The site of the Kaufering XI concentration camp was buried within the town limits of Landsberg, Bavaria. Local students worked to convince the town to make the site visible. The students surveyed and excavated the foundations of the camp administrative barracks and created a site map. After corresponding with survivors, the students created a public exhibition and pushed to have a memorial plaque placed at the site.
Student activities on the periphery and outside of the classroom, which are often undertaken independently and with deep personal commitment, frequently have an impact that extends beyond the years of formal schooling. Such an impact occurs, above all, when suitable occasions are used to enable the students to feel that they can make an important contribution in our society, solve problems responsibly, and provide the means of change through independent, goal-oriented, and specific projects that exemplify the pedagogical principle of "learning by doing."
Student interest, extending beyond the classroom, in the history of the Third Reich was awakened by a variety of activities: visiting the Landsberg prison, where the cemetery contains the graves of several concentration camp victims as well as war criminals who were sentenced to death by the Allies until 1951; visiting the remains of the former Kaufering VII subcamp; attending exhibitions about concentration camps; and meeting prisoner survivors who recounted their horrific experiences. It was thus obvious that, even fifty years after the end of the war, an entire generation would again focus on the concentration camps, a subject whose problems they had not fully confronted, and direct youngsters to explore the regional aspects of this phenomenon.
Subcamps at Kaufering
The group of subcamps at Kaufering is situated near Landsberg, partly within its city limits. Mostly Jewish women, men, children and youths (ca. 30,000), mainly from Eastern Europe but also from Greece, Italy, France, Spain and the German Reich, worked on the construction of three gigantic, subterranean shelter complexes for the monthly production of 900 Me 262 fighter planes. They suffered under horrible working conditions that resulted in about 14,500 deaths from hunger and exhaustion.
Mr. Rom, a survivor of one of the largest subcamps of Dachau concentration camp, who had suffered at Kaufering XI, told me that he had looked in vain to locate the place in order to pay homage to his dead comrades and to face this horrible past directly. But he could no longer find the camp and he was unable to identify the site.
Mr. Boerakker showed grade 9b harrowing photographs from the concentration camps. He assisted us in acquiring land registry office maps and aerial photographs of the camp from April 1945 and facilitated our contact with eyewitnesses and also with Mr. Schiebel, who rented the Stadtwaldhof [farm]. The latter presented us with the ax that he had found while plowing the soil of the former concentration camp, an ax used by concentration camp prisoners during construction work. He showed us the first visible remnants of the concentration camp and, together with another eyewitness, Mr. Limburger, told us about contact between the concentration camp and the Stadtwaldhof in 1944-1945, namely how concentration camp prisoners came daily to fetch bread and water. For this task, they used the same carts that were used to transport the numerous corpses.
The students showed extensive support for the idea of making subcamp Kaufering XI visible by surveying and excavating the concrete foundations of the administrative barracks and displaying the results in a systematic exhibition for the school and an interested public audience.
Nearly one-third of class 9b participated regularly during their free time in looking for the remains of camp XI. The history project group visited the site once a week, giving up time that could have been spent swimming with other students. Moreover, the group members corresponded with survivors throughout the world. During the following school year, they donated their time and energy and made substantial progress in the.archeological dig and in constructing the well-received exhibition, "We are making a concentration camp visible." This exhibition was reviewed positively in the local and wider press [see Documents].
During the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Kaufering-Landsberg, more than 100 survivors who visited the site found an important, special new feature; because of the students' efforts, it was now possible to find camp XI, to remember the victims and to pray there. The students also deserve special mention because it was they who initiated the suggestion that the town of Landsberg erect a memorial at the location of the former subcamp.
The project leaders were not concerned with public success, but always with having the students experience contemporary history and encouraging the youngsters' sense of responsibility and intellectual and emotional confrontation with this difficult segment of our present. We realized that this work was not always easy. But the project had important results for all involved. The students not only expanded their historical knowledge, but also experienced the satisfaction of public involvement, especially by changing things in their neighborhoods.