The Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and Learning Centres Commemorating the Victims of Nazi Crimes is a Hamburg-based independent foundation under public law with legal capacity.
The Foundation is the body responsible for
1. the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial,
2. the Bullenhuser Damm Memorial,
3. the Plattenhaus Poppenbüttel Memorial,
4. the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camps and Prisons Memorial 1933–1945,
5. the denk.mal Hannoverscher Bahnhof Documentation Centre.
Together with the memorials and learning centres under its responsibility, which consist of contemporary history museums with a particular humanitarian and educational policy remit, the Foundation contributes to preserving, conveying and broadening knowledge about the National Socialist era, in particular the history of persecution and resistance on the territory of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. The Foundation also aims to provide information on the impact and repercussions of National Socialist crimes and reflect critically on the way in which society has addressed these historical events, right through to the present day.
The Foundation carries out all manner of museum-related, educational and scientific duties. It upholds the memory of the victims of National Socialism, in particular those of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, by preserving its buildings and structural evidence, historical documents and prisoner recollections and by organising exhibitions, research projects, events and publications. Against the backdrop of an in-depth examination of National Socialist crimes, the Foundation’s work focuses on the way in which the culture of remembrance has changed, on linking historical and current issues, the universal importance of human rights, Europe-based and international education work, developing democratic thinking and action, and the tolerance of and interaction with different cultures.
Hamburg Memorial Sites Act, § 2 Purpose of the Foundation; for the full text visit: Legislation on the ‘Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and Learning Centres Commemorating the Victims of Nazi Crimes’ (Hamburg Memorial Sites Act – HmbGedenkStG)
The Foundation is structured around the following bodies:
- Foundation Council,
- Expert Commission,
- Foundation Advisory Committee.
The Foundation Council is comprised of eleven members, who discharge their duties on an honorary basis. The term of office is four years. Three members of the Foundation Council are delegated by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, with one member each delegated by the supreme federal authority responsible for culture and by the Federal Foreign Office, as well as one member each by the Expert Commission, the Foundation Advisory Committee and the Staff Council. The other three members of the Foundation Council are appointed in accordance with the Foundation Statutes.
The Foundation appoints one Director to direct the Foundation’s activities, exercise his role as superior for the Foundation’s staff, co-ordinate its areas of work, and assume responsibility for the content of the programme and projects run by the Foundation
The Expert Commission offers expert advice on the Foundation’s work with regard to both content and concept, in particular with regard to its exhibition, research and education projects. It advises the Foundation in matters relating to conceptual formulation and programme profile, research and didactics, and looks for ways of obtaining further funding, in particular through third-party funding.
Foundation Advisory Committee
The Foundation Advisory Committee promotes exchanges between the Foundation and the general public. It accompanies the development of the Foundation and of the Memorials and Learning Centres in particular, discusses their tasks and areas of activity, and provides suggestions for future work. The Foundation Advisory Committee consists of social organisations, in particular the Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme as representative of the associations of former concentration camp prisoners, their surviving dependants and relatives, other victims’ associations, and groups particularly devoted to issues of importance to the Foundation and the Memorials.
The Foundation offers a reminder of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis; it studies and mediates the history and impact of these crimes, and preserves the memory of those persecuted under the Nazi regime.
The Foundation is the body responsible for memorials and learning centres in Hamburg. At its centre is the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial as an international place of remembrance. It also incorporates the Bullenhuser Damm Memorial, the Fuhlsbüttel and Plattenhaus Poppenbüttel Concentration Camps and Prisons, and the denk.mal Hannoverscher Bahnhof documentation centre, which is soon to be built. The Foundation also works on projects that focus on urban remembrance culture.
What we do
The Foundation preserves, broadens and conveys knowledge about the National Socialist era. It provides places for dignified commemoration and active remembrance at sites where National Socialist crimes were once perpetrated. Its main task is to document and convey the persecution and the resistance of women and men from Hamburg, Germany and Europe as well as the deportation and forced labour in Hamburg and northern Germany. It also provides information on the impact and repercussions of National Socialist crimes and reflects critically on the way in which society has addressed these historical events, right through to the present day. It promotes empathy with the persecuted, their relatives and descendants and offers a platform for their concerns to be heard.
The Foundation encourages the long-term study of the history of the Neuengamme concentration camp in particular and its satellite camps. As part of an international dialogue it assumes all manner of museum-related, educational and scientific tasks. It does so by preserving buildings and structural evidence, historical documents, recollections and accounts, and through publications, exhibitions and events. In its exchanges and co-operation with educational institutes and research facilities as well as initiatives and associations, particularly those of Nazi persecutees and their descendants, the Foundation strives to have an influence on society.
Both internally and externally, the Foundation nurtures a communicative approach characterised by respect, esteem and mutual consideration.
