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“History in the Present": Report from the 9th "Future of Remembrance" Forum

Conversation with Yvan Mbomo from France, whose grandfather was deported to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp

At the annual "Future of Remembrance" forum, descendants of victims and perpetrators of Nazi persecution met with memorial site staff and other interested parties to discuss issues related to the culture of remembrance.

This year's event, with 70 guests from Spain, Poland, France, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Argentina, and Chile, was held under the motto, "History in the Present." In her welcoming address, Susann Lewerenz made a connection between the handover of power to the National Socialists 90 years ago and the increasing shift to the right in Germany and other European countries in the present. She also addressed the significance of current engagements against the right within the backdrop of her own family’s experiences during the National Socialist era.

On the morning of November 15, descendants of victims of Nazi persecution had the opportunity to explore their family history in a writing workshop. In the afternoon, Yvan Mbomo spoke about the fate of his grandfather. He came from Equatorial Guinea, fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side, and fought in France against the German occupation, where he was then arrested and deported to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp. At the end of the war, he survived the sinking of the Cap Arcona in the Bay of Lübeck. It became clear how three generations of the Mbomo family each dealt with the eventful biography of their ancestor in different ways.

Descendants and commitment

In the following panel discussion, Detlef Baade, Daniel Rebstock, and Norma van der Walde talked about their parents, who were all young when the National Socialists came to power, had been active in the Hamburg resistance, and were therefore persecuted by the Nazi regime at an early age. All three speakers are now actively involved in politics themselves. Daniel Rebstock's approach is to take a stand against the right. Norma van der Walde encourages people to seek dialogue and work towards understanding, especially within the current polarization of society.

Evening event at KörberHaus

The first day of the forum concluded with a public event in cooperation with the KörberHaus in Bergedorf. Adriano Paßquali, Daniel Manwire, and Melani Klarić are committed to combating discrimination, racism, and right-wing violence in the present against the background of their different family histories. Adriano Paßquali told young people the story of his family, who were persecuted by the National Socialists as Sinti, and combined this topic with an examination of current forms of discrimination and used his own experiences from his school days as a bridge to the present. For Daniel Manwire, as a descendant of perpetrators, it was important to come to terms with his own family history during the Nazi era in order to be able to position himself to speak out in the face of current forms of discrimination and racist violence. Against the background of Melani Klarić’s family history, in which both Nazi forced labor and "guest labor" played a role, it is important to her to make the diversity of different experiences and perspectives visible and audible in her educational work.

On the morning of November 16, the forum focused on the culture of remembrance in Poland and explored the question of how this has changed under the influence of changing political circumstances. Magda Wajsen and Katarzyna Piotrowska-Cholewinska described how social remembrance has long focused on representative commemorative events and was otherwise characterized by silence that even extended into families. Magda Wajsen only found out about her grandfather's imprisonment at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp after his death. Her grandfather had long sought official documentation confirming his imprisonment. It, however, was only after his death that the family finally received the relevant document. Katarzyna Piotrowska-Cholewinska had already heard stories from her mother about the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp as a child, but it was only later that she was able to connect the grief and melancholy of her relatives with the events of the Nazi era. Dealing with this topic and exchanging ideas with other relatives helped her to develop more understanding for her mother and grandmother. Her experiences were categorized by the historian Maria Buko, who conducted interviews with several relatives of Polish victims of Nazi persecution as part of her dissertation.

Associations and initiatives introduce themselves

Afterwards, various associations and initiatives in which descendants of concentration camp prisoners have organized presented themselves. This year, the Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme (AIN), the Young Committee of the AIN, the Amicale Belge de Neuengamme, the Belgian NCPGR Meensel-Kiezegem 44, and the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Neuengamme provided information about their general work and current projects.

In the afternoon, the focus was on artistic approaches to dealing with the topics of perpetration and followership in one's own family. In her play "Opa!", Ilka Vierkant breaks the silence she experienced in her family and deals with the guilt of her grandfather. In her experience, the expressive approach can be helpful in entering into a conversation with third parties. Jan and Sophia Firgau turned their great-grandmother's diary into a scenographic exhibition. Their aim is to focus on the world of thought of a "follower," which tends to be overshadowed by the debates surrounding perpetration.

Restitution of effects

Another panel presentation and subsequent discussion dealt with the restitution of personal belongings of former concentration camp prisoners, so-called "effects." Historian Anja Hasler reported on how the “effects” came to be kept in the first place and what paths they took after the concentration camps were dissolved. Nieves Cajal Santos and Sandra Polom both received "effects" back from deceased relatives and talked about how much this had influenced their personal and familial confrontation with their respective family histories.

In conclusion, the importance of active listening and dialog within the different generations, between people with different family backgrounds and origins, but also the importance of a "division of labor" in the commitment against the right, against anti-Semitism, and against racism in the present, was emphasized.

Report: Regine Wölfle and Susann Lewerenz

Conversation with children of Nazi persecutees from Hamburg about family memories of resistance and persecution
Information from the Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme
Panel on Polish remembrance culture from the perspective of descendants of former political persecutees from Poland
Artistic approaches to perpetration and followership in families
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