One Topic—Three Approaches
Armaments factories, agriculture, private households, concentration and labor camps: forced labor was omnipresent in the German Reich between 1939 and 1945. In the so-called German Reich and its occupied territories, 26 million people worked under duress, without pay, and under life-threatening conditions. The millions of victims were seen and heard too late—the dimensions of this injustice remain little known throughout Europe to this day.
Three funded institutions are each taking different approaches to the issue of forced labor and the millions of people who suffered its cruelties. These institutions conduct research, call for critical examination, remind, visualize, and educate—and fill knowledge gaps through participatory and interdisciplinary approaches.
One topic—three projects of the Education Agenda NS-Injustice:
1. Deadly forced labor in Karya. German Occupation and the Holocaust in Greece // Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Centre/The Topography of Terror Foundation
Several years ago, Andreas Assael, the son of a Holocaust survivor, found an album with photographs documenting a work assignment on a large construction site near Karya. His subsequent research yielded the first material for a project on the little-known forced labor camp in Greece. The project has been funded since November 2022.
In 1943, German occupiers in Greece deported about 300 Jewish men from Thessaloniki to be deployed in a construction project on the railway line to Athens. Little is known about the fate of the forced laborers. In the late summer of 2024, a media exhibition will open in Berlin and Athens, dedicated to the fate of these people and the history of forced labor during the German occupation. Events and workshops will be offered to the public; a website provides educational content. The Topography of Terror Foundation and the Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Centre are supported by the Interdisciplinary Work Group Conflict Landscapes at Osnabrück University, which conducted the first geoarchaeological excavations in Karya in April 2023. They are developing a high-quality 3D-model of the location. Another cooperation partner is the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Parallel to the excavation, a youth encounter between German and Greek students took place. Interviews with descendants of the former forced laborers are included in the exhibition, which will travel to other locations after Berlin and Athens.
The project impressively shows how a joint critical examination of the history of NS forced labor in Germany and Greece can work: innovatively, participatively, and binationally.
2. Von einem Ort des Jubels zu einem Ort des Unrechts. Zwangsarbeitslager auf Fußball- und Sportplätzen // Gestapokeller und Augustaschacht Memorials [From a Place of Jubilation to a Place of Injustice—Forced Labor Camps on Soccer Pitches and Sports Fields, Gestapo Cellar and Augusta Shaft Memorials]
Sunday noon, a random soccer field in Germany, loyal fans, enthusiastic family members, fan songs, and two competing clubs on the field. Such places of jubilation exist in one way or another in every smaller and larger community in Germany. However, the fact that some soccer and sports fields were converted into forced labor camps during the National Socialist era is largely unknown to this day. This is where the Education Agenda project comes in. The team searches for places where sports fields became forced labor camps in both Germany and Austria. The research receives support from numerous stakeholders, such as club museums and fan projects. Information is collected in an interactive, digital map, filled with supplementary historical material in the form of documents, images, and interviews with eyewitnesses, which will also spark further educational work. The home page provides a comprehensive overview of the system behind the forced labor camps. The project is extremely participatory: Of course, soccer fans and sports enthusiasts from the professional and amateur sectors are not only the only ones motivated to search. Those interested in history and activists from citizens’ initiatives are also getting involved.
3. Zwangsarbeit und Widerstand—Augmented Reality Application zur Geschichte des Kampnagel-Geländes // Theater Kampnagel [Forced Labor and Resistance—Augmented Reality Application on the History of the Kampnagel Site, Kampnagel Theater]
Kampnagel is the largest production house for contemporary performance, dance, and theater in Europe. It is a site with a history whose reappraisal was overdue: Founded in 1865 as a machine factory in Hamburg, the Kampnagel factory was converted into an armaments factory under the National Socialists. More than 1,000 forced laborers worked there and were housed in camps in the Hanseatic city. Some of them organized resistance in underground groups and carried out acts of sabotage.
The goals of the augmented reality project, which has been running since October 2022, are to reappraise the history of forced labor and resistance, and to create a history-conscious place for encounters. The team is developing a prototype that exemplifies a cultural center’s critical examination of its own history.
The approximately 180,000 annual visitors to the cultural center can explore the site with an AR app and learn about the historical context via avatars and original documents. Representative biographies of forced laborers and information on the resistance have been digitized. At regular meetings, the research team presents its latest knowledge, and residents Hamburg can ask questions and network.
Author: Emilie Buchheister