Exchanging ideas about an active contribution to the future of Remembrance
From April 30 till May 2, 2016, the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial had put on the second Forum “Future of Remembrance”. 50 people had accepted the invitation to exchange ideas regarding new approaches to the culture of remembrance in Europe. Among them were representatives of the national associations in which survivors of the Neuengamme concentration camp and descendants of former concentration camp prisoners have organized themselves. In addition, there were descendants of former prisoners in attendance who are not members of any association as well descendants of Nazi perpetrators, Neuengamme Memorial staff, participants of the project for young adults “Which film
is being played here?” as well as other interested individuals.
Two foci could be found in the program. The Forum „Future of Remembrance“ set out to analyze the motivation of descendants of victims and descendants of perpetrators for going public with their family history. The second emphasis was put on finding ways to get more people actively involved in the discourse about constructive forms of remembrance. These themes were connected by the hypothesis that those who go public with their family history demonstrate the consequences of the Nazi crimes felt in today’s world and at that the same time encourage others to also engage with their own family history.
Presentations of current projects
During the Forum „Future of Remembrance“ 2015 numerous ideas had been formed that – over the following months – thanks to the work of some participants were substantiated. To bring the participants‘ of this year’s Forum „Future of Remembrance“ up to date, these still ongoing projects were introduced.
Making the names of survivors of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Visible
In 2014, during the multigenerational meeting, the precursor to the Forum “Future of Remembrance”, Uta Kühl, the daughter of a survivor, had demanded that the names of the survivors would also be displayed in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. Her wish had been acknowledged during the Forum „Future of Remembrance“ 2015 from which then the formation of the „Making Visible Working Group“ had followed. that presented its memorandum on April 30 and also shared insights into its negotiations with the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial.
The Working Group requests a „growing“ monument, that is, one that keeps evolving, that expresses the connection between the survivors and their descendants and the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. The „evolution“ shall happen through new names being added based on suggestions made by survivors, descendants of former prisoners, friends, associations or interested parties, e.g., school classes. The Neuengamme Archives would take on the task of checking the names. Attaching new names would probably happen once every year, most likely around the commemorative evnts in May. The monument could be complimented by an online platform, e.g., a subdomain of this blog, where personal information about the former prisoners, for example, letters, pictures or other objects could be displayed. Tom Devos of N.C.P.G.R. – Meensel-Kiezegem ’44 offered to share his organization’s experience with an online database.
In order to acquire a design idea for the monument, the Working Group envisions issuing a call for proposals among fine arts students in Hamburg. This could also help lower the costs. For the costs tied to adding new badges the Working Group suggests using a form of sponsorship. Non-material support would come from the Friends of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial.
So far the question regarding the location of the monument has not been resolved. While the Memorial suggests the Garden of Remembrance, the Working Group pictures a more prominent spot on the grounds of the Memorial that is frequented by more visitors. In addition, many tend to associate the Garden of Remembrance with commemorating the dead prisoners. Detlef Garbe, the Memorial’s Director, pointed out that the international monument erected in 1965 is dedicated to all prisoners. One should thus not create an artificial divide between the dead prisoners and those who survived.
Dialogue Workshop and Workshops for Descendants
In March 2016 two new workshops for exchanging ideas about how to deal with one’s family history were offered by the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial.
Swenja Granzow-Rauwald shared the insights she and her co-facillitator Victoria Evers had made during the workshop „My history, your history, our history“ for descendants of victims. The focus of this workshop had been on the exchange of ideas between the descendants of those persecuted for political or racial reason as well as the children of forced laborers about public and private remembrance. The participants had agreed that they all knew few people who took an interest in their family history. Conflict broke out about the question whether some groups had suffered worse from persecution by the Nazis than others. Only when the participants were able to show each other commemorative objects and tell the stories behind them could the conflict be resolved. In the end it had become clear that some participants had hoped for a more therapeutic approach while others had expected more help with researching their family history.
