PESC-2: Education towards violence free communication and conflict solution 
Christiane Lähnemann: Israeli, Polish and German youths visit Auschwitz together

For twelve days (14-- 26 March 2002) they met: ten pupils from Givat Gonen High-School in Jerusalem (Israel), ten from St. Zeromski-Lyzeum in Strzegom (Poland), nine from Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium in Weil der Stadt (West-) and seven from Norbertusgymnasium in Magdeburg (East-Germany) with two teachers for each group. Four days they spent together in Auschwitz/Oswiecim.

„Reflections on history - a path to the future“ was the title of their project which was organised by the four schools, the „International Youth Meeting Place“ in Auschwitz, the „Municipality of Jerusalem“, the „Landeszentralen fuer politsche Bildung“ (State institutions for Political Education) in Sachsen-Anhalt and Baden-Wuerttemberg and the „Evangelische Jugend Magdeburg“ (Protestant Youth of Magdeburg). Besides the project was funded by the „Deutsche Kinder- und Jugendstiftung“ (German foundation for children and youths), ConAct (Coordination-Center for Israeli-German Youth Exchange), DPJW (Center for German-Polish Youth Exchange) and Lotto-Toto Sachsen-Anhalt.

The international group met in Strzegom, the home-town of the Polish pupils where the families of 10 Polish participants hosted 26 guests from abroad! Everybody was impressed by the Polish hospitality! In the evenings there was a social program, during the day we had discussions in internationally mixed groups about „When and how did I first learn about the holocaust“ and „concepts of nationalism in Israel, Poland and Germany“. Besides we went to Wroclaw together where we visited the Jewish cemetery and the rebuilt synagogue as well as the City Center around the market place. 

When we headed for Oswiecim after the first three days the young people knew each other well enough to be willing to share rooms with participants of the other nationalities.
The first day in Oswiecim we started with a visit of the Jewish Center, the Polish City and the Jewish cemetery. - Not planned at all the young people started to clean the cemetery from plastic bags lying around and grass on the paths. They helped all together and were happy to do something useful in this meaningful place.

The guided tours through the camps - with excellent guides – were in uni-national groups in Polish, German and English. Reflection, however, was done in internationally mixed groups: The young people made posters together, they wrote texts, drew pictures and read „The Investigation“ by Peter Weiss in two languages.

To learn about life in the camps we had a talk with a very special survivor: Jurek Bieljetsky had succeeded in fleeing from Auschwitz – disguised as SS-officer – together with his Jewish girl-friend. They both survived but lost sight of each other, living in America and Poland each one believing the other one was dead until they found each other again in the eighties. Jurek Bieljetsky was honoured as „Righteous among the Nations“ in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. He told us his amazing story in Polish, being translated to English, and included many details about life and death in the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

We had two ceremonies: The one in Birkenau was prepared by the Israeli group. As a place for their ceremony they chose the former washrooms called „Sauna“ where today is an exhibition of family pictures of people who had been killed in the gas chambers. These impressive photo-collection gives these people back their faces and their identity. 
The Israeli group was standing in front of the huge wall with photographs. They read texts of people who had been in the camps, they recited poems, sang a song and the National Hymn of Israel. The others participated by watching or reading the texts in an English or German translation. After the ceremony the Israeli youths invited the whole group to sit down in a circle and share their impressions and feelings. It was moving to see how the young people comforted each other in their grief about what had happened in this place.
The second ceremony was prepared by the Polish and German group. It took place in Auschwitz I, in the Polish exhibition. The young people read texts and sang songs in German, Polish, English and a few in Hebrew. „Die Todesfuge“ by Paul Celan was recited by Polish, German and Israeli pupils, each of them reading part of the poem in their own language. 

A special experience was sharing the interviews with grandparents about their experiences in the time of National Socialism that the pupils had made in preparation for the project. The discussion groups were like a very personal history lesson! When we heard about the German grandfather who had been active in the Nazi youth organisations we talked about the influence of Nazi education on young people. A Polish grandmother had been for labour work in Germany - we explained the Nazi politics towards Poland (no more education than four years of school in German to have a people of servants). This was new to the Israeli group members: „I didn’t know that the Polish suffered so much!“ An Israeli boy told about his grandmother who had lived with a fake identity in Amsterdam, but finally was recognised and deported to Auschwitz.... „I never talked to my grandmother about it. My mother told me her story. But now I’m going to talk to her!“ Another Jewish grandmother had been deported to Siberia, friends told her not to go back to her home in Poland after the war because there had been Polish pogroms against Jewish people. This was a harmful subject to discuss. But there was also the Polish grandfather who had hidden three Jewish children in his home and later convinced them to fight with him with the partisans against the Nazis.
The discussions were serious and profound. The contact among the participants became more intense through the discussions. This intensity you could also feel during other activities: When we had a dinner with Klezmer-concert in Krakow the young people were so involved with the music (clapping and dancing with it) that the Klezmer-group came back several times to continue their performance.

Whereas the party in the beginning of the project didn’t really start all evening – the only highlight was a Polish folkdance performance that included everybody in a Polka – the party in the end in Magdeburg started right away with all of the young people being included in dancing and talking – a very special atmosphere.

The program during the days in Krakow, Magdeburg and Berlin was too crowded: we had guided tours through the Jewish Quarter and the City of Krakow. We had talks in the Jewish Center in Krakow and the Jewish Community in Magdeburg. We visited the „Centrum Judaicum“ in Berlin and had a guided tour in the Jewish Museum. We got a lot of interesting information and insights but it was just too much to take in.

Being together with the new friends, talking, taking pictures... was more important. The young people absorbed every minute they could be together. So they got very little sleep during the last days. Thus everybody was completely exhausted in the end but also satisfied with all the experiences and contacts of the twelve days together. 
Very happy about all the new friends and new relationships and at the same time awfully sad to have to separate again the young people said farewell to each other at „Bahnhof Zoo“ in Berlin, where one group after the other had to leave.

„Next year in Jerusalem“ was a serious wish when we said „good bye“. If the political situation allows there will be second meeting of the trinational group in the next school year in Israel. Jewish history did not end in Auschwitz but is continued everywhere in the world and especially in the State of Israel where Jewry found a new identity which we hope can coexist with the Palestinian identity. To learn about this conflict will be one of the issues of our second meeting. Our partner in Israel is experienced in working for Israeli-Arab understanding as the „Municipality of Jerusalem“ regularly organises Israeli-Arab youth exchanges with France and Switzerland with Jewish-Israeli pupils from Givat Gonen High-School and Arab pupils from Beit Zafafa High-School. So we can learn from them about the current conflict and the efforts for understanding in Israel today. Of course we will also deal with the importance of the holocaust in Israel today by visiting Yad Vashem and having a study-day in the Ghetto-Fighters’ Kibbutz. And what is most important: We want to meet again, intensify our relationships and friendship and walk a few more steps on the „path to the future“. 

Back to Report 2001/2002 "A Soul  for Education"