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Bicycling the Death March Trail

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details place/state: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania INSTITUTION: Landesjugendring AUTHOR: Wolfgang Klameth age group: 16 years and older learning activities Encountering eyewitnesses Field trip to a memorial site Linking past and present Reflecting forms of remembrance Researching local history topics Death march Neustadt-Gleve Ravensbrück Sachsenhausen Sub-camps Wöbbelin

In 1996, an umbrella organization of youth groups in Schwerin along with "Memorial Work in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania" began offering bicycle tours in order to encourage interest in the region and its history. Tour itineraries emphasize historical sites from the Nazi era, e.g., commemorative stones recalling the death marches from Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. Participants also visit the Wöbbelin and Neustadt-Glewe memorials.

Introduction

Why is our approach to political education for youngsters in non-school settings and memorials somewhat different? The headlines in the media on the subject of "youth" provide enough explanation for the increase in political education of youngsters in non-school settings. But this background can result in the danger that this educational prototype will be seen as an all-purpose panacea for all of society's problems.

How does one reach the young? Political education must, more than ever, offer openness, discussion, dialogue, and authenticity and has to take place in an open climate without authoritarian structures. It must offer possibilities for social change that are also supported by adults. Cooperative, interdisciplinary education must have local and regional links including authentic political encounters. Consequently the sponsors of youth education must work closer together. Therefore the Landesjugendring, the umbrella organization of all youth associations and the project "Memorial Work in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania" at the Akademie Schwerin e.V. [Schwerin Academy] cooperate in this field.

Bicycle Tours

We offer bicycle tours through Lewitz, south of the state capital of Schwerin the Darss peninsula, and the "Fischland," situated at the Baltic Sea. These tours are meant to encourage interest in this region, its history, events, and people. The focus of these trips are historical sites from the Nazi era as a means of encouraging dialogue about the past and how we deal with it.

Tour through Lewitz

During the first trip we got to know Lewitz and its beautiful countryside with forests, gigantic meadows, canals, and fishponds. In the state capital, Schwerin, the participants encountered memorial plaques for the death marches from Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen, visited the memorials at Wöbbelin and the former Ravensbrück sub-camp at Neustadt-Glewe. We were surprised at Neustadt-Glewe that references to this dark side of local history were cryptic and obscured, despite the existing physical remnants of the camp. In Wöbbelin, we learned that the new route for the Transrapid [high-speed train] between Hamburg and Berlin would cross the grounds of the former concentration camp. We examined the original concentration camp site of Wöbbelin. The participants on this trip were surprised to learn how remnant former sites of Nazi criminality and terror were handled. Both of these authentic locations played no role in local commemorations in the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany). During this trip, the idea of a work camp at Wöbbelin - to document the remains of this former camp - was born. This work camp successfully took place in early October 1997.

Trip through Darss

During the second trip, we wanted to explore the Darss and "Fischland" and deepen our historical knowledge. We were even more successful in encountering authentic history on this tour. We owed this to the initiative of Helga Radau from Barth and Pastor Apel in Zingst. Both established contact with eyewitnesses to local historical events, who answered the questions of the participants on our trip. We visited the memorial for the victims of Barth concentration camp and the monument for Stalag Luft 1 (a prisoner of
war camp for American and British pilots). In Zingst, we learned about Pastor Gerhard Krause, arrested by the Nazis in 1944. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had visited Zingst and was in contact with Pastor Krause.

At Zingsthof we were surprised to be allowed to see an original photo album from the 1930s that enabled us to understand more about the Zingsthof, where both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Kurt Gerstein worked for a short time. We were especially fascinated by Gerstein's fate, since he entered the SS, although he was active in the Confessing Church, in order to make the crimes of the SS public knowledge. Gerstein failed because no one abroad wanted to know the truth about the killing centers.

The participants will also not forget the tour of the grounds of the north Pomeranian national park on the Darss-peninsula in the dazzling sunshine. The trip continued through Ahrenshoop and Gelbensande to Rövershagen, which was our last destination.

Conclusion

The organizers concluded self-critically that participation on the second bicycle trip was moderate. There were many explanations for this. For 1998, we will work mostly with partner groups and organizations, since we had discovered that there was little interest for the trips through open registration. However, those who participated in the trip were personally motivated from the start to be involved with this subject. Encouragement was necessary only for a few kilometers of the trip. The trips included intensive work on historical themes, including locating traces of history and discussions about their experiences. There was also a congenial atmosphere on both trips with fun and relaxation on weekends.

 

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