Daniel Cartwright from England was August 2021 – August 2022 a volunteer with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial and Solidarische Hilfe im Alter in Hamburg. Here he talks about his experiences and gives a few tips to his successor.
From the beginning I was able to be a part of the team that began the first TikTok account for a Concentration Camp Memorial and one highlight was the success of the TikTok account and seeing it grow. So far we have more than 20,000 followers, with our most popular video gaining more than 2.7 million views. I heard from one of the guides that school groups had asked questions based on the TikToks and one family had decided to visit the memorial because their children had seen the videos and wanted to visit the site to find out more.
We have also been able to connect with other memorials through the account, travelling to Bergen-Belsen to make videos with their volunteers. One particular campaign was organised for 27th January in which other memorials would use our video as a basis upon which they could tell the story of what happened on that day at their respective sites, with the Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Flossenbürg and Mauthausen memorials participating.
In addition the TikTok page has also gained some media attention, both in print and on television and this allowed me to talk about the memorial to a wider audience. This also extended to other countries such as Israel and Austria, and I was glad to see that the work we were doing was having an impact outside of Germany. As a personal aside, I was also pleased that I was not subtitled when speaking German!
Link to our profile: https://firstname.lastname@example.org
Balance of expectations
I went into the volunteer year and the projects with open expectations. Despite these open expectations, my work in the projects always surprised me. For example, being able to reach so many people was surprising, as well as being able to meet many interesting people from all around the world in the course of my year. I think going into the year with few specific expectations was beneficial as it allowed me to discover things with an open mind. I had never done many of the things I went on to do before and this allowed me to constantly learn and challenge myself in ways I never thought possible.
My successor has the possibility to continue the work of the TikTok account although this would only be if they wanted to. Due to the amount of exposure the platform gives you, it means that you are opened up to many negative, often personal comments. Therefore I would not expect my successor to continue making TikTok videos if they did not feel comfortable with it.
Intercultural and historical dimension
Making English language videos and translations meant that I regularly had my home country in the back of my mind (and therefore also the connection between my home country and Germany). As the months went by my knowledge of Germany grew but knowledge of my home country therefore also grew with it. I believe this led to me not seeing either one in isolation – when in Germany I remain someone who spent most of his life in Britain but when I look at Britain I look at it through the eyes of someone living in Germany, immersed in German life and ways of thinking.
I should also perhaps note that the first few months of my stay in Germany were in Berlin, just before the start of my voluntary service and this gave me the chance to explore Germany’s capital in a depressurised environment, being able to immerse myself in the culture, language and history of Germany before I moved to Hamburg and started my volunteering at Neuengamme and Solidarische Hilfe im Alter (SoliHilfe).
The year gave me the opportunity to get to know the city of Hamburg and surrounding region in a meaningful way. Working at both Neuengamme/SoliHilfe meant that I was able to look at the city from more than one angle, hearing about the history and culture of Hamburg from people of all ages and backgrounds. Throughout the year I was also able to visit the surrounding area visiting several other places in Northern Germany with a connection to my work, for example: Kaltenkirchen, Wöbbelin, Bergen-Belsen, Schwerin, and Ludwigslust. Becoming acquainted with the wider region was deeply important to understanding both the history and culture of the city of Hamburg.
In May I had the opportunity to participate in the Jugendbegegnung des deutschen Bundestages in Berlin. This allowed me to expand my view of Germany, speaking to those living and working across the country, as well as gaining an insight into the wider German political system (something I was able to compare with my own experience of visiting the British Parliament). The theme of the Jugendbegegnung was the Wannsee Conference and during the four days I was there I was able to explore this history in a fair level of depth with other young people, looking at the minutes, researching the participants and visiting the site. The participants were all involved in remembrance in some way and therefore this experience was also important in the sense that I was able to explore the German remembrance culture in a new way and with new people.
Throughout the year it was hard not to notice the presence of history in my daily life and therefore it is hard to pick out one single moment in which the presence of history was particularly clear. One can point to several moments, such as the memorial events I was able to be a part of at which survivors and their relatives were present, as well as the contact I have had with those persecuted during National Socialism as part of my work with SoliHilfe. But this was also the case in more random encounters, such as the time I interviewed an American visitor who was visiting the memorial as part of an excursion while she was on a cruise ship. During our conversation she mentioned that the place was especially meaningful to her as she had worked as a nurse and had personally cared for former concentration camp prisoners. This was just one of several coincidental encounters in which the presence and effect of history became especially real for me in a way in which I wouldn’t have expected.
I believe I have grown both practically and personally in the course of the year. Practically, in the language skills I have developed, the new skills I have learned (TikTok, video editing etc.) as well as dealing with all sorts of new paper work. Generally, in my deepened knowledge of history and the way in which I have been enriched by encounters with a wide range of people in the course of my voluntary service. I will hopefully be able to take these practical skills with me and be able to apply them in the future but I am also sure that I will take the experiences I have had in both of the projects and the encounters with people I have met along the way with me as well.