program we travelled to Hannover where we met and had lunch with the mayor. We toured city hall, which was essentially the only major building left by the allied bombers as it was used as a navigation point.
We travelled to Ahlem Concentration Camp outside the city and laid a memorial wreath where 1000+ Jewish people sadly lost their lives. SGT Bill Casassa and his 84th Infantry Division Railsplitters liberated the camp, this was his first time back since that day.
Our last stop was to the Ahlem Memorial which was previously a Jewish Gardening School, but taken over by the Nazi’s and used as an SS HQ and distribution center for Jewish families before and during the war.
It is now a memorial for all of the Jewish individuals from the area that lost their lives to the Nazi regime. Ritchie Boy Guy Stern’s parents and brother are both listed, and it was his first time seeing this.
We laid a BDF memorial wreath for Guy’s family and all others that lost their lives way too soon.
Day 2 of our Germany Battlefield Return Program was extremely eventful once again as we toured the historical sites of Berlin, starting with the Soviet War Memorial, which was built to commemorate the Red Army soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin.
We made our way to the Reichstag Building, which was severely damaged in WWII but after its refurbishment in 1999, it now houses German Parliament once again.
We stopped at the location where the Führerbunker existed, which was at once the center of the Nazi regime and where Hitler committed suicide.
We visited the historic Brandenburg Gate just off the Pariser Platz and said hello to our friends at the US Embassy next door.
We ended the day by walking through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. Completed in 2004, the memorial contains the names of 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. An impactful place of remembrance that is a must see when in Berlin.
Day 3 of our Battlefield Return Program was quite memorable. We started the morning by driving to the outskirts of Berlin to Lake Wannsee, which is where the Wannsee Conference took place in January of 1942. The purpose of the conference was to ensure the co-operation of various government and SS leaders in the implementation of the final solution to the Jewish question. From a villa on this beautiful lake, the Nazi’s outlined how the Jews would be rounded up and sent to extermination camps, where they would be killed. The villa is now a Holocaust Memorial and remembrance site.
The second half of the day was filled with a visit to the German Resistance Memorial Center in the Bendlerblock. It was here that Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and other members of the failed July 20th, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler were executed. 77 years ago today, Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler with a bomb at the Wolf’s Lair in Operation Valkyrie. Hitler somehow survived, and when Stauffenberg returned to Berlin he and three other conspirators were arrested and executed in the courtyard around midnight.
Today this area serves as a memorial to all of those throughout who resisted the Nazi regime. It was amazing to lay a wreath in their memory, and meet the grandchildren of those that lost their lives resisting the Nazi’s.
We ended the day with some traditional German food and Paulaner beer.
Day 4 of our program we headed to Tempelhof Airport in the city center. The airport ceased operating in 2008, but we were able to get a behind the scenes tour of this historic airfield. The old terminal was originally constructed in 1927, but in anticipation of increasing air traffic the Nazi government began an enormous reconstruction in the mid-1930’s. Tempelhof acquired further iconic status in 1948-49 as it was the center of the Berlin Airlift. When Soviet authorities cut of all traffic by land and water to West Germany, the western powers implemented Operation Vittles, where they air dropped food, coal and supplies needed daily to maintain a minimum level of existence.
The second half of the day we were invited to the German Ministry of Defense for a wreath laying ceremony at The Bundeswehr Memorial. This memorial honors and remembers every German soldier that has lost their life for their country. We were joined by an attache from US Army and Dutch Military. We thank the German military for the recognition and support of our veterans.
Day 5 of our Battlefield Return Program // Germany included a trip to the German – Russian Museum Karlshorst. The museum is a place of world historical importance: in the museum building, the High Command of the German Wehrmacht signed the unconditional surrender in front of representatives of the Soviet Union, the USA, Great Britain and France on the night of 8-9 May 1945. This followed the general consent to an armistice on May 7th at the American-British headquarters in the French city of Reims. The surrender at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst was the ceremonial act that sealed the common victory of the anti-Hitler coalition and with which the Wehrmacht leadership recognized their complete defeat – this ended the Second World War in Europe.
The hall where the signing took place has been preserved to this day.
The second half of the day was filled with a visit to the Allied Museum Berlin, which tells a unique story. It begins with the German defeat in World War II. In the summer of 1945, a few months after the Red Army marched into Berlin, U.S., British, and French troops followed as victors and occupiers.
Conflicts soon arose with the Soviets. The victorious Western powers wanted to reconstruct Germany on the basis of freedom and democracy. The Soviet Union, in contrast, took its own Communist social system as a model. Berlin became one of the most important scenes of the struggles that have gone down in history as the Cold War. German unification in 1989/90 proceeded in peace and freedom.
The day ended with the launch of Liberation Route Europe Hiking Trails. We’re super excited to partner on this project where you can walk in the footsteps of Allied soldiers throughout Europe. Be sure to checkout LiberationRoute.com for more information and to plan your trip.
The last full day of ours in Berlin was one to remember. We started off the morning by having breakfast on the rooftop of the Reichstag. Built and opened in 1894 for Germany’s parliament, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to take in the Berlin views to start the day.
From the Reichstag we headed to Olympic Stadium as we were invited by the Bundesliga’s finest soccer club Hertha BSC. Founded in 1892, Hertha BSC has been the leading team of Germany’s capital city ever since. German hero Arne Friedrich welcomed the veterans to Olympic Stadium and presented all veterans with a custom Hertha BSC home jersey with their name. It was such a great introduction and the vets were over the moon. We proceeded to tour the same Olympic Stadium that Jesse Owens, Louis Zamperini and the Boys in the Boat won gold back in the 1936 Olympics (85 years ago).
We rounded out the day with a tour of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, located just outside of Berlin. Sachsenhausen was a work camp established in 1936 and housed approx. 200,000 people at a time. It was an emotional meeting and tour, as we laid a wreath in memory of the 30,000 plus lives lost at this camp.
We thank everyone that helped us along our journey – from United Airlines to the German Military. It was so great to get these veterans back out on the road as they were recognized, honored, and celebrated throughout.
These programs are provided at no expense to the veteran, as we provide a first class memorable program that they deserve. We couldn’t do this without your help! Help us continue to bring more veterans back at no expense to them when you donate today: https://bestdefensefoundation.org/donate/