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Wolfhagen Pupils Starting in on a History Workshop on Nazi Persecution

In mid-November, a group of pupils from the “Filchner” comprehensive school at Wolfhagen began working on a project titled “The Terror System of National Socialism – the Fates of the Victims” at the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS). The history workshop that 16 pupils attending the 10th and 11th forms took part in analyses above all the biographies of persecuted persons coming from the surroundings of North Hessian Wolfhagen. “You have another, a more direct and immediate approach to the subject if people from the surroundings you are familiar with are concerned. After all, we do live here and so the remote subject, all of a sudden, turns into a present-day topic”, says 17-year-old pupil Paula Schröder.

Among the topics discussed by the history workshop are the organisation of the terror system and the concentration camps, forced labour in Northern Hesse as well as victims of persecution and displaced persons in the Wolfhagen region. Paula and her classmate Claudia Wihelm had a look at the fate of Jewish families from Wolfhagen. “So far, we have only known the Jewish cemetery and a monument, but now we can investigate in the ITS archives the biographies of the families who actually lived here”, relates the pupil.

Walter Hammermeister and Magnus Knoll volunteered to sift through the archives in order to find evidence on Russian forced labourers. “I have been shocked by the dimensions of forced labour at Wolfhagen and Volkmarsen. I had imagined forced labourers to live and work in a town like Kassel”, reports 17-year-old Walter. The two adolescents want to concentrate their research interest to a Russian family who had been working for the former brickworks’ owner “Rumpf” in Volkmarsen. “You wonder at how long and comprehensive the name lists on forced labourers are. At the same time, you will find it difficult to search for the firms. Most often, they do not exist any more, and there is hardly any information on them on the Internet”, so Magnus.

Teacher and project manager Marcus von der Straten considers the pupils’ pursuing research in the archives to be an experience of consequence for them. “It is uncharted territory differing in any case from the somewhat ‘pre-fabricated’ information provided in their school books.” Some of the documents prove to be nearly illegible, the search for the place names in the ITS archives that have hardly been described yet is still tricky and complicated, and there is only fragmentary information on single biographies. “This makes the pupils feel first some frustration so characteristic of a researcher’s or scholar’s life and second his need of always having to use several sources and archives”, so von der Straten. “But it is worthwhile in any case, and we have managed to compile some interesting results.” The crucial factor is to prepare the pupils for the project and to prevent the group from getting too large.

Taking co-charge of the pupils’ group, ITS historian Dr Susanne Urban goes to see Wolfhagen again for a project day early in January. The results of the history workshop will become integral part of an exhibition that the “Filchner” comprehensive school at Wolfhagen will show to the interested public in February 2011.