An overview about the dialogue workshop „Getting to know each other despite all that“ directed at descendants of victims and descendants of perpetrators was given by Ulrich Gantz who had conceptualized and facilitated the workshop together with Swenja Granzow-Rauwald. To the facilitators it had been important to havesame amount of participants from both groups. The discussions and exercises had addressed the question what the participants wanted to pass on, both in their families and in society. Some participants had hoped for more time to share their personal stories, even though the faciliators had made clear that they had wanted to make an exchange of ideas possible instead of people listening to one story after another.
Collaboration between the associations and the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial
The close collaboration between the associations of the Neuengamme survivors and the descendants of former Neuengamme prisoners has a long tradition. This was the starting point of the presentation given by Jean-Michel Gaussot, the President of the Amicale Internationale de Neuengamme and the Secretary General of the Amicale française de Neuengamme, in which he also made some suggestions regarding further improvement of this collaboration.
Detlef Garbe, Director of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, added that the involvement of the associations in the Memorial’s work helped making the Memorial more than a government institution. They helped ensuring that the Memorial remained anchored in society. Together with the associations, this is Detlef Garbe’s hope, the building of an international network could be furthered and the Memorial’s lobby could be strengthened. In addition, Detlef Garbe calls collaborating with international memorials an important goal for the future, for example with those remembering the transit camps through which prisoners were taken to the Neuengamme concentration camp.
Film project for young adults
While the above described projects are ongoing, one finished project was also presented, that is, the project „Which movie is being played here? Make (your) history into a movie” for young adults. During a panel discussion with the project’s two facilitators the seven participants between the ages of 15 and 26 were able to elaborate on their experience with researching their families‘ history and answering the question „How does my ignorance/knowledge about my family history affect my life today?“ in their stop-motion-films. The conversation was only interrupted by the showing of the film made up of parts of the individual films. The participant Birgit Stick explained afterward that in her eyes the most important scene in the combined film was when Franciska Henning, whose great-grandfather had been called “Sparrow” and therefore appeared in the movie as a bird, invites her great-grandfather “Sparrow” to sit on her shoulder. For Birgit this scene symbolizes the connection between the young adults’ families‘ history and their daily lives.
Making one’s family history public
Among the Forum „Future of Remembrance“ participants the young adults were not the only ones who had dared to go public with their families‘ history. The second day was devoted to publicly dealing with one’s family history. During the morning session Karin Heddinga discussed with Victoria Evers, granddaughter of a Polish survivor of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, and Arend Hulshof, great-grandson of a Dutch prisoner who had been murdered in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, as well as with Ralph Schwerdt, the son of the Neuengamme concentration camp commander Martin Weiß, and Rinke Smedinga, son of a Dutch member of the SS, their motives for going public with their own families’ history.
Arend Hulshof explained that through the just published book „Rijpstra’s ondergang“ about his great-grandfather, a Dutch mayor, he had wanted to cast light not only on his great-grandfather’s work in the Dutch resistance, but also on the situations in which he had collaborated with the Nazis. Hulshof‘s book is the first of its kind in the Netherlands.
While Arend Hulshof had never been able to meet his great-grandfather because he had been murdered in the Neuengamme concentration camp, Victoria had had a very close relationship with her grandfather before his death. Yet, she had not known much information about his time in German concentration camps. He had wanted to protect his daughter and his granddaughter from this part of his story. Thus Victoria Evers had only started exploring this chapter of his life after his death and she now even gives public presentations about her grandfather’s concentration camp experience.
While there had been conversations about the war in the families of the descendants of perpetrators, they had always been cleaned-up versions. Ralph Schwerdt had never met his biological father who had been a concentration camp commander because he had been executed before his birth. Even though he had dealt with his family history as a young man, he had only dared to go public with his family’s story after he had retired as he had been concerned about his reputation as a general practitioner. The public attention that he and his family had attracted after the publication of an interview in the anthology „Nationalsocialist perpetratorship,“ had at first caused negative feelings in him, but he was now adjusting to this new situation.
Rinke Smedinga‘s approach to his family history was unusual in this group because he writes poems about what it means to have a „foute“ Dutch man as a father. In one of these poem’s he describes that his father who had always glorified the war had been lost to him already during the war. Now he frequently gives public presentations in front of school classes and other groups about his family history. One other special aspect about Rinke Smedinga’s life shows that the experiences made by the first generation during the war do not need to dominate the descendants‘ lives. For 25 years he has been married to Martine Letterie, the granddaughter of a Dutch prisoner murdered in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp. Together they give presentations about what it means to have two sides of the war in one family.
