While the Second World War ended in 1945, its significance and over 60 million lives claimed will never fade from memory. Spanning multiple countries and impacting generations of people, WWII transpired across countless battlefields and city streets, many of which you can visit today and pay your respects.
We’ve gathered the best experiences for anyone who enjoys walking in the footsteps of the past. If you want to explore iconic landmarks and reflect on poignant memorials, then visiting these historic destinations is a perfect choice.
The Battles and Beaches of Normandy, France
June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. During WWII, France’s Normandy region and coastline were forever immortalized. The day the Allied Forces invaded, attacked, and gained a victory became the turning point for the war raging in Europe. A three-hour journey northwest of Paris finds you at the coast of France and on the historic D-Day landing beaches. There remain poignant war-time reminders at Utah, Juno, and Gold Beach. However, the most renowned destination to pay respects remains Omaha Beach, the location of the second Allied force landing.
At the height of the bluffs is the American Cemetery and Memorial, the site of 9,386 burials. Its rows upon rows of marble crosses and Stars of David bring into sharp perspective the terrible price paid that day in the fight for freedom.
Visitors to Normandy can also expect to see Juno and Gold beaches, the respective objectives of Canadian and British troops that day. Today, the area is largely a beach resort, but at nearby Arromanches Bay visitors will find the D-Day Museum and the remnants of its prefabricated harbor. Ingenious engineers created the port facility that was towed into place there, and which rapidly turned into a lifeline to feed supplies for the invasion.
Nearby, at Pointe du Hoc, stands the Rangers Memorial. It honors the 200 elite troops who scaled its 100-foot cliffs to knock out German artillery installations that had overlooked Utah and Omaha beaches. Today, visitors can still tour the bunkers that once contained long-range weapons.
Remembering the Past in Poland
During WWII, the Nazi Germany invasion and occupation saw Polish citizens suffer massive land, material, and human losses. It’s estimated that 5.6 million Polish citizens, and 90% of Polish Jews, died as a result of the occupation and Holocaust. To counter the horrors in their homeland, the Polish resistance movement during the war was the largest in all occupied Europe. Together with the Home Army, Armia Krajowa in Polish, those forced to live in the ghettos attempted to fight against their oppressors.