Young people in a club in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania often felt left out because they were nonconformists. Finding out about the former concentration camp for youth in Moringen awakened their interest in how young people were persecuted during the Nazi period. The club members met eyewitnesses, visited the exhibition "We Had Barely Begun to Live," and commemorated the young people who died at Moringen.
The Schweriner Volkszeitung [regional newspaper] carried a story on July 30, 1994 about the Nazi era, specifically about historic events in Moringen near Göttingen (Lower Saxony). Fifty years ago, there was a concentration camp at Moringen for the "re-education" of dissident youth to be Aryan Germans. An association of concerned former prisoners and involved citizens worked on the history of the camp and confronted local residents and visitors with the events that had occurred behind the closed doors of the camp.
The article made young people from the youth project group "Mitte" [Central] in Güstrow (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) aware of the subject. They, too, think of themselves as nonconformists due to their conspicuous clothing, music and lifestyle. After all, what young person is a conformist? For these reasons, they are at most tolerated, but not accepted, by those living near their youth club. A woman living next door once remarked to them, "Discipline and order would do the youth of today good!
In our day, you would have been dead long ago!"
Encountering Eyewitnesses in Moringen
Using telephone books, the youngsters found the contact person mentioned in the newspaper story. When they asked about historical events, they were spontaneously invited to participate in a meeting of survivors and eyewitnesses in Moringen. They spoke there with former prisoners, viewed the exhibition "Wir hatten noch gar nicht angefangen zu leben" ["We Had Barely Begun to Live"] [see Documents], and commemorated the prisoners who had not survived the camp.
The things that are part of normal life for these youngsters, such as finding school boring, cutting classes, dancing through the night in a discotheque, and having problems with parents, could have been considered crimes in Nazi Germany. Those who did not join the Hitler Youth or who listened or danced to swing music, which was considered decadent, could be denounced by teachers, apprentice masters, block wardens, neighbors, or acquaintances and confined in a youth concentration camp for "re-education." There the youngsters were registered by criminal biologists, selected and sometimes involuntarily sterilized. They were confined under humiliating conditions in overcrowded quarters and had to work to the utmost limits of their physical capabilities without adequate food. Curses, tortures and sadistic punishments for infractions of the camp regulations were the daily norm for prisoners.
Günter Discher reported to the Güstrow youngsters that he had been arrested because he had played swing music and was sent to Moringen for "re-education" [see Audio/Video]. Fernando Molde was arrested because he dropped out of his apprenticeship as a baker. Friedrich Laska's crime was that as a half-Jew he had an Aryan girlfriend.
It was important for the Güstrow youngsters to deal with this past history. Above all, they wanted to know about the experiences of youth under the Nazis because many of the prisoners were then the same age as they themselves.
Personal contacts to survivors were very important to the young people, enabling them to compare this information with classroom instruction. The comparisons helped them form their own opinions. Probably none of them could really understand how the survivors had felt, however. One 16-year-old noted that he already felt confined and caged because he served his apprenticeship in a small village. School discipline was humiliating to most of the youngsters participating in this program; they noted that they would probably not have survived such a concentration camp for youngsters.
They were astonished by the energy of former prisoners and their ability to discuss their experiences so that these events would not be forgotten. However, one could see that discussing this subject was painful for the survivors. Painful memories are revived and.feelings are awakened and re-experienced in the telling. The simpler solution would be to repress them, but that is exactly what they do not want to do. "I could not go to sleep in peace if I didn't know that what happened once will never come again," Friedrich Laska told us at the end of his account.
In order to learn more about the music of the swing youth, a swing party with swing music was part of the preparation for the trip. Günter Discher presented part of his record collection, which totaled 15,000 recordings with music from 1910 on. The film "Swing-Kids" was viewed, discussed and commented on by Günter Discher and the youngsters.
After the visit to Moringen, the youngsters also visited Ravensbrück concentration camp, inspected the jail cells there, listened to the experiences of formerly imprisoned women, and inquired about the camp for young women at Uckermark, located 1.5 kilometers away.
Trips to speak with survivors have become a regular institution, despite the absence of official subsidies. Donations and participant contributions finance these educational trips.
The youngsters prepared a video about their experiences, which was presented at a subsequent meeting with survivors. The film and the reports have motivated other youngsters to participate in this project.