Organisation: Roman Fröhlich; Mira Jovanović-Ratković; Peter Larndorfer; Cornelia Siebeck; Frank Wiedemann in cooperation with the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna (Dr. Bertrand Perz); Mauthausen Memorial; Mauthausen Archive; Austrian Society for Contemporary History
Date/Location: 2011-09-30 - 2011-10-04, Mauthausen Memorial
Fabian Schwanzar, Historisches Institut, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Kai Michael Becker, Fakultät für Sozial- und Verhaltenswissenschaften, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Marco Brenneisen, Mannheim
The workshop on history and memory of NS concentration camps has been organized annually since 1994 by Ph.D. candidates and former participants and has established itself as a well-known trans-European and interdisciplinary discussion forum for young scholars.
Under the title ”Center and Periphery. The Perception of NS Concentration Camps” about 30 participants assembled at the Mauthausen Memorial to discuss their current research projects on different aspects of the history and memory of the NS concentration camps. The workshop was financed by the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria, the Friede-Springer-Foundation, the Fritz-Thyssen-Foundation, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior and the Austrian National Union of Students.
The workshop included twelve lectures and several excursions (a guided tour through the Mauthausen Memorial, an excursion to the former camp Gusen and a city tour to Linz with a focus on the city’s history under National Socialism and aspects of memory culture) as well as a discussion with members of the paedagogical staff about the re-conceptualization of the Mauthausen Memorial.
RENÉE WINTER and PETER LARNDORFER opened the workshop by outlining the developments of and turning points within Austrian memory culture, with a focus on the Mauthausen Memorial. In the first decades after World War II, Austrian society’s “Externalisation” (M. Rainer Lepsius) of National Socialism was based on the assertion to have been the “first victims” of German aggression. At the same time, Austrian soldiers who had allegedly fought against the “Russian threat” were heroized. The debates about the Mauthausen Memorial can be understood as a symbol for these processes; on the one hand, the concentration camp Mauthausen was perceived as a site of National Socialist crimes, on the other hand, there was no examination of Austrian society’s involvement in these crimes and of the role of Austrian perpetrators. This schematic narrative of victimhood was reproduced in the permanent exhibition until the 1990s.
In the first part of the workshop, PhD projects focusing on the historiography of NS concentration camps were presented. DAGMAR LIESKE’s (Berlin) lecture dealt with the category of prisoners who were put into “security confinement” and arrested as ”professional criminals” in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. In her dissertation, Lieske wants to point out which images of criminality were common in the NS-system, how so called “criminals” came to Sachsenhausen and which role they played as inmates wearing the green triangle in the prisoner society of the camp. After 1945 the stigmatization of these former prisoners continued, with them being stereotypically described as criminals and excluded from any reparation. Consequently, this category of prisoners has been excluded almost completely from memory discourses in Germany. Lieske’s source-based study thus can close a research gap considering the hierarchy within the camp society and its reproduction after 1945.
JESSICA TANNENBAUM (Weiden) addressed the medical care in the concentration camp Flossenbürg in the context of physicians’ role in the NS “Selektionspolitik”. Her PhD project aims to close a research gap about Flossenbürg, dealing with the supply of medical care in the camp as well as with the biographies of the SS-physicians and the judicial prosecution after the war.
TANJA VON FRANSECKY (Berlin) and KOBI KABALEK (Beer Sheva) gave insight into their current research dealing with the transport of prisoners to and between concentration camps. Von Fransecky compared the escapes and attempted escapes of Jewish deportees from deportation trains in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. She discussed the possibilities and limits of those escapes drawing on the examples of two deportation trains from Mechelen (Belgium) and Drapy (France). Since very few survivors have explicitly reported about escapes from deportation trains after the war, Fransecky interviewed witnesses about their experiences and analyzed documents of the perpetrators such as police reports to find out about the role of the German “Schutzpolizei” in this context.
