Christian Herrmann

Not Just History: Keeping the Memory Alive

By invitation of the Federal Foreign Office, 20 representatives from Greek communities that fell victim to Nazi-German atrocities during World War 2 and Jewish communities were in Berlin from 10 to 16 December to take part in a seminar organised by IJAB. They focused on the question of how war crimes and the Holocaust are commemorated in Germany and how the memory of a shared history can be integrated in the German-Greek youth exchange.

Minister of State Michael Roth (centre) with representatives of Greek and German civil society, 15 December, Berlin
Minister of State Michael Roth (centre) with representatives of Greek and German civil society, 15 December, Berlin BildImage: Christian Herrmann   Lizenz: INT 3.0 – Namensnennung CC BY 3.0

The war crimes committed by Wehrmacht and SS on the civilian population during the German occupation of Greece in World War II are a chapter of history largely unknown in Germany. And only very few people know that one of Europe's largest and culturally most significant Jewish communities existed in Salonika until it was almost entirely annihilated by deportation to Auschwitz. In Greece, however, the past is firmly anchored in public awareness, and it is incomprehensible there that many Germans are entirely ignorant of the crimes committed in their name. This perception has intensified over the course of the Greek debt crisis – the demands of the village communities concerning reparation continue to be a cause of emotional public controversy.
The Federal Foreign Office has addressed the subject of historical commemoration of war and war crimes in several German-Greek seminars. During the first half of December, historians, artists, and youth workers were on the road in Germany, and one of the seminars – the one looking at remembrance within the context of youth work and a future German-Greek Youth Office – was prepared and run by IJAB on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office.
Because there was so little preparation time, the initial worry was that there would not be enough participants. But there was no need for concern: 15 places were available, and IJAB immediately received 90 applications. This, just like the German-Greek Youth Forum in Bad Honnef, again confirmed how much interest there is in a German-Greek youth exchange. The Federal Foreign Office generously increased the number of participants to 20.

On 10 December, 20 participants from Nazi-victimized Greek communities and Jewish communities arrived in Berlin to take part in the seminar run by IJAB. They were welcomed by Wolfgang Hoelscher-Obermeier and Albert Klein-Reihardt on behalf of the Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. The densely packed programme focused on the question of how Germany keeps the memory of war crimes and the Holocaust alive, and where this can link in with youth work. The programme included visits to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and its impressive Information Centre, the "Topography of Terror" exhibition, the Buchenwald Memorial, and German stakeholders who are already involved in exchanges with Greece or are planning German-Greek activities for the coming years.

The Franco-German Youth Office offered insights into the bilateral activities of a youth office and the multilateral German-French activities with the Balkans. The Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste) provided information on long-term voluntary services and work camps and the practical contribution they make towards reconciliation. In Steglitz-Zehlendorf, the local youth office was able to report on initial success stories concerning the training of young Greek apprentices in Berlin companies. The visit to the German Federal Youth Council (Deutscher Bundesjugendring) addressed structural problems concerning the further development of the German-Greek youth exchange: the Greek participants especially complained about a lack of structures for young people and a lack of youth policy in Greece. And where attempts had been made to create some structures, the constant austerity measures had cancelled them again. This, too, is a reality the German-Greek exchange will have to face: a lot of income has been more than halved as part of the national budgetary restructuring, the tax burden has increased drastically, and social security systems have been reduced to the point where they cannot provide security to anyone anymore. These measures have taken their toll on civic society, too.

One of the programme's high lights was a reception on 15 December at the Federal Foreign Office, in the presence of Minister of State Michael Roth. Also invited were the previously mentioned artists and historians taking part in other programmes funded by the Federal Foreign Office. And numerous representatives of German civic society were happy to take the opportunity to make contact and enter into discussions with the Greek visitors.
Minister of State Roth convincingly delivered the message that for him, strong relationships between Germany and Greece were a heart-felt concern, and that the German-Greek Future Fund that was supporting the three expert programmes was a practical consequence of his Foreign Office Department's policies. This notwithstanding, the Greek participants acted from a position of confidence and nothing other than requiring due recompense. To them, the demand for reparation for the victim's families is sacrosanct. But they also have a whole lot of suggestions about improving German-Greek relationships in the field of youth work, including more information at youth exchange level about their shared history, training for Greek youth workers, and German support for designing or extending social work university courses in Greece.

Currently, the respective ministries responsible for youth in Germany and Greece respectively are developing a joint concept for increased cooperation, which includes the establishment of a German-Greek Youth Office. IJAB supports the promotion of German-Greek youth exchanges by offering information, networking, and partner exchange facilities.

Lizenz: INT 3.0 – Namensnennung CC BY 3.0

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