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Workcamp in Wöbbelin

Looking for new approaches to civic education, the statewide association for youth along with "Memorial Work in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania" started a work camp at the Wöbbelin memorial in 1997. Participants search for traces of the buildings and figure out how the camp was arranged by marking, photographing and mapping their findings. A second group documented the work in a video entitled, "So That the Grass Doesn't Grow Over It."

Concept

Eight years after the political changes in eastern Germany, the Landesjugendring [the umbrella organization of all youth associations in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania] and the project "Memorial Work in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania" at the Akademie Schwerin e.V. [Schwerin Academy] decided jointly to organize a work camp to look for archeological traces at Wöbbelin concentration camp. The partnership was formed as part of a search for new forms of political education for youth. We were prompted to participate because of a proposal to build a new Transrapid [high-speed train] route between Berlin and Hamburg, planned to cross the grounds of the former concentration camp. Although the train project was eventually prevented, it became clear to us that the public knew very little about the remnants that still existed at the former concentration camp. Furthermore, we wanted to try a work camp as a form of political education for youth from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Work camps are an essential component of international memorial work. We wanted not only to locate and document the remains of the camp with video technology, but also to publicize the work camp by working with the press. We sought professional assistance from the media department of the Landesfilmzentrum [State Film Center] and also consulted the journalist Simone Hantsch, who is active in the Förderverein der Mahn- und Gedenkstätten Wöbbelin [Association to promote the Wöbbelin Memorial].

Working Process

During the fall school recess from October 2-7, 1997, the participants in the camp included students from several 10 th -grade classes at the Borwin School in Rostock and one female student from the Goethe Gymnasium [high school] in Ludwigslust. We were surprised during the initial discussion that all of them wanted to learn more about local history through working in the camp. Because it was vacation time, we had expected them to want relaxation and leisure activities. But the history of Wöbbelin, which opened at the beginning of 1945 as a sub-camp of Neuengamme, moved the students emotionally, and the search for vestiges of the camp promised both discoveries and a concrete image of what had happened there.

Wöbbelin

Even in April 1945, Wöbbelin was the destination of many evacuation transports and death marches from other concentration camps. Exhausted prisoners languished under indescribable conditions. American troops liberated approximately 4,000 prisoners on May 2, 1945, but for many it was too late [see Documents]. More than 1,000 prisoners died, some perishing even after the liberation. After 1948, the barracks were torn down and the place of suffering was forgotten.

The students were divided into three sub-groups.

First Group

One group, called the "outdoors group," tried to find evidence and vestiges of the former concentration camp. These physical remains were marked, measured and photographed. We then attempted to document the locations of these discoveries as accurately as we could on a map.

A total of 20 items could be identified, including remnants of walls and foundations, sections of train tracks, pipes, and military equipment. Apart from the well-known building fragments near the latrine, we found traces of the temporary camp where the first prisoners, German skilled labor, and the SS guard troops were housed in February 1945. Several railway pieces were located at the former train branch line on the camp terrain.

Second Group

A second group learned the basics of making videos from two video teachers, Anja Weisz and Christoph Gagzow. They then developed a film concept and script and followed the work on the camp terrain with a video camera. The title of the film "… damit kein Gras drüber wächst" ["...So It Will Not Be Forgotten" (literally, "... So That the Grass Doesn't Grow Over It")] became the slogan of the entire work camp. This team spent the last two days of the camp editing the film in order to finish a rough cut, which was presented, literally in the last hour of the camp, to all the participants.

Third Group

A third team directed by Simone Hantsch focused on essential public relations during the work camp. This team wrote texts that documented the week in Wöbbelin, drafted press advisories and organized media relations at the memorial. Their efforts resulted in extensive press coverage in the local and provincial press. A documentation of the achievements of the work camp was published with support from "Mückenschweine" Publishing in Stralsund. All three teams worked intensely, sometimes late into the night, in order to complete their tasks.

Encountering a Survivor

Conversations with Mr. Kary, a Wöbbelin survivor, were very important for the work camp participants. His memories provided a vivid image of the human suffering linked to the remnants of the camp. Mr. Kary answered all our questions with openness and involvement. In doing so, he did not leave out his experiences after 1945, telling how he lived with his memories of the concentration camp and his status as a Jew in the German Democratic Republic.

Organisation

The arrangements and organization of the camp were directed by Wolfgang Klameth, education specialist at the Landesjugendring in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. He saw to it that the small amounts of leisure time were filled with original activities that helped chaperones and students to become better acquainted and even have a bit of fun. The Landesjugendring provided financial support for the six days at Wöbbelin. The housing and good food at the Wöbbelin road house also contributed to the project's success. Mr. Möhrer, the restaurant manager, did whatever he could to fulfill the participants' wishes.

Results

The students wanted to enter their project in the state competition "Überall ist Geschichte - Grabe, wo Du stehst" ["History is Everywhere: Dig, where you are"], a contest advertised as being under the patronage of Professor Gyula Trebitsch, a concentration camp survivor and film producer.

The organizers saw the successful youth project at Wöbbelin as preparation for a continuing project that would enable students to confront the theme of "Nazi crimes" in a non-traditional manner. Another work camp at Wöbbelin, to be held in conjunction with a Kulturwerkstatt [cultural workshop], was planned for July 1998.

 

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