Learning from German history – Reconciliation and Remembrance

|   Aktuelles, Seminare, Veranstaltungen

From 9 to 12 October 2022, 23 students from all KAAD regional departments met at the Alte Feuerwache in Berlin to learn more about and draw lessons from German history.

In an introductory lecture, Carla Sperandio, KAAD intern, and Markus Leimbach, Head of the Eastern Europe Department of KAAD, gave an overview of German history up to 1989. The second day began with a lecture by Christine Hoffmann, General Secretary of Pax Christi, who exemplarily used the contacts with the French town of Mailly to show the difficulties and opportunities of the church's reconciliation work after the end of the Second World War. She also shed light on the background of this reconciliation work and made clear that reconciliation and remembrance work takes a lot of time: Time to remember, time to reconcile, time to accept and time to acknowledge guilt.

In the second lecture by Corinna Jentzsch from the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" - a foundation through which the state, business and society take responsibility for the suffering of forced labourers under the National Socialist dictatorship - it became clear in what ways the German state is committed in this area.

The afternoon began with a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial to understand what the separation of Berlin meant for the people affected, but also for life in the city. Afterwards, the group went to the German Bundestag for a discussion with Nicole Westig, FDP member of German parliament for the Rhein-Sieg district, who discussed her work in the Bundestag with the group and showed great interest in the scholarship holders' concerns about current political conflicts in their home countries. The day ended with a lecture in the plenary hall of the Bundestag and a visit to the glass dome of the Reichstag. Especially the view of Berlin's evening sky was very impressive, just as remarkable as the experience that the German Bundestag works into the night hours and the dome is open for visitors until midnight.

The last day of the seminar took the group first to the Plötzensee memorial. Here, during the National Socialist dictatorship, almost three thousand people were executed who had been wrongly convicted by the judicial system in place at that time. In particular, people from the German resistance - such as the Red Chapel, a network of resistance fighters against National Socialism - were executed there. From the memorial, the path of remembrance led the group to Maria Regina Martyrium - the "Memorial Church of German Catholics for the Victims of National Socialism", built to commemorate the victims of the National Socialist system of injustice. Sister Myriam OCD led the group through the church and explained the various elements, for example the Pieta in front of the crypt, the image of the Virgin Mary on the outside wall or the special feature that the churchyard is replicating a prison yard due to its enclosure with concrete walls. The painted altar wall is particularly impressive, allowing many interpretations - an effect intended by the painter.

In the crypt of the church, the group celebrated a service together with Fr. Prof. Dr. Ulrich Engel OP, spiritual advisor of KAAD. In the sermon, Fr. Ulrich remembered the victims of the regime of injustice in Germany and spoke of his personal encounters with a confrere who had been imprisoned in Plötzensee.

The seminar ended with an evaluation round in form of a World Café session in which the participants were able to discuss the seminar on the basis of four questions and consider what significance remembrance and reconciliation work could have for their own country. Especially for participants from countries currently at war, it was difficult to imagine thinking about reconciliation with the aggressor. From the victim's perspective, it is more difficult to think about a peace agreement than from the perpetrator's perspective.

The seminar was accompanied by morning meditations of the scholarship holders in different forms - a common prayer, a pantomime performance or a breathing meditation.

During the days spent together in Berlin, the participants dealt with the most difficult hours of German history, but also gained many impressions that can contribute to reconciliation work in their own contexts.

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