My husband is not the only crazy person. Here there are many of them!
Orna laughs. It is the evening before they return to Israel. The Forum „Future of Remembrance“ just ended. Danny, her husband, is sitting next to her. He is grinning from ear to ear. He cherishes Orna’s remarks. Over the course of their marriage she has repeatedly asked him why he is engaged in so many activities that are related to his parents’ experience with Nazi persecution. Even his father had only looked forward. Orna now has witnessed that it is not unusual that Danny commits so much time to working with memorials and giving public talks about his family history.
Yet, there are usually long periods of time between the meetings of relatives of former concentration camp prisoners from different countries. The commemorative events that bring together these relatives then only last a few days. After everybody has returned home it is usually not easy to main the conversations that had just been started. A network may improve this situation while at the same time decrease dependence on the infrastructure of the institutions that organize the commemorative events. An independent network can better articulate its members’ priorities even vis à vis these institutions.
Two days before the commemorative service held on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial had invited relatives of former prisoners to a private seminar.
The organizers had anticipated 20 people taking up the offer. However, nearly 40 signed up for it. Many more wrote that they would have liked to come but had to fulfill other commitments.
The hallway of the event center was filled long before the starting time. People were happy to shake hands, old acquaintances reconnected and new friendships budded. Of course, what was discussed during the course of the seminar is not for public disclosure. Yet, the feedback over the following days was very positive. Many people expressed a desire for a repeat next year.
To sum up, relatives of former concentration camp prisoners find in each other ideal conversation partners whom they can easily trust. Despite differences in age, origin or language, their family’s history of persecution is something they can build their conversations on more easily than with people whose families do not share that kind of history. A network makes it easier therefore to establish contact between potential conversation partners.
The network and the opportunities for exchanges of thoughts it offers allow members to increase their knowledge about the effects the history of persecution had on different families.
If the network creates a connection of people from different cultures and countries, it enables its members also to gain insights into the different ways of remembering in families from these cultures, but also into the culture of remembrance of different countries and regions.
The comparison of the new with the familiar can then be used to become more aware of one’s ideas about future forms of remembrance and makes it easier to articulate them.
The ideas which are clarified in the course of the exchange between members of the network can be implemented more effectively through the support offered by a network. During the multi-generational encounter in May 2014 former Neuengamme prisoners, their relatives, Memorial staff as well as students from Hamburg and other interested individuals had drawn up a declaration which emphasized the joint responsibility of those present:
It is […] essential to actively engage and to make it clear that hatred leads to denying others their humanity; that hatred is a feeling that everyone should oppose in himself or in his surroundings. We must stand up for tolerance and respect toward others, regardless of their origin or their convictions.
The participants of the workshop „A Network of Relatives of Former Prisoners of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp“ agreed that a network of relatives of former concentration camp prisoners should primarily offer support to members’ political work for pertaining to their ideas of a future of remembrance.
This support could take many forms. As noted by the workshop participants it may initially mean mental encouragement when difficulties in the implementation of projects arise, e.g., the establishment of new information or memorial sites.
Especially in the planning phase an exchange of experiences and knowledge can be helpful to expedite the process. Also the network could provide assistance should funding issues occur, i.e. through international donation requests.
Can you think of other reasons for a network? Are you interested in establishing or joining a network? Please send us an email.
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Swenja Granzow-Rauwald is a political scientist and the Editor in Chief of the Reflections blog. Her maternal grandparents survived two satellite camps of the Neuengamme concentration camp. She works on creating a future of remembrance that acknowledges the past, critically assesses the present and considers the needs of the generations to come. For her, giving descendants of Nazi victims, descendants of bystanders and descendants of Nazi perpetrators a chance to tell their stories is crucial for reaching this goal. You can send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.