Extramural School ‘Forced Labour during WWII: Analysis of Documents and Exchange of International Experiences’
From October 1 – 7th, 2015, HSE students and graduates in history participated in an extramural school headed by Professor Oleg Budnitsky on ‘Forced Labour during WWII: Analysis of Documents and International Exchange of Experience’ in Berlin, Germany.
Thirteen history students and graduates who work as research assistants at The International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, as well as members of the research and study group ‘Social History of WWII’ took part in this extramural school headed by Professor Oleg Budnitsky on ‘Forced Labour during WWII: Analysis of Documents and Exchange of International Experiences’ in Berlin, Germany. The school was financially supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Liudmila Novikova, Deputy Director of the International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, Vera Dubina, Adviser on History and Civil Society at Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and Irina Vitte, manager of the programme, helped organize the event.
Forcing millions of people to work during WWII was one of the main features of Nazi labour policy both in Germany and on occupied lands. Different countries still use very varied definitions of forced labour, from forced work in concentration camps and the like, to extortion to work with small allowances being paid by a local employment offices.
The main tasks of the extramural school were to understand the phenomenon of mass forced labour by Nazis during the war; to find out more about documents and monuments that store the individual and collective memories of the victims of the Third Reich; to study the experience of memorialization policy in modern Germany and the experience of museum space organization as a memory space.
On the first day of the school, the participants visited the Topographie des Terrors exhibition centre, which is about Nazi crimes, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. At the end of the first day, the students took part in a seminar organized by the Foundation ‘Remembrance, Responsibility and Future’ (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft, EVZ). They discussed the current tasks of the foundation, and specifically the support of various projects aimed at overcoming the consequences of forced labour under Nazism.
The key event of the second day of the school was a visit to the Berlin-Karlshorst museum, which is located on the historic place of Wehrmacht surrender on the night of May 8, 1945. In the afternoon, they visited the Jewish Museum in Berlin, dedicated to almost two millennia of German-Jewish history.
Impressions from the School Participants
Irina Makhalova, third-semester master’s student at Humbold University
The school, which this time was held in Berlin, was mostly dedicated to the culture of war memory in Germany. Some of us have already visited similar memorial places in Russia and Poland, so we got the chance to compare how war memory is organized and maintained in Germany through the example of Berlin. Visits to various museums and memorials allowed us to understand how museum space is organized, and what Germans do with their memory about the war and the guilt they’ve acknowledged. We live in Russia in an atmosphere of a long-established tradition of memory about the Great Patriotic War, and there we faced some different perceptions of WWII, the tragedy of the Jewish people and other victims of Nazism.
The joint seminar with the Free University of Berlin allowed us to exchange experiences with German students who are writing doctoral theses on the basis of interviews with former Ostarbeiters. We saw how they work with such sources, what they pay attention to, and what questions arise when the issues of collective memory are studied more deeply. The seminar participants will be able to use this experience in their further research.
Anna Kargashina, fourth-year undergraduate student of the School of History
This trip to Germany was emotional; we saw with our own eyes things that we’d previously only read about; research, documents, memoirs, and diaries. The seminar at the Free University of Berlin impressed me a lot. The Berlin students working on their doctoral theses based on archive materials shared with us their experience of analyzing oral sources and gave us a lot of detail about the process of interviewing and interview verification. We were also given the opportunity to learn the website interface, to study several cases and share our insights with the seminar group. I believe this was a true experience exchange. We came to Berlin with our understanding of the war, our perceptions and, probably, clichés. Many stereotypes about the perception of war by contemporary Germans and the Germans of that time were destroyed, I think.
Alexandra Maslova, third-year undergraduate student of the School of History
This week, spent in the company of history students and instructors, gave me some valuable experience, plenty of impressions and new research aims. I was particularly impressed by the seminar at the Free University of Berlin, where German students shared with us their experience of working with interviews by former Ostarbeiters. For me personally this was the most valuable experience, since I’m working on the same topic. Thanks to this seminar, I got the answers to some of my questions and learned about new sources for my research project.
Alina Voloshina, third-year undergraduate student of the School of History
The extramural school in Germany was a unique experience for me. In only one week, we managed to visit the most important museums and memorials connected with the topic of our trip. Since I’m interested in Jewish history, I was most impressed with the Jewish Museum. The concept of the museum seemed quite unusual to me. Thanks to the architectural methods used by Daniel Libeskind in his project, the visitor is immersed in a certain atmosphere, where they remain throughout their visit to the museum.
We got to know the German traditions and felt part of a different cultural environment.
Dmitry Kotilevich, second-year undergraduate student of the School of History
The school in Berlin gave us a wonderful opportunity to get to know the culture of memory about the World War II in Germany. For me personally, this trip was an incentive to study the topic of forced labor in the 20th century, and Germany wasn’t the only WWII participant who used forced labour. The study of this problem is also important for other countries, such as Japan, Great Britain, and, of course, post-Soviet countries. I hope that Germany’s example will help us influence the policy of memorialization in our country in the near future.