In the Nazi era, there was a forced labor camp and a death camp in a small German town of Braunschweig, whose inmates also included Ukrainians. This place claimed an estimated 4,800 Ukrainian lives. As a matter of fact, immediately after the end of World War II several monuments were built in Braunschweig to honor the victims of Nazism. One of the memorials was established by Soviet authorities. But, what is perhaps the most striking feature, there was no question of tracing the names of those people. The victorious country had other things to do…
The non-governmental organization Memorial Place for Victims of War and Violent Regime, Braunschweig’s Cemeteries, was formed in the early 2000s by the local school history teacher Ulrich Schade. The years-long strenuous efforts of dozens of people resulted in the publication of the Book of the Dead which reproduces the names of the innocent victims whose remains were left to lie in Braunschweig.
Ukrainian historians intend to get the book translated into the Ukrainian language by the coming September. Concurrently, a database will be established for the Red Cross network and archives. It will be spread among the populace as much as possible. Ihor Kulyk, an archive expert at the Lviv-based Liberation Movement Research Center, said at the presentation of the Book of the Dead that it is also planned to find relatives of the people whose names are in the book and to arrange their visit to Braunschweig.
The NGO chairman Ulrich Schade visited Ukraine on the eve of this year’s anniversary of the end of World War II. The Day had an opportunity to speak to Mr. Schade. We began with what we think is the most stunning thing in the Book of the Death story. Firstly, the organization Mr. Schade heads was formed on the initiative of ordinary people, rather than central or municipal authorities, because it was important for them to recall – name by name – the victims of Nazism. Secondly, it is worthy of surprise that the organization Memorial Place for Victims of War and Violent Regime, Braunschweig’s Cemeteries, was established in the early 2000s. This obviously means that, in spite of a long and difficult road of denazification, Germany still remembers the 20th century.
“There should be no end to speaking about Nazism as the most negative and tragic page of German history,” Schade comments on this matter. “It is always a topical subject for today and tomorrow.”
Braunschweig is a small town with a population of about 250,000. I wonder how many people take part in your civic initiative and what motivates them.
“Our organization has 42 members. Our chief goal is to bring back names to the nameless victims buried at Braunschweig’s cemetery. They should have a place where they can be remembered and their memory can be honored. The people who know that their relatives may have died in the Braunschweig region should be able to find the dead and the place to honor their memory.”
But still, what is the motivation? What prompts people to do this? Maybe, you know that there are very many places in Ukraine, where lie the remains of the victims of USSR punitive authorities. Not only do we not know the names of these people and the places of their burial – we do not even have a clear-cut list of all these places. I am asking about the motivation of your organization because Ukraine does not still have a more or less mass-scale civic movement that would deal with identifying the names of the victims of Soviet repressions. So why do you think it is important to know the names of those buried here? Does this really matter for society?
“We are striving to enable the younger generation to know who the victims of Nazism were and why they ended up as victims. This is important in order to prevent this kind of things from happening again. Whenever you recall and speak about those events, it increases the chance that this will never occur again in the future.”
FOR GERMANY, MAY 8 AND 9 ARE THE DAYS OF LIBERATION FROM NAZISM
Speaking about the danger of the repetition of the past… The situation in Russia and other post-Soviet countries is worsening. Some human rights champions claim that the European Union is in reality indifferent to the human rights issue and EU bureaucrats are only guided by such categories as profits, gas prices, and friendship with Vladimir Putin. As a historian, do you see any danger in this?
“Peace is the most valuable thing in the world. A peaceful coexistence of nations can only be based on trust. If we do not recall the horrible atrocities of Nazism and do not reconsider them in mind, there will be no trust between the nations that suffered from Nazism.”
What you are doing is a very valuable form of historical memory. You are in Kyiv just a few days before May 9 [the interview took place on May 7. – Ed.], when there will be a military parade on the city’s central street. This tradition dates back to the Soviet era. However, there are almost no real efforts to honor historical memory. Do you think it is a case of immaturity or unreadiness to speak about this issue?
“On the whole, this date must be marked as a holiday – both in Ukraine and in Germany. For Germany, May 8 and 9 are the days of liberation from Nazism – the liberation of not only the anti-Nazi-minded Germans, but also those who sided with the Nazis. They were also in fact the victims of Nazism, and they were also liberated so that their children, a new generation, might live in a free world.
“There is a Chapel of Peace at the Braunschweig cemetery, which often hosts exhibits of schoolchildren’s works devoted, one way or another, to the war. Next year there will be an exhibit on which we are now working. It is tentatively called ‘Those Who Turned their Heads.’ It is about those who just turned around and allowed horrors to occur in the last century.”
THIS VISIT IS THE FIRST ATTEMPT OF OUR ORGANIZATION TO GO PUBLIC
Ukrainewas liberated from Nazism, but it is still to be liberated from Stalinism. Did the Ukrainian state show interest in your initiative? The point is that, as far as I know, about a fifth of the people listed in the memorial book were Ukrainians.
“We suppose that about a fifth were Ukrainians. Ukraine has not yet reacted to this project in any way, but the reason is that it was not informed about it. I am here for the first time, and, as a matter of fact, this visit is the first attempt of our organization to go public. Indeed, we live in a small town, and we are just showing a small civic initiative. And we hope that this visit will give the Ukrainian state a signal – via the media – that there is an initiative like this. This is bound to make people think over the measures that can be taken to support this project. Our visit was organized as a private initiative of Sergei Bondarchuk who thinks that our project is influential, and it was also supported by the Ukrainian Church in Germany and a certain representative of the Ukrainian community which helped us establish contact with Kyiv.”
There is a monument to Ukrainian victims in Braunschweig. Who and when erected it?
“This monument was put up on the initiative of Ukrainians abroad – to their dead compatriots. The memorial sign was set up as long ago as 1947.”
WE HOPE TO INTRODUCE THE TRADITION OF JOINT RELIGIOUS SERVICES IN THE NEAR FUTURE
Do you plan to continue your activities by, say, searching for the relatives of the people buried in Braunschweig?
“No, we ourselves do not search for the relatives of those people. Having identified the names of the dead and published the Book of Memory, we offer the people who failed to find the burial place of their relatives an opportunity to find them. We would like very much the information about the book to be spread as much as possible in Ukraine so that people know about it. The book will be sent to 35 Ukrainian archives. Besides, everyone who has access to the Internet can find the book’s online version on our website gedenkstaette-friedenskapelle.de.”
We are grateful to you for remembering our innocent murder victims. As far as I know, joint Ukrainian-Polish religious services are held at the Braunschweig cemetery. It is very important, especially taking into account that there is again tension in Ukrainian-Polish relations.
“In reality, such joint services have not yet been held. It is a project of ours, and it is our great desire that they should be held. The current procedure is as follows: if the Polish side is holding a prayer service, they first do this near their monument and then go to the Ukrainian and the Soviet ones. Likewise, the Ukrainians first do so near their monument and then near the Polish and the Soviet ones. We hope to introduce the tradition of joint religious services in the near future.”