Kabalek analyzed the movement between the concentration camps from the perspective of the survivors and discussed the deportations as an important reference point of memory. His main focus was on the memories of Irena Liebman, who was interviewed by Kabalek in 2003 in the course of the international ”Mauthausen Survivors Documentation Project“.
BIANCA ROITSCH (Oldenburg) outlined the relation between “Volksgenossen” and so called “Gemeinschaftsfremde” (“Community Aliens”) in the surroundings of the concentration camps Bergen, Esterwegen and Moringen. Inspired by Sybille Steinbacher’s  researches on Dachau, the lecture’s main focus was on the perception of concentration camps by local actors. Roitsch goes beyond Steinbacher’s approach methodologically and theoretically by expanding her research to the post-war uses of the camp areas until the 1960s. In accordance with recent research efforts, “Volksgemeinschaft” is characterized as a social practice. In this context, Roitsch also explores ideological continuities in German society after 1945. The PhD project understands the concentration camps as a projection screen for the “bystanders’” formation of identity.
HENRIKE ILLIG (Bremen) analyzed the confrontation of British military with the local population after the liberation of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Arriving in Belsen on april 15th 1945, the British soldiers were deeply shocked by the dramatic situation in the camp. Illig illustrated the immediate reactions and measures taken by the soldiers due to these shocking first impressions and discussed the interaction between the liberators and the Germans in the surroundings of the camp.
The focus of the second part of the workshop was on the post-war history of the concentration camps and their transformation to memorials, those being aspects of holocaust-research that have come to the fore since the 2000s.
IRIS VAN OOIJEN (Amsterdam) showed that the former camps Vught, Amersfoort and Westerbork meanwhile have become established “national sites” within the memory culture of the Netherlands. In her talk she commented exemplarily on the various uses and reuses of the last remaining barrack 1b of camp Vught, in which Moluccan soldiers and their families had lived since the 1950s and that was used as a church by the Moluccan community from 1968 until only a few years ago. Van Ooijen specifically pointed to the “contest of memories” that stems from the difference between the memory of Holocaust-survivors and post-war / post-colonial memory.
FABIAN SCHWANZARS (Jena) paper focused on the attempts to establish a local memorial in Essen’s old Synagogue. In 1980, after a long period of use by the “Haus Industrieform”, the “Mahn- und Gedenkstätte ‘Alte Synagoge Essen’” (memorial ‘Old Synagogue Essen’) was opened; this was made possible by a coalition of social and political actors that was interested in establishing a “lively memorial” and a “meeting place”.
Approaching the Ebensee memorial with Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory, MAGDALENA REST (Wien), demonstrated that the different ways of dealing with the material remains of a concentration camp can be understood as social practices. She raised the question which relevance the “material witnesses” possess for the representation of the crimes at memorial sites. Ten years after the release of “Das Gedächtnis der Dinge” (edited by Detlef Hoffmann), the answers to that question remain controversial – just recently researchers assembled at the German Historical Museum to again discuss the different approaches to that question. 
JENS-CHRISTIAN HANSEN’s (Odense) contribution dealt with the structural difficulties of locally remembering a specific concentration camp, using the example of the long history of the coming into being of the memorial site Husum-Schwesing. He described the removal of the material remains after the war and pointed to the fact that no final conception for a memorial site has been implemented yet, despite ongoing efforts since the early 1980s.
ALICIJA PODBIELSKA (Krakow) adressed the depiction of homosexuality in polish literature and eyewitness accounts about concentration camps, analyzing the works of the authors and survivors Zofia Posmysz, Stanislaw Grzesiuk and Marian Pankowski. In their works, these authors have not connoted homosexual practices as something negative, thereby (especially in Pankowki’s case) challenging the contemporary Holocaust-reception.
