On the occassion of the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of the camps, the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial organized an international commemorative service on May 3 that was attended by 9 survivors from different countries. Part of the program also was a meeting for the relatives of former prisoners, the third Forum „Future of Remembrance“ and public talks by survivors.
The Meeting of Descendants on April 30 was attended by second, third and fourth generation descendants from Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. The participants – together with representatives from the Neuengamme Memorial – evaluated the work of descendants in national organizations and the umbrella organization Amicale International as well as the services offered by the Memorial to descendants. The possibility of reforming the current structure of the organizations as well as establishing a new organization to represent all descendants‘ interests were discussed. The participants all agreed that it is important to get the younger generations involved as they will be the transmitting voices of history.
During the Forum “Future of Remembrance” descendants of former prisoners and other individuals interested in the question of how to remember the Nazi crimes when there will be no more survivors to tell their stories there were two foci that were interconnected. First three descendants of former prisoners who had written books about their families shared their motivation for making these stories public, among them making sure that the persecuted would be remembered and to share the feelings of the following generations. Following the author discussion, the youth project entitled “Raising your voice to preserve their voices” (Link) was shared. Nine students between the ages of 16-21 had produced radio podcasts discussing the topic of resistance. The focus of this project was to find connections between resistance during the Nazi era and current resistance towards the far right. The question arose of how to define resistance and how this topic is treated in everyday culture. The discussion about how to resist in today’s societies was taken up in small workshops. Different topics like protesting, militant resistance and the use of social media were explored to brainstorm ideas for how to resist in today’s world. One workshop looked at actual situations where resistance was successful and wasn’t successful. They posed the question of what issues stop a person from resisting such as fear, lack of confidence, political repercussions, and being alone in a difficult situation. The group worked together to think of things that could motivate people to participate in resistance movements such as role playing. The final group analyzed freedom of speech and its possible limits. They brought up current freedom of speech challenges such as the anonymity that the internet provides. The participants stressed the importance in looking for allies and showing solidarity with those who face daily discrimination.
On the second day of the Forum current forms of remembrance were discussed. Ideas such as the blog “Reflections on Family History Affected by Nazi Crimes”, the Dutch “Digitaal Monument” , the Herdenkingsweek organized by the Belgian N.C.P.G.R. Meensel-Kiezegem ’44 and the project Ort der Verbundenheit that envisions a meeting place for the descendants of Neuengamme prisoners that allows them to add a plaque to remember their relatives as well as add personal information. The idea of connecting all of the different monuments and places of remembrance was raised and encouraged by participants.
As many prisoners from countries like Belgium and the Netherlands had come to Neuengamme via transit camps, representatives of Kamp Amersfoort in the Netherlands and Fort Breendonk in Belgium presented their work. This panel also included a representative from the regional research Center for Oral History in Voronezh, Russia. All places offer educational opportunities for students and those interested to get involved. The question of collaboration between these institutions, projects, places of Remembrance and the Neuengamme Memorial was introduced and all participants were open to the idea. Many participants were pleased with the different workshops and discussions but felt that the question of how to get the third and fourth generations more involved still persisted. Other concerns were raised such as lack of funding and ways to get non-Europeans involved. Proposed plans for the next forum included looking at collaboration during the Nazi period, analyzing and exploring the historical perspective of non-European countries such as China and those in the Middle East. Overall, the participants greed that the forum was productive and was a proper step forward in preserving the memory of the Nazi crimes.
After the end of the first day of the Forum a public discussion about the dialogue between descendants of former prisoners and the descendants of Nazi perpetrators was held between Yvonne Cossu-Alba and Jean-Michel Gaussot, descendants of former prisoners, and Ulrich Gantz and Barbara Brix, descendants of Nazi perpetrators. Each shared their father’s story and the difficulties they have faced in coming to terms with what their fathers either experienced as prisoners or did as Nazis. Despite their respective histories, all four support one another and share the similar interest of promoting remembrance and showing that listening to each other is a first step to overcome the past. 100 people listened to their discussion.
After the end of the second day of the Forum, survivor Ivan Moscovich and his wife Anitta spoke about their experiences during World War II and reflected about the consequences of the persecution on their lifes. 140 people attended this timewitness talk.
On May 3, the first commemorative service was held in Neustadt/Holstein to mark the 72nd anniversary of the disaster in the Bay of Lübeck. On 3 May 1945, just before the end of the war, the ships “Cap Arcona” and “Thielbek” were bombed by British planes in Lübeck Bay. The SS had taken around 6,600 prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp aboard these ships. Only 450 of them survived. A survivor of the sinking, Jewgenij Malychin, and Jacques Sarête and Jean-Michel Gaussot, sons of former prisoners, shared their stories and the importance of remembering the victims of the Nazi crimes in combatting the resurgence of nationalistic attitudes.
In the afternoon the official commemorative event of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg was held at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. It was attended by 350 people. Among the speakers were the survivors Ivan Moscovich and Joanna Fryczkowska, also Yvonne Cossu-Alba, the daughter of a French prisoner who had died in the Sandbostel collection camp. The young adults of the radio project presented two podcasts raising many questions, among them what they would have done during the Nazi era.
Report by Alexandra Cain