The End of the War in Our Region


place/state: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
SCHOOL: Junior Secondary School
TRAINER: Regina Juretzko, Ute Augustat
Authors: Regina Juretzko, history teacher / Ute Augustat, education service of the Peenemünde Museum
age group: 14 years and older
subject: Art, Crosscurricular study group, History

learning activities
Creating an exhibition
Creating local historical references
Encountering eyewitnesses
Researching local history

Concentration camps
Forced labor

The Peenemünde Museum has been co-operating in a long-term project with the Regionale Schule Heinrich-Heine (regional school) in Karlshagen as an external partner since 2002/3. The project motto for this approach to regional history is "denkmal aktiv" (a play with words meaning either "active memorial" or "think actively"). In 2005, students worked on the exhibition "The End of the War in Our Region" for several months during their free time. They were supervised by their teacher and a staff member of the museum's education service. The exhibition was shown on the fourth floor of the museum at the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.

Peenemünde – a Place in Pomerania

Science and military entered a disastrous pact in Peenemünde. In 1936 the "Heeresversuchsanstalt" was built, a military research institute with an extensive rocket development and test site. Thousands of highly specialised experts, the most renowned among them Wernher von Braun, committed their expertise to the service of warfare technology. They developed and tested long-range missiles, cynically called "Vergeltungswaffen" (weapons of retaliation) by Goebbels. These so called "super-weapons" were supposed to grant technical superiority to Germany. The first launching of such a missile worldwide was accomplished at Peenemünde on 3 October 1942.
After a major attack of the British Air Force on the Peenemünde Heeresversuchsanstalt in August 1943, the production was moved to a bombproof mine called Dora-Mittelbau in the Harz Mountains. Here concentration camp prisoners had to construct the missiles under brutal conditions. About 20 000 people were killed in the course of the production. However, the "super-weapon" was not able to alter the course of the war.

During the Third Reich, Peenemünde was a central war area. Today, Peenemünde is a central place of remembrance and peace education.

The student project

As proposed by the museum's management, the preparation of a student exhibition on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, called "The End of the War in Our Region", started in January 2005. 15 students brainstormed together with their teacher and a staff member of the museum education service to come up with a list of topics to choose from. (Doc 1)

They finally chose the following topics to be presented at the exhibition:

  • Course of the Second World War (PP-presentation)
  • Peenemünde from 1939 up to 1945 (text boards/ time line)
  • The labour camps at Peenemünde (text and picture boards)
  • The dissolution of the Peenemünde Concentration camps (text and picture boards)
  • The fate of the concentration camp prisoners (text board)
  • Peenemünde after 8th May 1945 (Text and picture boards)
  • May 8 in the GDR (PP-Presentation, text and picture boards)
  • The end of the war in Pomerania (map)

Other boards on display at the exhibition:

  • Documentation of the museum's project "The End of the War in Our Region" (Press coverage and photographs)
  • That's us: the working group "denkmal aktiv"

The exhibition includes 3 stations with reports of contemporary witnesses. The text and picture boards are attached to racks that face each other in U-shape.
There are 12 more pages of text written by the scientific curator responsible for the exhibition.

Working groups for the different themes were already formed in January. The 15 students, aged 12 to 16, at first carried out some research on the Internet, in the catalogue of the permanent exhibition at the Pennemünde power station, in the catalogue "Gedenkstätten für die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus" (Memorials for the victims of National Socialism), in the museum archives and then went on to study further secondary literature. Some students secured important information through their parents or grandparents.

Most of the students' work was done directly at the museum. They said that the work outside the school at the historical site was a lot more productive than school lessons could possibly have been. This kind of direct research into the history of Peenemünde did not only stimulate productive co-operation and mutual understanding among the students, but also a deepened understanding of their region's past.
They composed summaries on all topics, which were then also translated into Polish and finally distributed as flyers at the exhibition.

Research work was completed in March 2005. Then there were other exciting but also complicated sections of the project to be tackled.

The recording of 3 interviews with contemporary witnesses (Doc 2) started in April 2005. The students prepared themselves to understand the life stories of the three interviewees, they developed questions und interview techniques. The interviews were taped and then edited with the help of experts.

Together with a museum staff member, the texts and the picture material were arranged on the exhibition boards in the weeks preceding the opening on 8 May 2005.
Between January and May 2005, the students were accompanied by a journalist of the local newspaper, who reported on the project on a regular basis (Doc 3).

A couple of days before the actual opening, the Deutschlandfunk (nationwide German broadcasting company) broadcasted a live report about the student project in its feature "FORUM PISA". Two presenters interviewed students, the supervising teacher, the museum director, the curator of the exhibition and the museum pedagogue.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the war a ceremony with speeches, exhibition openings and theatre plays took place at the museum's cultural hall. 8 May 2005 was also the International Museum Day, organised under the motto "Museums Build Bridges". Therefore, the memorial day coincided with the central event of the Museum Association of Mecklenburg West-Pomerania.

The opening of the student exhibition "The End of the War in Our Region" was one of the highlights of the day.

In the following weeks, the students organised guided tours through "their" exhibition for other students under the motto "students accompany students".
Thousands of visitors have seen this museum education project since its opening.

translated by Margrit Mueller