I write this final blog post from home, having returned stateside, leaving behind the grand European environs. It feels bittersweet to say goodbye to my Monuments Girl mission, tracing my grandfather’s footsteps and living life fully in the present, while focusing on puzzles of the past. I was just getting used to the rhythm of traveling by train, using my phrasebook, searching for WiFi, and making connections in unexpected places. At the same time, returning home to family never felt so good; it means so much to be able to share my new insights with loved ones. History normally seems so distant from modern life as a millennial.
It turns out that this trip was way bigger than the story of me and my grandfather. My personal connection to a piece of history became a window into much larger spheres. My journey became all about bridging gaps between generations, making peace between nations, understanding history, and realizing the interconnectedness of all people. It’s inspiring to think about the impact one individual can make, and how each one of us can make a difference, no matter what our field of expertise may be.
Out of all the things my grandfather wrote in “Survival,” by far my favorite is the statement he made having arrived in Germany in the spring of 1945. It bears the imprint of his strong moral backbone, his modus operandi. “The value of works of art to civilization is not limited by national boundaries” (J. Rorimer 137). It’s incredible that my grandfather was able to maintain this standpoint, in spite of the gruesome wartime conditions and the military groupthink at the time. Not only did he understand what things were, he also understood what they meant to individuals, to nations, and to the future history of civilizations. His legacy encourages us to look to the present and ask ourselves honestly if we are learning from the past or allowing history to repeat itself.
For a long time, I felt sad knowing that my grandfather died so young, in the midst of a grand career. It seemed that his family and everyone who knew him had been deprived of so much goodness. Now, I understand how fortunate he was to be able to return from war alive and well, to share his story by writing a book, and to re-establish civilian life with a loving family and a thrilling career. So many people never even had a chance to tell their stories after World War II. This fact has brought a newfound sense of gratitude: a sense of peace that washes away the pain of the past. Although I never met my grandfather in person, I can say that I feel I know him well now.
I’ll close with a quote from Cue Magazine in which my grandfather summarizes his wartime experiences.
Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and connecting in such meaningful ways during the last two weeks. It has been an incredible journey, and it would not have been nearly as rich, if it hadn’t been for you – my audience. Thank you so much for joining me!