This year, together with the Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme, the Foundation was again able to invite people to events to mark the anniversary of the liberation on site at the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial. In recent years, to our great regret, we had been unable to hold any commemorative events (2020) or welcome guests to Hamburg (2021) due to the Corona pandemic. To mark the occasion of the anniversary of the end of the war and the liberation of the concentration camps, a whole series of events took place at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial in addition to the central commemoration ceremony on 3 May 2022.
Chamber concert with readings
The first of these events was a chamber concert with readings on 29 April in the former production halls of the Walther company at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. Under the title “Give the Nazis a Resounding Slap in the Face”, actor Roman Knižka and the wind quintet OPUS 45 presented an expressive collage of music and literature. Literary testimonies of resistance against the Nazi regime were interchanged with almost forgotten works for wind quintet by composers who became victims of the National Socialist dictatorship and the Holocaust.
Presentation of a commemorative plaque
In 2020, relatives of former Spanish prisoners of Neuengamme concentration camp founded the Amical de Neuengamme. On the initiative of the Amical and based on a design by the sculptor and relative Serge Castillo a memorial was erected in the memorial grove of the concentration camp memorial site. On 1 May, in memory of the Spanish concentration camp prisoners, a bronze relief and the plaque with the dedication were presented to the public in the presence of 30 relatives. Speakers included Pedro Villena, General Consul of Spain in Hamburg, Dr. Martine Letterie, President of the Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme and Balbina Rebollar, President of the Spanish Amical de Neuengamme.
Talks with eyewitnesses
"The memories cannot be shaken off". Prague-born Dita Kraus spoke to more than 200 people at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. As a teenager, she was deported from Czechoslovakia with her Jewish family and survived the Theresienstadt ghetto, the Auschwitz concentration camp and the women's sub camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp in Hamburg before being liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dita Kraus spoke with Ulrike Jensen from the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial about the time of her persecution, her life after survival, the passing on of memories in her family and her commitment against forgetting until today.
Born and raised in National Socialist Hamburg, Marianne Wilke experienced a childhood of constant threat and social exclusion as the child of a persecuted Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. On 2 May, she also told young people about acts of solidarity during this time and attached great importance to encouraging the young people to be critical and to take a stand when injustice happens.
On 4 May, pupils had the opportunity to speak with Helga Melmed and Dita Kraus at the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial. Both survived Auschwitz and the subcamps of Neuengamme Concentration Camp, told their personal stories and answered the young people's questions.
A Space to Remember, Connect and Support
In an impressive way, relatives of former concentration camp prisoners from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Ukraine, Poland and Germany remembered their family members. At the "Place to Remember, Connect and Support” they had the opportunity to print their self-designed posters, present them and make them publicly available. Speakers at the commemoration - moderated by Bernhard Esser, also a relative - were Balbina Rebollar, President of the Spanish Amical de Neuengamme, who presented a poster for her father Evaristo Rebollar, Yvonne Cossu, Honorary President of the French Amicale de Neuengamme et de ses Kommandos, who presented a poster for all those former concentration camp prisoners who have no descendants to honour their memory, and Karin van Steeg, relative of 14 Dutch concentration camp prisoners, who presented her action posters for former concentration camp prisoners from Putten.
Memorial ceremony in Neuengamme
Several hundred people came to the historic Klinkerwerk on the grounds of the concentration camp memorial to commemorate together the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the prisoners of Neuengamme concentration camp. After the welcoming address by Prof. Dr. Detlef Garbe, Chairman of the Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and Learning Centres, who also remembered the survivors who died last year, and Dr. Dorothee Stapelfeldt, Senator for Urban Development and Housing of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, who spoke about the importance of memorials, the Shoah survivor Helga Melmed gave a moving account of her experiences of persecution and called for people to educate themselves and to try love instead of hate.
Voices from Ukraine and the Russian and Belarusian diasporas against the war were presented before Dr Jean-Michel Clère, President of the Amicale de Neuengamme et de ses Kommando (France) reflected on the current situation and called for the powerful message of the survivors to never forget in order to prevent future wars. Aleksandar Bančić (Croatia) spoke in dialogue with Natascha Höhn from the #Waswillstdutun project about his grandfather Josip Bančić, who died in the Neuengammer subcamp Spaldingstraße, and about the influence his story has on his own life, regardless of the fact that he never had the chance to meet him. The Neue Chor Hamburg provided musical accompaniment for the event.
The recording of the commemoration is published here (Subtitles in German, English and French will be added in due course).
Afterwards, wreaths and flowers were laid at the international memorial at the memorial site.
Commemoration in Neustadt (Holstein)
On the occasion of the 77th anniversary of the bombing of the concentration camp ships in Neustadt Bay by the British Royal Air Force, various events were held by the Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme (AIN) in Neustadt in Holstein. On 2 May, Prof. Bill Niven, who took a critical look at the British culture of remembrance, Kristof van Mierop from the Belgian Amicale and Françoise Plaza-Carlstroem from the French Amicale spoke at a panel event, giving insights into the various silences about the persecution of their relatives in their respective families. At the commemoration ceremony on 3 May at the Cap Arcona memorial, after greetings from Kirsten Eickhoff-Weber, first vice-president of the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein, there were speeches by Sönke Sela, mayor of the city of Neustadt in Holstein and Dr. Martine Letterie, President Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme, Magda Wajsen, granddaughter of Kazimierz Wajsen, survivor of the "Athen" and Bernard Jeune, son of Eugène Jeune, who died on the "Cap Arcona". Pupils from the Küstengymnasium then contributed before the event ended with a Kaddish. The city of Neustadt made this event available as a livestream. Afterwards, family members had the opportunity to take a boat trip to the sinking sites of the ships.
The programme ended on 4 May, 7 p.m. with the film "Das Zelig". The Café Zelig is a Jewish encounter café in Munich where Jewish survivors of the Shoah meet regularly. Among them was Natan Grossmann, a former prisoner of Neuengamme concentration camp, who was present at the Abaton cinema for the screening and a subsequent discussion with filmmaker Tanja Cummings.