They are not perpertrators and we are not heros!
Jacqueline Gicquel, the daughter of Pierre Gicquel who died in the Watenstedt satelite camp on February 22, 1945, talks about the effects of her father’s absence and her hope that instead of feeling guilty the perpetrators‘ descendants will commit themselves to „Never again!“. Here are her answers to questions I asked her regarding the main themes of discussion that were lead during the workshop „Dialogue between the descendants of former concentration camp prisoners and the descendants of Nazi perpetrators“ during the Forum „Future of Remembrance“ held at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial on May 6, 2015.
How did you learn about what happened to your father?
The family kept silent about it. There was just a plate in the cemetery with a complex name on it : ‚Dead in Watenstedt‘. Shortly before I retired, I learnt from the Press that ancient concentration camp prisoners had held their annual meeting in St. Malo. I asked about it and met Léa Le Pen who introduced me to several prisoners’ associations and to the Amicale de Neuengamme. I went to the pilgrimage and became a member of the Amicale.
How did you manage to overcome the consequences of the perpetrators‘ deeds?
Even if we did not talk much about it in the family, I felt he was “a worthy man”, and when people said I looked like him, I felt very proud. He was a reference and I wanted to deserve this resemblance. I was only a few weeks old when he was arrested, so I never knew him and did not feel a loss. As his body was brought back to France, there was a place where I could „meet“ him. It is probably when I was a teenager that I missed him most. I did not have a strong presence near me, a solid pillar to lean on. Like my sister, I built up – unconsciously – a strong personality and we are committed persons.
What will you pass on to your children?
Transmission is very difficult for several reasons: family reasons (my in-laws were followers of Petain, then there was a divorce …), the children were not open to it and even showed some sort of refusal. Nevertheless, it seems easier with the grand-children.
What do you expect, or fear, from a dialogue between families of victims and families of perpetrators?
I don’t fear a dialogue with descendants of perpetrators, because if they are here, it means they don’t agree with their fathers’ ideas. I think their suffering must be deep. They probably had a happy youth, with a loving father nearby, but when they discovered their fathers’ past…! They often feel responsible but they aren’t. It’s not because their fathers were perpetrators that they are too. It’s not because our fathers were heroes that we are heroes. It is not genetically transmitted. They should not feel guilty. They can’t rub out what their fathers did, but they should try to get over their family history by committing themselves to explain what happened, why it happened and how to prevent it from coming back.