The in-depth exploration of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime provides the mainstay for a critical understanding and awareness of history and for developing democratic thinking and action. The fact of linking historical and current issues also strengthens our awareness of the importance of fundamental freedoms and human rights. The Foundation actively opposes racism, antisemitism, antiziganism, and any form of misanthropy and contempt for democracy. As the body sponsoring contemporary history museums and learning centres the Foundation has a politico-historical educational mandate. In this regard it co-operates with schools, youth associations and adult education institutions in particular. The Foundation advocates dialogue at the international level, the strengthening of socio-political responsibility, the promotion of social interaction, and diversity in all its forms.
Hamburg, 1 January 2020
This preliminary Mission Statement was drawn up jointly by the Foundation’s staff on the occasion of its establishment.
In Germany, memorial work operates in a difficult environment between coming to terms with the country’s National Socialist past and the socio-political debates of the present. More recently, this has been brought into ever sharper focus by, in particular, a transformation of the culture of remembrance, the diversification of society, and a growing sensitivity to antisemitism, racism, and right-wing extremism.
Memorials are also confronted, time and again, with attempts at political instrumentalisation, for instance whenever they are declared as places of immunisation against revisionist attitudes. Also at issue is the extent to which the memorial sites themselves should or could take a stand and be proactive in the current debates on the interpretation of the Nazi era and on socio-political issues.
It is against this backdrop that the Expert Commission of the Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and Learning Centres Commemorating the Victims of Nazi Crimes sets out its understanding of the historical and socio-political mandate of memorial sites, as outlined in the following.
The SHGL commemorates the victims of Nazi persecution at the historical site of the former Neuengamme Concentration Camp, at three of its Hamburg satellite camps, and at the Hannoverscher Bahnhof deportation site; it conducts research into and showcases their history and their repercussions, and it preserves the memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime. Providing information and education on the crimes committed during the Nazi era includes examining their consequences and reflecting critically on ‘the way in which society has addressed these historical events, right through to the present day’ (Article 2 of the Hamburg Memorial Sites Act).
As key elements of historical culture, memorials to the victims of National Socialism symbolise the awareness of the special historical significance of the crimes against humanity committed by the German state between 1933 and 1945 with the involvement and approbation of large sections of the population. As such, they firstly constitute establishments of scholarly research into the past. Secondly, they provide premises for continually updating the significance of the National Socialist past and are therefore important social forums. Thirdly, they represent in a special way the perspective and interests of former victims of persecution and their surviving dependants. Founded therein is a general mandate, as institutional stakeholders within a contemporary culture of remembrance, to speak out not just on the public interpretation of practices of historical marginalisation and persecution but also on forms of current group-based misanthropy and its causes and repercussions.
The SHGL is also committed to the International Memorial Charter adopted in 2012 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association and the International Committee for Memorial Museums for Victims of Public Crimes. It highlights the singularity of the National Socialist crimes and the present-day responsibility to safeguard the dignity of the victims that results from preserving and communicating the historical legacy of the victims as well as the integration of social minorities, and the creation of pluralistic cultures of remembrance. Memorial sites are therefore entrusted with a mandate to contribute to humanitarian and civic education and to incorporate interpretations of the past into current historical and socio-political debates. In so doing, they are committed to informing and educating people about the Nazi past and its repercussions. Under no circumstances should memorials ever be used as a means of achieving certain political ends.
In its work, the SHGL ensures that visitors are neither overwhelmed nor indoctrinated, and that controversial issues are addressed just as controversially. Indeed, establishing the links between historical and current issues helps to develop a soundly reflected historical awareness and a reflexive, self-critical culture of remembrance while strengthening awareness of the importance of fundamental and human rights.
Challenges and measures
Contemporary German society is characterised by a multitude of forms of remembrance of the victims of National Socialism; they have emerged from the ever increasing distance in time from the events, but also from historical and current transnational and global links as well as immigration and social diversity. The SHGL therefore promotes all manner of approaches to the history of National Socialism and does so, among other things, through a differentiated consideration of various groups of persecutees and perpetrators as well as a reflected inclusion of different perspectives and references to the Second World War and the Nazi era.
In this sense, the SHGL strives to dispel simplistic ideas about the National Socialist past of the kind that continue to shape the image of the perpetrators and the shared social responsibility. Besides contemporary public positions (political, media-related, and social), the work also includes private attitudes and communication spaces (within the family, individually, and group-based). The social exclusion mechanisms that exist today are addressed – whether they are social and structural in nature or institutional in impact – and examined in terms of their continuities and breaks with historically revisionist, racist, antisemitic and antiziganist ways of thinking and acting.
To this end, the SHGL’s educational mandate includes international encounters and programmes, especially in youth education, in order to strengthen minority rights and promote tolerance, diversity, and variety. These programmes promote the potential for critical thinking about history and represent an important contribution to democratic culture of history.
The SHGL also fulfils its mission and discharges its mandate by engaging in social debates based on its academic and practical expertise in order to address and counter inhuman and anti-democratic trends. This should be the case especially whenever historical-political reinterpretations of the past contradict the basic principles of the memorials commemorating the victims of Nazi crimes.