The Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp – Annihilation Through Labour


place/state: Saxony-Anhalt
SCHOOL: Norbertusgymnasium Magdeburg (Secondary School)/ Alternative Youth Centre Dessau
TRAINER: W. Ernst, J. Müller, J. Jesiolkowski
Authors: Wilfried Ernst, teacher; Gerrit Heber, student; Jana Müller/ Jens Jesiolkowski (AJZ Dessau)
age group: 14 years and older
subject: Crosscurricular study group, History

learning activities
Creating local historical references
Encountering eyewitnesses
Interpreting historical images
Learning by research at memorial sites
Producing a film
Researching local history
Resurrecting biographies

Concentration camps
International youth encounter

This film project of the Alternative Youth Centre Dessau involving 9th grade students of the Norbertus-Gymnasium in Magdeburg took place from May to November 2002. The team produced a documentary of 50 minutes length about the concentration camp at Gross-Rosen, which was also broadcasted by the local TV station. Through their documentation of the life stories of two former Polish prisoners, the young people made a lasting contribution towards the remembrance of the victims of National Socialism.

Memorial Project in Polish-German Youth Exchange - Report by teacher Winfried Ernst

The St.-Jeromski-Lyceum in Strzegom/Poland and the Norbertusgymnasium in Magdeburg have been connected by many years of successful project-related youth exchange (see the German-language web site: Projekt einreichen–veröffentlichte projekte <Widerstand und Menschenrechte> by Winfried Ernst).
The project concentrates on the crimes of National Socialist Germany, but also on the historical and general possibilities of resistance against the abolishment of human rights and against state terror. The two central topics have one focus near Strzegom, at the memorial of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and its attached camps and another one in Kreisau, on the former estate of the Moltke family which has been turned into an international youth encounter centre.

On the part of the Norbertusgymnasium, 9th grade students take part in the exchange. The students from St. Jeromski-Lyceum are of the same age, but they are also selected according to their foreign language skills. To emphasise the youth exchange character and to broaden the opportunities for exchange among young people from both countries, it is aimed at accommodating the young people with guest families during their stay at Strzegorn and also – in a second project phase – during their stay at Magdeburg.

The youth exchange project has two aims: It aims at bringing together young people from the two countries, whose history has been characterised by violence and suffering for the last two centuries, and whose presence, in spite of much progress, is not entirely free of stereotypes and irritations. The violence departing from Germany reached its peak in the attack on Poland in 1939 and the following relentless repression of the Polish will of self-assertion during the war years.

The memorial of Gross-Rosen and Kreisau could thus become places of shared remembrance of those Polish and Jewish persons who – besides others – became victims of the National Socialist rule. At the same time, they could become place of a new sense of community.

In 2002, the trip was complemented by a film project, following a proposal and organised by Jana Müller of the AJZ Dessau. This project focused on accompanying the Polish and German young people on their way of learning and discussing about the memorial and the history of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and its victims.

The Film Project - Report by Student Gerrit Heber

Gerrit Heber is a student at the Norbertusgymnasium who took part in the film project in 2002. These are his impressions and observations.

Meeting the contemporary witnesses at the memorial was of great importance to me, for the Third Reich is now 60 years ago. But as the terrible crimes must never be forgotten and to prevent such situations from repeating (i.e. the development of the National Socialist dictatorship), it is important to inform people and to present the truth. A few years from now, there will be no more contemporary witnesses, and thus the life stories or the interview with contemporary witnesses was a special event fro me and a great chance to experience a clear and uncensored version of German history, even if it is told from a subjective perspective. It makes our film a historical source for future generations. It is special insofar as a film belongs among the sources that are more difficult to manipulate and because, thanks to the contemporary witnesses, it became a unique document of great importance for all people.

I was also motivated to take part in the project because of the technical side. We have grown up with modern technology, we are familiar with it and do not shy away from unknown equipment or software. When we agreed to take part, we did not know how much work it would really be in the end, but we were completely in our element using the cameras and we enjoyed the special responsibilities and privileges it gave us. Making films was not totally new to us; the special attraction and the challenge rose from mastering a more extended project with a serious background.

During our project trip, the entire class underwent the same programme. Collecting material for the film was a much more agreeable task than working out papers, however, it turned out that our group had to investigate different aspects of historical conditions more intensively. Our playful approach to the work as a "film team" made it easier for us to deal with the sometimes cumbersome historical facts and figures than for many others in our class.

