Tel: 00 357 99 966518
The conference room is packed at the Home for Cooperation – we have two speakers from Germany: One of them is Uwe Bader from the Osthofen former concentration camp, turned into a memorial and a documentation centre – he is the director there and he conducts the "Memory Work" in the Federal State Central Authority for Political Education Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. He is the director of the memorial places in Osthofen and Hinzert.
The other speaker is Magdalena Scharf from Action Reconciliation-Peace Services, a young woman from Germany who had been born and raised in Brazil and would travel the world, due to his father's job.
We have met here on the 16th of March 2013 Saturday morning in order to listen to Uwe and Magdalena on the topic: `Remembering history – A case study from Germany…`
I had met Uwe Bader back in 2009 when we had gone to have an activity about `missing persons` in Cyprus at the Osthofen former Concentration Camp. He was part of the German-Cyprus Forum and was hosting the 10th Anniversary Meeting of the forum there. We would have a whole day in this concentration camp about Cyprus… Hulusi Halit would come from Berlin with his paintings – Hulusi, a Turkish Cypriot painter who has been living in Germany since 1974, had read my book `Oysters with the missing pearls` and would paint a series of pictures about `missing` after that. We would exhibit his paintings at the Osthofen former Concentration Camp. We had gone together with my dear friend, Maria Georgiadou from Kythrea, Petros Souppouris from Palekythro and Huseyin Rustem Akansoy from Maratha to make a presentation about how we work together on the `missing persons` as an initiative coming from the grassroots.
Being in Osthofen former Concentration Camp was eerie – they had kept the camp as it was, changing very little, turning it into a memorial-museum. Upstairs you could see photographs and read about details and watch movies about what had happened at the camp. Artists had been invited to create their works of art and these works of art would be exhibited there permanently. This camp had been one of the very first camps and close-by was also Hinzert - There are exhibitions about the history of the period of 1933 to 1945 in the two memorial places… Hinzert was more `international`, having there prisoners from other countries and still there are some `missing` from Hinzert.
Osthofen former Concentration Camp took you on a journey in time and made you really feel what it had been like in Germany back in the times of the Nazis. They would take here groups of students and this would be part of the federal education system, to teach them about what had happened in the past. They would educate youngsters according to their age group, giving them information they could understand in line with their age.
I was really impressed with their work and put into my mind to try to bring Uwe Bader to Cyprus to speak especially to teachers about how they were `facing history` in Germany, what they had done and what was going on…
It took us four years to be able to have this seminar in Cyprus, with the help of Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Cyprus and Goethe Institute in Cyprus. Association for Historical Research and Dialogue would give us the conference room without any charge, as one of the organizers of the seminar and would offer us coffee. We would invite particularly Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot Teachers' Platform United Cyprus and members of "Together we can" – The Bicommunal Initiative of Relatives of Missing Persons and Victims of Massacres and War – that is relatives of `missing` persons from both communities to come to the seminar.
Uwe Bader would show us a film about Osthofen and Hinzert and their history and Magdalena Scharf would talk about her association `Action Reconciliation-Peace Services` and their work since 1958. Magdalena describes her association's work with the following:
`The appeal at the founding of Action Reconciliation in 1958 starts with acknowledging Germany's guilt for Nazi crimes.
Convinced that the first step towards reconciliation had to be made by the perpetrators and their descendants, the founders of Action Reconciliation pleaded that "the other nations, who suffered because of us, will allow us with our hands and with our means to do something good in their countries" as a sign of atonement and peace.
ASF/ARSP was founded as an organisation encompassing all of Germany, but the division of Germany soon impeded joint efforts: The association in the GDR and in West Germany followed different developments: with short-term voluntary services in Eastern Europe and long term volunteer services in Western Europe, Israel and the USA.
With Germany's unification, and a - sometimes painful - reunification process of the organization, staff, members and volunteers in the East and West have been working together to continue and further develop volunteer services under the name Action Reconciliation Service for Peace since 1991. ARSP participates in practical, equality-based dialogue between cultures, and tries to incorporate the consequences of the past into present-day interpersonal and international relations. It bases its work on the conviction that people - through common practical experience - learn to know and understand themselves and others better, are changed, and through this, create something new.`
When Magdalena started speaking, I was really impressed with what they have been doing: What they actually do is that they find young German volunteers to send to countries where Germany had occupied during the Second World War and these youngsters would work voluntarily for about a year in an old people's home or in a hospital – this is accepting responsibility for the crimes that `others` from your country had committed and it is like an `apology` by trying to do something good and trying to build a relationship with people from those countries who had been hurt in the past.
I started thinking: Why not try to create an infrastructure to send our youngsters to visit the refugee areas and speak with those who had lost their loved ones and their belongings during the conflicts in 1963 and 1974? Why not create an infrastructure where people from our communities in Cyprus can go and visit together old people's homes or hospitals and try to build relationships, listening to and also sharing what has happened in the past?
You might think that Cypriots don't need such an infrastructure since they don't have `hatred` against each other – my observation is that we lack infrastructures in this country for reconciliation, for facing our history, for teaching our youngsters objectively what has happened in the past and learning from each other.
Perhaps we could think more on how we can build an infrastructure to facilitate all of this for the sake of the future of our children…
Photo: Speakers at the seminar `Remembering history...`
(*) Article published in POLITIS newspaper on the 7th of April, 2013 Sunday.