Workshops about „Protecting one’s Privacy vs. a societal duty to deal with one’s family history“
The panel discussion’s topic was again addressed in small workshops later that same day. Researching one’s family history was seen as a first step by the workshop participants to dissolve family myths, but also as a key to a better understanding of, for example, family traumata. It became apparent that there are many commonalities between the descendants of the victims and the descendants of the perpetrators. Both groups are very heterogeneous, just like the groups of the first generation. Therefore, making generalizations is a difficult task. One agreed on the second generation having to deal with specific challenges , especially emotional ones, while the 3rd and 4thgeneration had an easier time with a more objective approach, especially if they had never met the first generation. Instead of a duty to deal with one’s family history, participants rather saw a responsibility to society. They were referring less to the descendants of prominent perpetrators than to those of the “broad middle” whose dealing with their family history could cast a light on not very well lit parts of history. At least in one workshop it became apparent that even among those looking critically at how Germany has dealt with its Nazi past, don’t want to analyze their family members‘ actions. Rather, they prefer to think of them as „normal“ Germans.
Active contributions to the Future of Remembrance
The starting point for the discussions on the third and final day of the Forum “Future of Remembrance” was the question how more people could be motivated to participate actively in the discussion about the effects of National Socialism on the present and the future.
Creating an online network
Tom Devos and Swenja Granzow-Rauwald highlighted in their presentation possibilities for using the internet to build a network of those interested in the „Future of Remembrance“. Tom Devos explained the Flemish database which the association N.C.P.G.R.-Meensel-Kiezegem ’44 started two years ago to make public information about the victims as well as the perpetrators. For this project Tom Devos finds it very important that the users know exactly where the information comes from. The project is complemented by the association’s general website, but also by articles on current events, for example, newspaper articles. Every month the website is visited by 2500 visitors. Between 400 and 500 people have subscribed to the newsletter. Yet, the comment function on the website nor the association’s facebook group had been used much until one had started uploading historical pictures that had then sparked conversations. In his concluding remarks Tom Devos points out that in addition to what is available online, there are also many events being put on in the analogous world. The interest in these events has to be tapped into for the benefit of what’s available online.
Swenja Granzow-Rauwald then presented ideas for improving this blog’s ability to create a network of those seeking to engage critically with their family history. This network should include not only those with a direct connection to the history of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, but should also be open to those who would otherwise not be able to join a network at all. In order to reach people around the world whose family history had been affected by Nazi crimes, Swenja Granzow-Rauwald has set translating the blog’s articles into more languages as a goal. Currently most articles are only available in German, while quite a few are even available in English. Yet, few articles are available in French, Dutch or Spanish. Swenja Granzow-Rauwald asked those present, especially the representatives of the associations, to find volunteers who could translate an article from time to time. The larger the pool of volunteers, the less work has to be done by each one individually. It is possible that a larger variety of languages available would lower at least one hurdle keeping people from commenting on articles on the blog. A facebook group is also being planned to give people a private space to discuss articles. An online-round-table, according to Swenja Granzow-Rauwald, would also make it possible to continue the conversations started at this year’s Forum much sooner than if one had to wait till next year’s Forum. It could start out with a group of experts discussing a question live on the blog. Interested people could then join the discussion. The conversation could ultimately be archived on the blog.
All ideas in the end, however, depend on the help of those present. Getting more readers for the blog could be most easily achieved through addressing specific people and groups who might be interested. Disucssions could only be started if a few people left their comfort zone and posted articles that would spark conversations. Critics in the plenary complained that the blog’s name was too difficult to inform others about it. Swenja Granzow-Rauwald explained that the name had been necessary in order to draw a line between those interested in family history affected by Nazi Crimes and those interested in genealogy in general.
