„Reflecting Memories. Commemoration, cultures of remembrance and historical-political education concerning Shoah, Roma-Holocaust, National Socialism and Second World War in international youth exchange“

Juliane Niklas, BJR

Ingolf Seidel, LaG

The initiators propose a shared project conducted in cooperation with the bilateral agencies for youth exchange and further partner organizations, primarily memorials and sites of former concentration and extermination camps. The project idea as well as the pedagogical need for such a project are explained below.

 

The transnational project „Reflecting Memories. Commemoration, cultures of remembrance and historical-political education concerning Shoah, Roma-Holocaust, National Socialism and Second World War in international youth exchange“ aims to get into contact different institutional players active in the field of international youth exchange as well as to strengthen the discussion on the importance of commemorating Shoah, Roma-Holocaust, the German occupation and other national socialist mass crimes within youth exchange. Furthermore the project aims to provide teachers, educators and youth leaders practical with support for implementing commemoration and to organize processes of remembrance in youth encounters.

 

As a tool for the exchange and as a basis for providing methodological-didactical suggestions the initiators propose a multilingual website offering thematical suggestions, information about the different countries and their culture of remembrance as well as suggestions for self-reflection. A social media tool could also provide the opportunity to network, to communicate with international partners and to facilitate an exchange of experiences. To the initiators it seems that such a shared website is quite up to date, but they also want to give the possibility do discuss other non-digital formats of publication such as handbooks, brochures etc. with the project partners. Apart from this the initiators propose trainings for teachers and youth workers.

 

Realization of history in international youth exchange

 

International youth exchanges are often rather subtle affected by the representation / realization of history. Especially the remembrance of National Socialism, Holocaust and World War II as part of the collective memory in particularly comes to the surface where the issue is not explicitly brought up. At the historical places of national socialist policy of exclusion and extermination, usually at the concentration camp memorial sites, the debate about this topic becomes present, especially in bi- and multilateral contexts. Remembrance and commemorative rituals, usually characterized by different historical, national or religious backgrounds, can lead to sustainable irritation in group process among the accompanying teachers, pedagogues, and not least among the young people themselves:

 

-          For Israeli participants of youth meetings it is a matter of course to carry their flag to carry during commemorative ceremonies at memorials with and to sing the national anthem as part of the ceremony, while mainly German participants are often irritated about these national symbols.

 

-          For Polish youth the incorrect classification of Auschwitz as a "Polish concentration camp" understandably represents an impertinence.

 

-          Experiences with young people from Bosnia show that sometimes their own personal, family and perceived as a collective Bosnian experiences of war crimes during the Yugoslav wars are associated in a direct relationship with the suffering of the victims of German National Socialism.

-          At the same time the notion towards German youth, to adopt National Socialism as their "negative property" (Jean Améry) must not lead to the exclusion of young people from immigrant families, nor can be demanded of them to appropriate and accept a German “dominant culture" as well as a narrative of a "German" national myth.

Challenges for group leaders

 

In the encounters different national, religious and other group-related narratives as well as  individual and collective designs of identity play an important role. They are joined by several current and historical backgrounds of the societies of origin of the participants. Pedagogues are challenged when during international encounters  participants with family biographical backgrounds of perpetrators and followers meet  participants from families of persecuted and victims, former partisans, soldiers, helpers, collaborators from formerly occupied or neutral countries. The participants might raise questions about their own identity designs, on their positioning towards collective narratives, but also about the relationship to responsibility, guilt and defensiveness and not least how to deal with the history of the own family.

This diversity of narratives and forms of remembrance can be taken up as an issue, when it isn’t about setting certain views on history, but to discuss the interpretation of history within the group process. Up to today neither pedagogics of history nor those of remembrance can provide us with experience and didactic assistance. In previous exchange research, the topics remembrance and commemoration are largely ignored.  

 

This complex situation as well as the lack of methodological considerations or even handouts requires not only a high degree of self-reflection for the accompanying pedagogues or group leaders. Beyond knowledge about the historical background knowledge about the actual background and current cultures of history and remembrance is asked for.

Within the exchange the conflict between national and group-related narratives conserning remembrance about National Socialism, Shoah, Roma-Holocaust and WWII should be taken more info account. The pitfalls of intercultural pedagogy that, based on concepts of multiculturalism, ie de facto on a essentialization of Culture should of course be avoided.

 


Especially in an international context it is not about allowing certain narratives to become hegemonic, but about raising awareness for different traditions, that aren’t necessarily national narratives. It is about different forms of changing perspectives. For this it is essential to know what perspectives on Shoah, Roma-Holocaust to German occupation, the Second World War, but also on collaboration the others do know and have.

Objectives and methodological- didactic approaches


One of the aims of the project is to sensitize young people pedagogues for the character of different cultures of commemoration and remembrance and to contribute to the development of a reflected historical consciousness concerning the various forms of commemoration. The initiators consciously define the project's topical limits to Second World War and National Socialism with the specific crime complexes.

As a tool for the exchange and as a basis for providing methodological-didactical suggestions the initiators propose a multilingual website offering thematical suggestions, information about the different countries and their culture of remembrance as well as suggestions for self-reflection. A social media tool could also provide the opportunity to network, to communicate with international partners and to facilitate an exchange of experiences.

What the project is capable of doing and what it isn't


Possible phenomenological similarities between National Socialism and Stalinism in terms of power structure cannot and must not lead to a reduction in the sense of the totalitarianism doctrine. Otherwise there is the danger of levelling the remembrance of the victims and of those persecuted by the Nazi terror in a non-specific discourse.

Similar considerations apply concerning the expulsion of Germans from the various eastern states of postwar Europe. This question will not be dealt with as it is important not to mix up cause and effect.

On the significance for the Bavarian Youth Council (BJR):

 

There is still a great difficulty to imagine an appropriate manner, in which non-Jewish Germans commemorate the Jewish victims of the Shoah. The handbook "Commemorating together – building bridges" is an important element for the commemoration in the German-Israeli youth exchange and is seen as a useful and helpful by the users, but it deals exclusively with the commemoration ceremony itself resp. with allowing the German participants to take part in an Israeli ceremony. Especially in cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe remembrance an commemoration needs to go beyond. We have to raise the question of how to deal with historical perpetrators or accomplices, as well as the victims' perspective.

The job position as a "consultant for international youth work and student exchange with Central and Eastern Europe" is unique in Germany. The BJR has so to speak to take the lead, at the same time there is a certain responsibility to propose and implement possible themes for these constellations of multilingual exchange.

 

 

 

Cooperating institutions:

Bavarian Youth Council (Bayerischer Jugendring, BJR)
Agency for Education - History, Politics and Media, registered association (Agentur für Bildung e.V.)