From 16th to the 17th of November 2022, the 8th “Future of Remembrance” Forum took place at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. Descendants of former Nazi persecutees, memorial staff and those interested in remembrance policy discussed the challenges, problems and opportunities of remembrance culture today and in the future. How do experiences differ across national borders, different persecution and family history backgrounds? And what does this mean for engagement and multi-perspective remembering?
The “Future of Remembrance” Forum began with an offer for relatives to take part in a research seminar with archivist Franciska Henning.
In the first part of the public programme, Dr Susann Lewerenz, together with project participants, presented the project “Opening Perspectives – Sharing Stories”, which focuses on the perspectives of people with Eastern or Central Eastern European migration or family histories on the memory of National Socialism and the Second World War. The results are available on a multimedia online report. Ksenja Holzmann wished for more spaces in which mutual exchange and participation in remembrance culture are made possible. Jan Dohrmann emphasised that the project makes it clear that the complexity of perspectives cannot be tied down to national borders and nationalities.
In conversation with Lennart Onken, the journalists Melanie Longerich and Brigitte Baetz reported on the research of their family stories and their podcast project “gestern ist jetzt” (yesterday is now). As part of this, they explore the question of what coming to terms with family history does to families and what effects this has on society. They emphasised that it was important to them to bring people into a dialogue with each other and to depict diverse perspectives. It is important for them not to remain on the emotional level, but to classify the family stories scientifically. The aim is also to be able to position themselves in today’s social discussions.
The ideas raised in the afternoon also played a role in the subsequent evening event. Project staff Natascha Höhn, Swenja Granzow-Rauwald and Thorsten Fehlberg presented the online exhibition “#WaswillstDutun?” and related educational materials. The project portrays 21 people with their family stories. What all the people have in common is that they think about the significance of their family history for their thoughts and actions today. Two of the people presented had their say in the panel discussion. Julia Gilfert is the granddaughter of Walter Frick, a victim of the Nazi “euthanasia” murders. She told how the fate of her grandfather was kept secret in her family and how she began researching the family history at the age of 21. Daniel Rebstock is the son of Herta and Carlheinz Rebstock, who were active as young adults in the communist resistance against National Socialism in Hamburg. Daniel Rebstock was confronted with his parents’ history of persecution and the Nazi era as a child. Svetlana Pomjalova is a youth education officer at Arbeit und Leben Hamburg and accompanied the development of the project. She emphasised that the exchange about the stories triggers reflection processes in young people, leads to mutual appreciation of perspectives and promotes the development of one’s own attitude and positioning in society.
On the second day, historian Babette Weyns reported on the development of the culture of remembrance in Belgium. The political reappraisal of collaboration and its punishment in the post-war period had led in parts of the Flemish population to a negative and stereotypical image of the resistance. At the same time, collaboration was reinterpreted from these circles as service to the fatherland and the collaborators were stylised as victims. These conflicting narratives remain firmly anchored in society today.
In the subsequent panel discussion with Martin Reiter, this topic was further explored. Kristof Van Mierop, grandson of Roger Vyvey, who was arrested as a member of the resistance and taken to the Bremen-Blumenthal satellite camp, reported that the conflicts around culture of remembrance can still be felt today at commemorative events. Freddy Duerinckx (NCPGR Meensel-Kiezegem 44) is the son of Ferdinand Duerinckx, who was deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp and murdered. He told the story of the Belgian community of Meensel-Kiezegem, where Belgian collaborators were instrumental in the murder and deportation of numerous villagers, and reported on how the crime continues to shape the community today. He also presented the privately initiated museum, which is committed to a critical culture of remembrance.
Afterwards, the participants had the opportunity to go on a tour with Janina Heucke and Freddy Duerinckx to the places of remembrance on the grounds of the memorial site with a view to the commemoration of the Belgian prisoners. Alternatively, there was the possibility to take part in a tour with Dr Christiane Heß, to learn about the prisoners of the Neuengamme concentration camp from France and their visual testimonies. In the afternoon, there was also the opportunity to talk to representatives of the various associations of former concentration camp prisoners and their relatives at various stands.
The “Future of Remembrance” Forum ended with a discussion moderated by Christine Eckel with children of Résistance fighters deported from France. Irma Bousquet told about her father Manuel Regueiro, who was born in Spain. In 1943, he was arrested in France as a resistance fighter and deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and to a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp in Bremen-Farge. Pascale Evans told of her father Pascal Valliccioni, who was arrested as a resistance fighter in 1944, deported to the subcamp Wilhelmshaven of Neuengamme concentration camp and liberated near Flensburg in May 1945. The two daughters told how their fathers’ stories of persecution shaped their own lives. In the emotional stories, it became clear once again that the past has not disappeared, but continues to influence the lives of the families to this day.