As the last speaker, MICHAEL BECKER (Jena) adressed the missing reception of the NS concentration in German sociology; at no point has academic sociology given serious consideration to the concentration camps and to National Socialism in general as a central aspect of modern society. He ascribed that omission to the personal and institutional continuities after 1945, and to the competition with neighbouring disciplines. As the most important aspect, though, he argued that the central sociological paradigms can not properly incorporate the experience of National Socialism into their understanding of modern society.
Currently the permanent exhibition in the Mauthausen memorial is being re-conceptualized. Meeting the memorial staff, the workshop’s participants had the opportunity to discuss new pedagogical concepts and the reorientation of narrative concepts. It was critically disucussed whether the memorial should be a place where visitors can experience or reflect on a “European identity”.
The workshop has established itself as a forum for young Holocaust-researchers, where current research issues and research problems can be presented to an interdisciplinary audience. The conference was characterized by an open, lively and non-hierarchical discussion culture that can not be taken for granted in present-day academic life. It should be emphasized that discussions were almost continuously in English. Together with the excellent simultaneous translation by IMKE HANSEN (Hamburg), this provided every participant with the possibility to contribute. The talks and discussions demonstrated a growing awareness for the European dimensions of the Holocaust, with significant attention still given to the research on local and regional NS-history. As has become a tradition in recent years, the contributions to the workshop will be published.
The 18th workshop on history and memory of NS concentration camps (“Forced Labor, Exploitation, War Production”) will be held from August 31 to September 4 in Bremen in collaboration with the “Denkort Bunker Valentin” (“Submarine Bunker Valentin Memorial”) and the University of Bremen. The CfP can be found here: http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/termine/id=18310.
Renée Winter & Peter Larndorfer (Austria): NS-memory politics in Austria 1945 to the present
_Panel I: History_
Dagmar Lieske (Berlin): “Difficult” victims? The instrument of kriminalpolizeiliche Vorbeugehaft [“preventive imprisonment” through the criminal police] under the NS-regime and “criminals” as prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp
Jessica Tannenbaum (Weiden): Medical care in Flossenbürg concentration camp 1938-1945
Tanja von Fransecky (Berlin): Escapes and attempted escapes of Jewish deportees from deportation trains in France, Belgium and the Netherlands
Kobi Kabalek (Beer Sheva): The experience of movement between the camps. An Oral History
Bianca Roitsch (Oldenburg): Social Practice and Identity Constructions within the Social Environment of the NS Camps. The Example of Bergen, Esterwegen and Moringen
Henrike Illig (Bremen): Forms of Interaction between the Western Allies and the Local Population after the Liberation of Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Neuengamme
_Panel II: Memory_
Iris van Ooijen (Amsterdam): Dutch WWII Memorial Camps as contested space
Fabian Schwanzar (Jena): From Protest to Memory. West German Gedenkstättenbewegung [memorial site activism] and Memory Politics 1979 to 1990
Magdalena Rest (Wien): The Creation of Memorial Sites as a Social Practice. The Example of Ebensee Memorial
Jens-Christian Hansen (Odense): Last Chapter? The Long History of the Coming into Being of a Memorial Site at An (Almost) Forgotten Place
Alicija Podbielska (Krakow): Homosexuality in Polish Literature about NS Concentration Camps
Michael Becker (Jena): The Missing Reception of the NS Concentration Camps in German Sociology. The Failure of an Academic Disciplin – Causes and Effects
 Sybille Steinbacher, Dachau: Die Stadt und das Konzentrationslager in der NS-Zeit. Die Untersuchung einer Nachbarschaft (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Land, 1993).
 Detlef Hoffmann (ed.), Das Gedächtnis der Dinge. KZ-Relikte und KZ-Denkmäler 1945-1995 (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 1998).
See the conference: “Orte - Dinge - Spuren. Der Umgang mit den materiellen Zeugnissen in Gedenkstätten für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus“: http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/termine/id=17315.
Kai Michael Becker
Fakultät für Sozial- und Verhaltenswissenschaften
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