Projects within the funding priority "Transfer"

Projects within the funding priority "Transfer" aim at competence-oriented learning in work environments. Based on the occupational group-specific critical examination of National Socialist injustice, competencies in dealing with contemporary forms of group-focused enmity are developed and expanded. One example is the project of the historical site Villa ten Hompel: "Das geht mich ja was an! [This concerns me!]—Past and present relevance of National Socialist crimes in the everyday activities of the police and law enforcement."

Project manager Peter Römer spoke with team members Rahel Thiel and Franka Aldenborg about the challenges, surprises, and insights of their joint work.

Peter Römer: Franka Aldenborg and Rahel Thiel, what have police and law enforcement participants learned from this project?

Rahel Thiel: Of course, I can’t speak for them, but many participants seem motivated to continue to critically examine the perspectives they have encountered. We want to encourage this independent reflection: How did I grow up, what did I learn first in school, later in my studies, and finally in police and law enforcement training? We want to raise awareness that the history of the police and judiciary under National Socialism is a rather suppressed aspect of our culture of remembrance—perhaps not everyone has understood this, but hopefully many have taken it on board.

Franka Aldenborg: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that participants learn to change their own historical narratives; that is difficult to judge from an external perspective. But they definitely perceive contradictions with their prior notions of history.  Learning at a historical site with historical sources that tell very personal stories makes it possible to question preexisting images. Using facts and figures, we work together to place personal narratives into the historical context—it is important to offer an absolutely safe space for communication, to respond to what has been said, and to not insist on the seminar’s self-defined common thread.

Peter Römer: A good lead to my next question... What challenges did you encounter, what surprises and highlights did you experience?

Rahel Thiel: This could also be seen as a challenge for the participants: Since we are a history site, some police officers might expect us to deal with history all day. However, we are not interested in lecturing. Throughout the seminar, I felt the need to reflect on my own realm of experience—for example, when participants suddenly examine their own compartmentalization without being asked to do so. To me, it was surprising how group dynamics can vary—depending on whether it’s a unified or mixed group from different units with different ranks within the police force, or whether it’s judicial officers. Very different mindsets come together. For example, if a police officer explains how a particular operation during a public demonstration is reflected in her unit, and a colleague subsequently reports a completely different way of dealing with the same situation, that is very valuable to us.

Peter Römer: The project is designed for further development. What is happening right now with the materials created over the last year?

Franka Aldenborg: Thanks to the funding, we had the opportunity to deal with the individual themes—queer hostility, antigypsyism, racism, and antisemitism—in depth. Based on this, we have formed working groups within the team to develop materials for each focus area. On the basis of this preliminary work, we continue to refine the materials for our seminars, which take place continuously at our facilities. Through the discussion with participants, we continue to learn more about what we need, what works, and what does not. For example, we keep exchanging images and if we get hints from participants that a particular topic or source is difficult, we take that into account. For one module, participants can "look over the shoulder" of actual and imagined historical figures. At the beginning, there was only a PowerPoint presentation, but a touchscreen is now an integral part of the exhibition. Further development is therefore taking place at both the methodological and technical levels.

Rahel Thiel: In order to establish a connection to the present, we need current topics that are close to the lives of the participants. Our project was created in the first year of the pandemic—so especially for the topic of antisemitism, we were able to make many references to the large Covid-19 demonstrations. The symbolism used there can, of course, still be discussed in the seminars—but at some point, the question naturally arises as to whether there is a more contemporary reference. These modules must be continually reflected and revised.

Peter Römer: With the project, we have taken an important step toward cooperation with state institutions: especially with regard to training curricula, we are now at a completely different level than we were two years ago.

Rahel Thiel: There are now cooperation agreements with, for example, the University of Applied Sciences for Police and Public Administration (HSPV NRW), and the German Police College (DHPol). This means that we have established constellations with which we can continue to work together on the modules we have developed.

Franka Aldenborg: Our project work is already tightly integrated into the training curricula and advanced training programs of the police in NRW. At the same time, the need for adult education about National Socialist injustice is exceedingly high. When we discuss National Socialism in professional seminars, we should always emphasize the subject’s distance from us—it is no longer accessible or tangible—so as to allow differentiation between then and now. However, it is important to speak openly about institutional continuities in relation to National Socialist injustice after 1945. In addition, historical narratives are not as firm as often assumed—there is no black or white. We have to keep on talking about this: How could people have behaved differently? What room for maneuvering did they have? What does this say about society at the time? Today we can explain some of this, but even if we can’t explain everything we can discuss it and refer to discrimination today. This is what makes historical-political education so important for us and our participants.

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