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New subjects for education

Tour through Trutzhain.

The Hessian State Centre for Civic Education, in collaboration with the Political Education Authority of the State of Thuringia, issued invitations to a training event from 16 to 19 October 2013. 25 educators from a variety of types of school met in Oberaula to address the issue of Nazi persecution and the survivors, so called Displaced Persons (DPs), under the main theme "From the early concentration camp to the DP camp: Breitenau and Trutzhain in northern Hesse". The International Tracing Service (ITS) was involved in the seminar with a presentation.

During the training event, the participants visited the Breitenau and Trutzhain memorials. Built in 1939 on green fields as Stalag IX A, prisoners of war from Poland or France, for example, were imprisoned in Trutzhain until their release in 1945. Later, prisoners from the Soviet Union and the Italian soldiers identified as "Italian Military Internees" were also detained there. The camp administered up to 50,000 people, of whom approx. 11,000 were permanently in the camp. The rest of the prisoners were obliged to do forced labour. After their release, the site was initially used as a "Civil Interment Camp" for the defeated Germans. Finally, the barracks became a transit area for Jewish survivors from Poland, in particular, as a DP camp.

Renowned speakers such as Wolfgang Benz, who gave an analytical presentation of the camp system of National Socialism, or Mark Spoerer, who spoke about forced labour in the areas of Europe occupied by Germany, show that these events organised by the two Political Education Authorities have a reputation far beyond the boundaries of the two states. At the same time, a subject came to the fore at the conference which is hardly discussed to this day: "antisocial elements" in National Socialism. In addition to the Sinti and Roma who were stamped "anti-social" en masse and taken to concentration camps or murdered, the ITS also deals intensively with one of the groups that had a stigma imposed on it in such a way.

During the training event, Susanne Urban from the International Tracing Service spoke about the institution and its origins and then went into the particular situation of Jewish DPs. Unlike those who were repatriated and found structures that they could take up, the Jews were generally confronted with the total destruction of the worlds in which they lived. It was apparent that the educators from Thuringia, in particular, have a great demand for information on this subject. After all, on the one hand, there were no DP camps in the Soviet occupation zone and, on the other hand, Jews were not recognised as a separate group of victims in the GDR. The participants showed great interest in the educational programmes of the ITS and the exhibition on DPs advertised for 2014.

The training event was also enriched by a talk by Fritz Brinkmann-Frisch, who, as the Director of the Documentation and Information Centre in Stadtallendorf, promoted the study of the mass forced labour in the town. Klaus Ahlheim addressed the structures of memory of National Socialism in the East and the West and the issue of whether memorial tours can serve as a preventative measure against right extremism.

The conference clearly showed that subjects that are outside the usual focus – from marginalised groups of prisoners to DPs – awaken curiosity in education and should be implemented in curricula. The participants were agreed that the ITS, with its collections that have been included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, can make a significant contribution to bringing inspiration to education.