The topic proved to be of great complexity. Therefore it helped a lot that the initiators of the film project, Jana and Jens of the Alternative Youth Centre (AJZ) at Dessau, had worked out a draft concept of the film. In principle, each member was involved in each step of the film-making, from collecting the material to the formulation of texts for the sound recordings to the final editing of the film at the Dessau local TV station and the design of the covers of the video cassette.

In terms of experiences gained through the project, it should be said that – besides the gain of knowledge through the study of historical sources and the guided tour of the memorial - the greatest gain lay in the practical implementation of the entire concept. Of course, we were touched by the fate of the victims. But as we are a later generation, we are not responsible or directly involved (we are at most indirectly involved through our grandparents), and therefore the project was primarily a matter of information. And as we had been informed about the magnitude of the crimes and the violence beforehand by various sources of information (e.g. books, visit to the memorial at the House of the Wannsee-Conference), the presentation of the events at the Gross-Rosen concentration camp did not hit us with full force.

Overall, the film project led to an intensified investigation of the topic, and we also had to learn that very often in the course of such projects, the devil is in the details, for example when the copyrights of pictures are concerned.

Non-School Educational Work of the Alternative Youth Centre Dessau - Report of Project Managers Jana Müller and Jens Jesiolkowski

The film project on Gross-Rosen involving students of the Norbertusgymnasium Magdeburg.

The project, focusing on the former concentration camp at Gross-Rosen, took place between May and November 2002. A co-operation between the school in Magdeburg and the Youth Centre in Dessau has existed since 2000. Besides joint events involving contemporary witnesses, a project week involving students from the Norbertusgymnasium and the AJZ took place, concentrating on the Euthanasia institute at Bernburg. The students developed an exhibition that was presented at their school. Furthermore, in co-operation with the Bernburg Memorial and the AJZ, they organised a commemoration ceremony for the Gross-Rosen prisoners who were murdered during the deportation to Bernburg, in the course of the "Sonderbehandlung 14f13" (Special Operation 14f13), and in the gas chambers. This was done on the occasion of commemorating 9 November 1938.

The idea of a film project was met with great enthusiasm. The staff of the AJZ had proposed it as an additional event in connection with the German-Polish student exchange at the school. While the subject teacher at the school was responsible for the preparation of the memorial project, the AJZ staff trained the students in filming and production techniques.

A one-week visit to the Gross-Rosen Memorial took place in June 2002. The guided tours of the main camp and the extension camps were filmed and the area was documented thoroughly on video and in pictures. The contemporary witnesses – both of them were former Polish prisoners – agreed to their statements being recorded. At the end of each day of shooting, the draft film material was evaluated and thus, the first version of the script and the editing script were developed step by step. At the same time, the research work was already on the way. Using the archives of the memorial proved to be especially effective. Apart from documents, historical photographs of the time shortly after the camp's liberation and numerous pictures of the SS could be filmed.

During their research, the students found out about political and Jewish prisoners from Saxony-Anhalt and especially about the connections between the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and the "Euthanasia" Killing Centre at Bernburg, which today has become one of the memorials in Saxony-Anhalt.

Therefore, this memorial was included in the programme for the young people from Poland when they paid their visit.

From June to December, the film team worked on the documentation at the AJZ and in the studio of the Offene Kanal in Dessau (local broadcasting station). The documentation was titled "Gross-Rosen - Extermination Through Labour".

The information on the system of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp provided in this fifty-minute documentary is of remarkably high quality. In the course of the project, the students changed from mere learners to imparters of knowledge and empathy. Documents 1 to 5 are extracts from the texts that were written and read by the students in order to explain the pictures and the narrative of the film, as well as extracts from the interviews with the contemporary witnesses.

The strength of the film lies in the fact that connections to local history were made (Doc. 2). The film makers dealt with the statements of the two former prisoners Tadeusz Sulima (Doc. 3) and Zbigniew Mazurek (Doc. 5) in a very empathic and responsible manner. The meeting with Mr. Mazurek took place in June 2002. He died a few months later. The last part of the film deals with the "legal prosecution" of the crimes after 1945 and with individual perpetrators. Among them was SS-man Johannes Hassebroeck, the last commander of the camp from 1943 to 1945, who hailed from Halle (Doc. 4).
The film team found it important to present the surviving perpetrators, of whom many remained unscathed after 1945, with the difficulties of living-on that the surviving victims had to face (Doc.5).

The very adequate setting of the film with music by Brahms and Verdi and Jewish liturgical songs should not go unmentioned.

With their documentary, the students made a lasting contribution towards keeping alive the memory of National Socialist crimes. In the course of the project, the students changed from mere learners to imparters of knowledge and commitment. Most important of all, they created a memorial in honour of the victims of National Socialism.

translated by Margrit Mueller