IAC :: Remember the past, be responsible for the future

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Article published in „ Neues Deutschland“, on 13 October 2005

"The centre of the world’s conscience"

The Central Office of the International
Auschwitz Committee has worked in Berlin for two years now

By Ingrid Heinisch

The office of the International Auschwitz Committee is not spectacular at all: two small rooms, two workplaces with computers. Just enough space for the head of the office, Christoph Heubner, Vice-President of the IAC, and his colleague Susanne Goldstein.

Though the rooms look rather insignificant, the place where they are, the German Resistance Memorial Site in Berlin, is all the more significant.

What a connection! The International Auschwitz Committee representing all former Auschwitz detainees, has its central office in Berlin, the city of the Nazi rulers, however at the memorial for those Germans who had dared to resist the Nazi regime.

This central representation of the IAC which has a long history, has been here for two years, but the fact that it is in Berlin now can’t be taken as a matter of course.
The International Auschwitz Committee was founded in 1952. Seven years after the war, the former Auschwitz detainees decided to organize themselves. They wanted to make sure that Auschwitz would never be forgotten. They wanted to raise their voices and warn of the dangerous political developments which were numerous during the era of the cold war and the war in Korea.

The former detainees regularly met at the Auschwitz Memorial Site. In the course of the years, however, they realized that their tasks did not decrease, but continued to increase. While immediately after the war it seemed completely impossible that Auschwitz could ever be forgotten and that supporters of the National Socialism would emerge once again, this became a bitter reality within a couple of years. The detainees’ motto “No more Auschwitz – no more war!” seemed to fail and remain an illusion. But the former Auschwitz detainees remained persistent. They realized that they had to report about their experiences again and again and that they had an educational task: to explain where and when the way to Auschwitz begins.

They were looking for contacts with the youth, in particular in those countries from which the detainees had been deported to Auschwitz. They were very concerned about contacts with young people in Germany. In cooperation with the protestant organization Action Reconciliation, an organization which was founded in 1958 with the intention to do reconstruction and peace work in the countries of the former enemies of Germany, it was possible to establish these contacts. The so-called volunteers of Action Reconciliation met former Auschwitz detainees. Christoph Heubner, at that time a young volunteer himself, met for instance the curator of the Auschwitz Museum, Tadeusz Szymanski. This was the beginning of a deep, long-lasting friendship. Szymanski had been detained in Auschwitz for four years. Later on  he devoted all his life to setting up the Auschwitz Memorial. His character was shaped by profound humanism. In many talks Szymanski told his friends as well as visitors to the memorial about his camp experiences. Today, Christoph Heubner is passing on this knowledge to young people.

The tasks which the IAC faced became bigger and bigger in the course of the years. At the beginning, the former detainees above all wanted to make their political voice heard. Then, at the memorial, the meetings with young people from all over the world started. But this was not sufficient. The former detainees went into schools to talk about their experiences. They organized workshops and seminars for teachers and other educational staff, always with the aim to pass on their knowledge and their experiences.

Some years ago the IAC opened its ranks also to younger members. This was a difficult decision, but the former detainees realized that they still have just a limited amount of time and that they have to pass on their job. They wished that much more, not less should be done: they wanted a central representation that could work continuously. But where could this be? They decided to set it up in Berlin which is an enormous proof of trust in the German people.

The office has existed for two years now. The first months were marked by the preparations to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, on 27 January 2005. For the first time, the IAC organized an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York. At the central commemorative event in Berlin,  besides the survivors Noach Flug and Kurt Goldstein, the speakers also included young people: young Germans who spoke about their impressions during their visit to Auschwitz, but also a young Pole, born in Oswiecim (the Polish name of Auschwitz) who told the audience what Auschwitz means to him.

On 14 October, the IAC will organize a meeting of the presidents of all international camp associations: from Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenbürg, Auschwitz etc. Together they will draw up a balance: “Where are we now?” Because the former detainees are seriously concerned, as Christoph Heubner said: “On the one hand, a lot of good results have been achieved, Auschwitz has become the “centre of the world’s conscience” and more and more meeting and educational centres are emerging. But on the other hand, the former detainees must realize that inspite of all education work anti-Semitism is getting stronger and right-wing groups and parties are gaining ground, also and in particular in Germany. In Paris, they want to reflect on new educational concepts for the memorial sites and on their own work. They want to plan the work for the time that comes when they are no longer there. For coming generations there remains a lot to be done. And there remains a lot to be done for the IAC in Berlin.