When asked how they envision the remembrance of the Nazi period in the future, eight students from Hamburg and surrounding areas gave a very precise and moving answer in their speech (at 1: 01: 8 in the video) at the commemorative service of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial on May 4, 2015. In front of 1000 guests, among them 54 survivors of the Neuengamme concentration camp and its satellite camps, they promised:
Our goal is not only to maintain the memory, but also to assume the responsibility to inspire our fellow human beings, deal respectfully with one another.
It requires much courage from a young adult to make such an appeal, albeit an indirect one, to such an audience. During the two-day preparatory seminar at the end of April 2015 this courage had not been felt by the students. Rather, they had doubted whether they would even have a message for their audience. They had not yet realized that the experiences to be made during the following days would turn them into experts in their own right.
Learning means making experiences
The young adults visited the grounds of the memorial and its exhibitions together. They were deeply affected by the messages relatives of those murdered in the Neuengamme concentration camp has placed in the House of Remembrance. They also discussed the German culture of remembrance. Again and again, they would come back to the question of what it would be like to meet the former prisoners from abroad and their families, and what questions they might ask them.
The nervousness quickly went away when on May 2, 2015 the first introductions were made in an informal setting. They were received with warmth and great joy about their interest in the stories of the survivors. The young adults felt that they, thanks to their knowledge, were treated as equals in the conversations.
A Sense of Belonging
Already on May 3, 2015 it was evident during the commemorative service at the Memorial Cemetery Cap Arcona in Neustadt on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the ship disaster that the eight students and felt that they belonged. They helped by handing out the translations of speeches among those present. But it was only in the morning of May 4, 2015 that the students themselves recognized that they had earned a right to be heard at the commemorative service. Unlike their numerous peers who participated in discussions with former prisoners they had already made the Memorial their “own”. They not only knew its history, but had befriended the survivors, their families and the staff of the memorial. They gladly helped out where needed, always walking with a clear goal in mind – very unlike the disoriented acting students there on field trips.
Remembering, Each and Every day
In their speech, the students called themselves „secondary witnesses.“ Yet, especially during the Forum „The Future of Remembrance“ on May 5 and 6, 2015 they demonstrated through their proposals for projects and their constructive questions that they are more than passive „witnesses“ to the reports of survivors. Rather, they are visionaries of a culture of remembrance that goes beyond yearly commemorative events, but is acted upon every day. To treat people with respect also means to remember the people who were not granted the same kind of respect in the past.
Hi, my name is Swenja Granzow-Rauwald. I am a political scientist and responsible for the concept behind RFHABNC.