From 10 to 12 November 2021, the seventh "Future of Remembrance" Forum took place at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. Relatives of victims of Nazi persecution, descendants of Nazi perpetrators, memorial site staff and those committed to the culture of remembrance from France, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, the USA and Germany came together to exchange views on approaches and practices of coming to terms with experiences of persecution and National Socialist perpetration in one’s family history.
Before the start of the public part of the forum began, an exchange round for relatives of victims of National Socialism offered the participants the opportunity to talk about how they deal with their family history. Experts gave those present tips and assistance on how to present their own family history in public.
In the first panel discussion, descendants of Nazi perpetrators exchanged views on how they deal with perpetration in their own families. The children's author Stefanie Taschinski (Hamburg) incorporates research on her grandfather, an SS man at the Neuengamme concentration camp, into her literary work. As a teacher, Maria Holzgrewe (Bad Segeberg) addresses the perpetration of her great-grandfather in class: Wilhelm Dreimann, as a Rapportführer at Neuengamme concentration camp, was involved in the murder of Soviet prisoners and the Jewish "children from Bullenhuser Damm", among other things. Paula Mittrowann (Hamburg) processes her research on her grandfather's Wehrmacht past in a graphic novel and in her discussion particularly asks about the scope for action that a soldier had at that time. In the discussion, it became clear that dealing with Nazi perpetration in one's own family should be less about concrete evidence of crimes and more about reflecting on the many forms of participation in acts of injustice in National Socialist society.
In the late afternoon, the exhibition "Luise. Archaeology of an Injustice" was opened in the presence of the photographer and photojournalist Stefan Weger (Berlin).
On the second day of the forum, the focus gradually shifted from the perpetrators' relatives to the relatives of those persecuted under National Socialism. Initially, both sides were represented in the first panel: Yvonne Cossu-Alba (Grasse) and Jean-Michel Gaussot (Paris) as children of Neuengamme concentration camp inmates and Barbara Brix and Ulrich Gantz (both Hamburg) as children of perpetrators. In the format "Mémoire à quatre voix" (Memory in four voices), which the panelists have already tested in Germany, France and other countries, they shared their family backgrounds and relationships with their fathers. The four speakers, who met for the first time years ago at the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial, emphasised that they see their different backgrounds and experiences as a basis for working together in the future. They wanted to pass on their shared values and political convictions to the younger generations through their public appearances. In the discussion, some participants questioned whether such an approach did not correspond to the desire for reconciliation on the part of the perpetrators. Another problem was that public and media interest was too rarely directed at the descendants of the persecuted, but rather at the descendants of the perpetrators.
Afterwards, there was an opportunity to get to know the various associations of former concentration camp prisoners and their relatives and to talk to each other: The Amicale Belge de Neuengamme, the Amicale International KZ Neuengamme, the Young Committee of the Amicale International KZ Neuengamme, the Spanish Amical de Neuengamme, the French Amicale de Neuengamme et de ses Kommandos, the Dutch Stichting Vriendenkring, the NCPGR Meensel-Kiezegem 44 and the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Neuengamme.
In the afternoon, Victoria Evers (Paderborn), granddaughter of a former prisoner of Neuengamme concentration camp, and Tom Schröder (Hamburg), great-grandson of deported Jewish Hamburg residents, spoke about their experiences. Victoria Evers said that as a child she had wondered about the tattooed number on her grandfather's arm. But it was only when she was a teenager, after her grandfather's death, that she understood through her school lessons that her grandfather must have been in Auschwitz. Tom Schröder only learned through his mother's research that his great-great-grandmother had been Jewish and had lived in a marriage with a non-Jewish partner. Although this marriage did not prevent his great-great-grandmother from being deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, it helped her survive the Shoah. Tom Schröder worked on the family history as part of a seminar at the university and produced a short film that was shown after the talk. Both family stories have in common that the fate of those persecuted in the families was forgotten and concealed through assimilation into the majority society. The speakers emphasised the positive effect that uncovering these family backgrounds had on their own identity and the understanding of their relatives.
On the occasion of the founding of the Spanish Amical de Neuengamme in 2020, the last panel dealt with the politics of remembrance in Spain. This talk is the prelude to a series of events dealing with memory politics in different countries. Balbina Rebollar, President of the Spanish Amical, reported on the odyssey of her father Evaristo Rebollar, who had fought on the side of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. In exile in France, he was arrested by the German occupiers and imprisoned in various concentration camps until he was finally freed at the end of the war in the Wöbbelin reception camp. He returned to Spain, where he and his family were subjected to further reprisals during the Franco dictatorship. Rafael Priego Correa's relatives were also political opponents of Francoism. His grandfather was shot by a Francoist death squad and his great-uncle suffered a similar fate to Evaristo Rebollar, but did not survive the Neuengamme concentration camp. The speakers explained that there was hardly any distinct culture of remembrance in Spain. Those persecuted by Francoism and National Socialism were not publicly remembered and honoured, and hardly anyone knew their stories.
The "Future of Remembrance" forum ended on Friday with a printing workshop at the "Space to Remember", which was opened as a place of remembrance by relatives for relatives of former prisoners of the Neuengamme concentration camp last year as part of the online forum on the grounds of the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial.
Report by Alexandre Froidevaux, Juliane Podlaha, Yeliz Irene Yilmaz