As people asked for a private setting such as the one provided by the Forum “Future of Remembrance” Swenja Granzow-Rauwald pointed out that the Facebook group would fulfill this requirement as access could only be gained by invitation. The blog itself and the comments published on it as well as the round-table would be completely public, though. A facebook page would have the same public function. Different communication channels could reach different people and therefore should all be used.
International youth meetings
Martine Letterie, President of the Dutch Stichting Vriendenkring Neuengamme and Vice President of the Amicale Internationale de Neuengamme, and Katharina Hertz-Eichenrode would like to get more young people involved in the Memorial’s work through their projects.
First, Martine Letterie presented a well-established project that entails a yearly journey of students from a school in the Dutch city of Eindhoven to Hamburg. The students focus during their visit on commemoration at the Bullenhuser Damm Memoria as their school is named after the Hornemann brothers who were murdered there. The students’ motivation is ensured through an application process.
However, the students from Einhoven don’t have any contact with German students during their visit. This is an aspect crucial to the project introduced by Katharina Hertz-Eichenrode which is still in the planning process. Just like during a regualr student exchange the German and Dutch students would visit each other. Yet, during their meeting they would focus on the question: “How do you commemorate in your country?” Aspects specific to national memory culture should be considered as well as the points where commonalities exist between German and Dutch memory culture. This would help strengthen a shared European memory culture. Even though there are some schools with a definite interest in this project it has not been made a reality yet as the schools have had a hard time finding time in the school calendar to visit each other. In addition, applying for grants to fund the project is also time-consuming.
Supposedly it is easier for university students to go on such trips as illustrated by the last project for future teachers from the Netherlands. Martine Letterie would like to see education majors not to only visit the Memorial Ravensbrück, but also the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. Part of this project could be following the tracks of a deportation train. The collaboration with a Dutch memorial would be very helpful in implementing this project.
In the ensuing discussion Oliver von Wrochem, Director of the Center for Historical Studies of the Neuenamme Concentration Camp Memorial, shares his idea of inviting international young adults to the next Forum „Future of Remembrance”. He asked the representatives of the associations to support him in getting the information to those potentially interested in participating.
The Forum „Future of Remembrance“ 2017 and other meetings
Jean-Michel Gaussot, President of the Amicale Internationale de Neuengamme and General Secretary of the Amicale française de Neuengamme, presents his idea for the next Forum „Future of Remembrance“ that go beyond including international young adults. He places an emphasis on creating a stronger connection to the current problems in Europe. The lessons drawn from the time of National Socialism would have to be analyzed in such a manner that they could be applied to challenges of the present and the future. Beyond that he would change little about the format of this year’s Forum, at least as far as participants and meeting place are concerned. Solely the language barrier would have to be tackled. Lastly, despite the focus on the present and the future, commemorating should not be neglected during future meetings.
Ulrich Gantz added a call for bethinking the European values and to take care of cross-boarder friendships. He felt saddened by the fact that no representatives from Eastern European countries had been able to attend this year’s Forum. He sketched out ideas for how ties with Eastern Europe could be strengthened. Moving the meeting place to Eastern Europe would eliminate the tedious journey for people from these countries and might increase the chance of them participating in these meetings. In addition, opening the Forum to those with no direct personal connection to the history of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp could enrich the discussions. The ideas are received positively, yet gathering the funds and acquiring the infrastructure necessary for such a meeting are considered obstacles.
During the final half hour of the Forum „Future of Remembrance“ Swenja Granzow-Rauwald re-addresses the question about making the names of the survivors visible as there had seemed to be the need for further discussion. Barbara Hartje, chairwoman of the Friends of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial and a member of the „Making Visible Working Group“, explained that she would support a monument encompassing all prisoners. The Working Group, she added, had originally not been aware of a monument exclusively for the survivors possibly signalling a division of the prisoners. Furthermore, the most important aspect of the new monument would be that people could get actively involved in its formation. Ulrich Gantz interjects that some survivors and their families might not want to see the name in public. The right to privacy remained thus an important issue.
During the ensuing feedback round it became obvious that some participants had hoped for more time for personal conversations and would have liked to see more small group sessions. The buddy system that had matched the film project’s participants with a partner who supported them in making more contacts with other participants was very well received.