15 June 2009

Obama to visit Nazi concentration camp

During his upcoming trip to Germany, Obama is due to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. He will have the chance to see various activities that aim to educate young Germans about the horrors that occurred there.

Barack Obama has a family connection to Buchenwald, the former Nazi concentration camp located near the Thuringian town of Weimar. One of his great-uncles took part in liberating a Buchenwald sub-camp at the end of World War II in 1945.

Extensive research has shown that a quarter of a million people were held captive at Buchenwald between 1937 and 1945. Some 50,000 of them were executed, starved, or worked to death at the adjacent quarry and munitions factories.

More than 60 years after World War II, the crimes committed at the Buchenwald camp have not been forgotten. A huge memorial site – redesigned after the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990 – welcomes local and foreign visitors with a number of exhibitions, movies and tours.

Special efforts are also being made to attract the younger generation. Busloads of school children arrive here every day, and most of them do not seem to need much convincing to make the trip.

“I think it’s very important to come here, because I live in this country and that’s our past,” explains one of the students. “We need to see what happened and what it really looked like. It’s not just looking at pictures – you have to see it in reality.”

Lorenz, a German history teacher, says that the Nazi era is not glossed over in history lessons, and the kids have studied about the period before coming to places like Buchenwald.

“Of course we tell them that what happened in Germany between 1933 and 1945 was not their fault,” says Lorenz. “But we have to make sure that they know as much as possible about that time, so that something this horrible doesn’t happen here again.”

At a youth center near Buchenwald’s memorial site, staffers tell teachers how school children can best be helped to digest their impressions of the former concentration camp. They’re advised to work with historical photographs and have their students read individual biographies of inmates.

Constanze, one of the trainees, thinks this approach has been useful: “I was here at Buchenwald myself when I was in eighth grade, and I really didn’t know much about the camp at this age. But now the children learn much more about it.”

A visiting European Union delegation looking into the educational skills of staffers at Holocaust-related memorial sites seemed impressed by the Buchenwald youth center, where kids can stay for several days at a time to do research.

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