09/17/2015 Commemorative ceremony, Conference

Divided Memory: Remembering Nazi Forced Labour in Twenty-First-Century Europe

International Forum on Nazi Forced Labour, Hamburg March 2016. Call for papers

The international conference ‘Divided Memory: Remembering Nazi Forced Labour in Twenty-First-Century Europe’ forms part of the ‘Forced Labour and Forgotten Victims: Remembering National Socialist Injustice’ programme run by the foundation ‘Remembrance, Responsibility and Future’, EVZ. The three-day conference is organised by the Humboldt University’s Chair for German History of the Twentieth Century with a Focus on National Socialism (Professor Michael Wildt) in cooperation with the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, the Museum of Work and the Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg.

The conference will take place from 9 to 11 March 2016 at the Museum of Work in Hamburg. Framed as an International Forum on the theme of Nazi forced labour, with participative formats including workshops, excursions, seminars and public events, it inaugurates a series of further international conferences that will bring together researchers, especially younger scholars, from different European countries and from universities, museums, and other organisations. The conference languages are German and English.

More than almost any other research topic, Nazi forced labour has come to the forefront of scholarship and historical memory work in recent years. Approaches to the experience of forced labour in the memory cultures of Eastern and Western European countries have ranged from acknowledgement, to silence, right up to allegations of collaboration. The conference aims to illuminate these perspectives on memory in all their multiplicity and diversity, but also show their national limitations. Furthermore, the conference will focus on the various forms of forced labour and the different groups of forced labourer.

At the same time – and this is a key concern for the International Forum – that very diversity offers points of reference to rethink collective experiences of forced labour within a European experiential space, transcending nationally specific views. Nazi forced labour was a German crime with Europe-wide consequences. We might call it, following Étienne François, a ‘European site of memory’ that is simultaneously common and divided: a nexus of different collective experiences within a history that is nevertheless shared. In terms of the resulting diverse and often also divergent interpretations of the common past, we wish to foreground not so much what separates them as what links them together.

For example, today, more than seventy years after the Second World War, the end of the era of eyewitness testimony to Nazi forced labour is imminent. This clearly confronts all researchers, institutions, archives and associations with the problem that in the near future there will no longer be a survivor generation who can recount their experiences of forced labour face to face. Soon, it will only be possible to pass on their memories in mediated forms, assuming those memories have been recorded. In an age when the mass media constitute the primary horizon of experience for historical knowledge, it is important to discuss the present and future significance of video interviews and oral history collections, as well as photography, for remembering Nazi forced labour. The International Forum aims to contribute to this process through presentations and workshops.

In addition, the conference addresses the notion of ‘sites of memory’, lieux de mémoire as proposed by Pierre Nora, as a way of generating multifarious connections between memory and space. ‘Memory sites’ is not solely a metaphor for historical events or individuals: the places of memory are also real locations, such as memorials at former concentration camps and forced labour camps, or virtual spaces such as the Internet. The conference will also direct its attention to this spatial aspect of memory.

The European dimension of memories is the object of heated debate, as becomes obvious in the disputes around the planned House of European History in Brussels. Are we seeing the emergence of a shared European memory culture, or is this ultimately no more than a powerful, politically instrumentalised construct? Whom does it include, whom does it exclude? The conference will investigate the institutions that may be regarded as the transnational ‘vehicles’ of European remembrance.

We invite researchers chiefly, but not exclusively, in the areas of history, cultural studies and social sciences, along with museum professionals and multipliers of historical and political education, to submit contributions addressing one or more of our core questions:

  1. What does it mean to remember Nazi forced labour in twenty-first-century Europe?
  2. How diversely is Nazi forced labour remembered in the European experiential space?
  3. Is it possible to speak of a shared European memory culture, or is European remembrance only an influential construct that is subject to instrumentalisation?

 We ask for proposals on the following aspects:

  • contributions attending to the European or transnational perspective on Nazi forced labour;
  • contributions investigating the influence of the restitution debate on remembrance of forced labour;
  • contributions on the significance of oral history collections and/or photographs for remembering Nazi forced labour;
  • contributions on European sites of memory around Nazi forced labour, for example memorials, exhibitions, historical information;
  • contributions discussing the Web as a virtual space for remembering experiences of forced labour;
  • contributions examining the role of Nazi forced labour in the conceptual planning of European and transnational museums.

Proposals may be submitted in German or English, and should be no longer than 500 words. Please send your abstract, along with a short CV, as a PDF attachment to Dr Simone Erpel: simone.erpel@geschichte.hu-berlin.de.

Submissions must be received by 31 October 2015.

Proposals are invited in German or English. for presentations (max. 30 minutes) or workshops (1½–2 hours).

We especially welcome proposals from researchers and museum professionals from Eastern Europe.

Upon request, we can cover travel and accommodation costs for presenters.

contact and information

Dr. Simone Erpel
Internationales Forum "NS-Zwangsarbeit" am Lehrstuhl Deutsche Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert mit Schwerpunkt im Nationalsozialismus
Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin