Fourteen young German and Polish volunteers in the UK are among nearly 200 working across Europe to confront the question of how Nazi ideology flourished.
Three of the students, Merrit Jagusch, Sophia Engel and Ricarda Pasch, took part in a panel discussion at the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) event on Sunday, moderated by Dr Susanne Frane, the German embassy’s head of culture and education.
Frane said: “At a time when populism, aggressive nationalism and antisemitism are creeping back into our societies across the world, the work of the ARSP [Action Reconciliation Service for Peace] volunteers, looking for reconciliation and peace, is more relevant than ever.” ARSP was begun by Protestant Christians in Germany in the 1950s. All three panellists have spent time working with the AJR.
Engel, from Unna, near Dortmund, was 19 when she volunteered to work with AJR and its survivors in 2018 and 2019. She had not previously had contact with Jews and said the experience had “opened my heart and my mind”. She believed it was important “for us to share their stories and bear witness”.
Pasch, from Minden, near Hanover, came to Britain in 2018 to work at a reconciliation project at Coventry Cathedral, but the project “fell apart”. However, she had become friends with a survivor in Birmingham and as a result volunteered with AJR, working closely with the Kindertransport group.
“I was always astonished that no one judged me because I am from Germany,” she said. She has retained her interest in Judaism and this summer volunteered at a Jewish festival in Krakow.
Merrit Jagusch, from Hanover, says her interest in reconciliation began when she read The Diary of Anne Frank. She began volunteering with AJR in 2016/17. Every Thursday she would visit a survivor and the conversation would centre on “English weather and food”. But one day the woman told her story, of being a hidden child, of losing her parents and her brother – and said it was the first time she had been able to talk about her wartime experience.
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