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"Being different. Outsiders in history“

a picture of Johann Borowczak
a picture of Johann Borowczak

Her entry piece for the 2014/2015 history competition of the German President led the pupil Morena Eckert to the ITS – here she reports on her project.

The theme of the 2014/2015 history competition of the German President was „Being different. Outsiders in history“. One of the entry requirements was to have either a family-related or a place-related connection to the chosen topic. Normally you had 6 months for finding a topic, doing the research, and then writing. However, because I didn’t find out about the competition until later, I only had about two and a half months. So I had to find an exciting subject as quickly as possible. My first idea was to write about the SPD in Hotzenwald, but I wasn’t satisfied with that idea for very long. I started looking for another topic and quickly stumbled upon one: I decided to write about handicapped/ill people who had lived in the period from 1933-1945. Because my great-great-aunt had suffered from meningitis as a child, leaving her with a mental handicap as a consequence, the family-related connection was there.

Genovefa was my grandmother’s aunt. Although my grandmother can remember her aunt very well, the 2 pages that her memories amounted to was not enough material for an entire entry piece for the competition. I had to look around for alternative sources and so I started reading a lot of books on the subject. But I didn’t want to write only about historical facts, I wanted to write about what it was like to have lived during those years. Because of my illness, I wasn’t able to leave the house at that time, so the search for reliable sources was not exactly easy. However, I did manage to find contacts that were able to tell me more about this period of time through accounts of their own personal experiences or about their own research. In this way I was able to bolster my report with additional witness testimonies and statements. I wrote to a lot of archives – luckily I was successful in contacting the ITS: even though I could not view the documents online, Mr. Akim Jah offered to send me copies of selected documents from the ITS Archive as a PDF. This was an unbelievable stroke of luck for me! Because of this I was able to mention in my report a young boy who had lived at that time: Johann Borowczak. I did, however, have some difficulties: for example it was often difficult for me to decipher some of the words in the files. I also contacted a person in Poland in trying to find out more about Johann. Because of this language barrier it was impossible for me to find out more about him. In the case of another person who could be found in the ITS Archive, Karl Ehrat, I searched a long time for descendants and found some points of reference. These, however, ended up petering out. From these experiences I have acquired an immense amount of respect for the work of historians – a respect I had certainly felt before, but not to this extent.

I have gained so much knowledge through this history competition, and have learned so much about that cruel time period. Something like that must never happen again! And it is our responsibility to make sure of this. In my writing I also drew parallels to today’s society, some of which were a shock to me. During the period of National Socialism, ill/handicapped people were isolated, forcibly sterilized, and murdered because they didn’t fit into the propagated image of humans, they couldn’t provide any services, or if so, hardly any, and they were considered “dispensable” for the “public health”. Today’s society is also performance-oriented: whoever doesn’t have any work quickly ends up isolated on the edge of society. That intelligence tests are carried out now (as they were back then) draws attention to the fact that performance plays an important part in life.

The western ideal of beauty also marginalizes those people who, because of an illness or handicap, have a different appearance. And the easily over-looked barriers in everyday life marginalize people and hinder them, an example of this being the impossibility for a person in a wheelchair to use local public transport or maneuver stairs.

With her entry piece „Behinderung/Krankheit: Ausgrenzung im Dritten Reich – mit verschiedenen persönlichen Schicksalen“ (Handicap/Illness: Marginalization in the Third Reich – with Different Personal Fates”) the author, Morena Eckert (19) is one of the prize winners of the 2014/2015 history competition of the German President. She was one of the state winners from Baden-Württemberg and won third place nationally. Since 2013 she has had to rely on a wheelchair. Since 2014 Morena Eckert has been a pupil of the Flex-Fernschule (Flex Distance Learning School) in Oberrimsingen, a school that provides instruction to pupils at home via written contact (learning letters). She was supported in her research for her report by the ITS Research and Education Department.