Dissertation Excerpt – Pages 44–49
To be reborn: Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in post-World War II Displaced Person (DP) camps – materiality and heritage significance
Chapter 5: A whole world opens up: case studies, interviews
This chapter discusses and analyses the case studies and interviews that were undertaken. The two are closely connected – interviews took place with individuals who were associated with or attached to the case study sites. The reason for using the case study method in the study, as explained in chapter 3 with reference to Yin (2014), was its ability to help explain how or why a situation works and to describe in-depth a social phenomenon. The qualitative interviews were undertaken in order to explore in detail the experiences, motives and opinions of those involved in managing or advising a former DP camp site, seeing the situation through their eyes – which, as Rubin and Rubin (2012) argued, is the real strength of such interviews. Pink and Morgan’s (2013) short-term ethnography qualities were applied in conjunction with the interviews: the researcher interacts collaboratively and empathetically with participants; engages with the detail, drawing on their own past experience; and data collection and analysis are intertwined.
Three sites of DP camps were selected for case study – Föhrenwald, Feldafing and Bergen-Belsen. It had been determined (through desk-based research and correspondence) that these three sites were currently active in some form of preservation, memorialization or interpretation and therefore merited closer exploration of their heritage value and significance. Each case study focuses on four key areas: context (location and brief history), current circumstances, challenges and a summary of significance to the study.
Föhrenwald DP Camp
This was a major camp in the American occupation zone of Germany, southwest of Munich, located in part of the town of Wolfratshausen called Waldram (Figure 8). The camp used structures built in 1939 to house IG Farben employees; during the war it accommodated forced-labourers. The camp was established by the US Army shortly after liberation, had a population of over 4,000 in the early years, and closed in 1957 (USHMM nd.a).
Housing conditions were superior to other camps, consisting of small but solidly built houses in good condition (Figure 9). Initially an international displaced persons camp, it became exclusively Jewish in autumn 1945 following changes in American policies acknowledging the special case of Jewish DPs as a group. It was largely self-governing with its own police force, disciplinary commission and hospital. Cultural and educational activities flourished and it developed as a centre of religious orthodoxy.
|Fig. 9: Street scene DP camp Föhrenwald, after May 1945 – Fig. 10: The BADEHAUS, winter 2017/18|
The association Bürger fürs Badehaus Waldram-Föhrenwald e.V. has (at the time of writing – summer 2017) almost completed restoring the DP camp’s bathhouse – Badehaus – (Figure 10), previously threatened with demolition, to become a place of remembrance of the region’s recent past, a documentation centre, and a meeting place to promote international relations and inter-religious dialogue (Bürger fürs Badehaus Waldram-Föhrenwald 2017b).
The not-for-profit association, founded in 2012 by Dr Sybille Krafft, has 337 members worldwide: three-quarters are local or from Bavaria. Funding so far has come from membership fees, private donations and local government. As Krafft notes in interview 2 (appendix 4, 143) you can still see much of the camp’s architecture, the private housing that was used, but the communal buildings have slowly disappeared. This is why the Badehaus, and the mikveh (ritual bath) that existed there, has special meaning and it was worthwhile fighting for its restoration. The main purpose of the project is to ensure we do not forget what happened right ‘in front of our doors’ (appendix 4, 145); that the Holocaust was not just in a “far-away” place such as Auschwitz or Dachau. The association wants to show that the history of this small place is ‘like a magnifying glass, you look at a little place and a whole world opens up to you, a whole history’. They want future generations to hear and see this history via video interviews with historical witnesses and original documents: they believe that the current generation needs to pass on this testimony.
The Badehaus, as Krafft states (appendix 4, 145), will be ‘a mixture between a traditional museum … where you can see documents, historical photos and films but the heart of this place of remembrance will be the interviews with the witnesses’ direct testimony.’ The witness testimony videos are important because Krafft believes
‘in the power of an authentic oral history. When you cannot hear it directly any more, at least you can look at the faces and eyes of the people and get the feeling if it’s true, honest, authentic or not.’
The 1st floor will house an exhibition of structural/contextual history and the 2nd, personal histories. As Krafft explains (appendix 4, 146)
‘We want to tell the history chronologically but we also want people to make contact with personal histories and fates. It is not only a place for your head but also for your heart, you also learn in an emotional way and not just scientifically/logically.’
As Krafft states (appendix 4, 146), the site’s recent history is complex: ‘we had in this place different important historical periods which we have to show and document. You can’t just take one period and neglect the others’. The Badehaus aims to represent several layers in its exhibitions: (in chronological order) Nazi forced-labour camp; the ‘death march’ of Dachau concentration camp survivors; Jewish DP camp; settlement for German speaking Catholic families expelled from eastern Europe (when the place became known as Waldram); and present-day refugees from, for example, Nigeria or Syria.
A recent touring exhibition by the association about Jewish children of the DP camp created astonishment wherever it went; as Krafft says, local residents ‘did not know that in post-war Catholic Bavaria there was such an important, huge, DP camp for Jewish people. This history was nearly totally forgotten, so for many people, even from this place itself, it’s a new story’ (appendix 4, 146). A new exhibition, Krafft points out, combining the histories of Jewish and Catholic children (Figure 11) at the site is an attempt to build bridges: they want to encourage people to think about the differences and similarities, to make contact and talk together, ‘this should be a living place, not a dead museum’ (appendix 4, 147).
It was a challenge, says Krafft, building up a non-profit project, raising 1.7 million euros, with just volunteers and despite opposition from those who did not want this remembrance work to be done – individuals and local political groups from the right who felt their town would be sullied by this history. There are still anti-Semitic influences but they are not so openly expressed. The project’s success so far, according to Krafft, is due largely to a multi-talented, action-oriented group coming together, avoiding internal quarrels. ‘It’s the old dream of all historians that your historical work could lead to a better world’ she says (appendix 4, 148).
The next challenge, after renovation, is building up the documentation and museum, bringing the building to life and making it financially self-sustaining. Attracting visitors, in particular school, local history and church groups, is a key aim. One way they hope to achieve this is through engaging people via an innovative personal histories exhibition. Symbolic ‘trees’ will be ‘planted’ in the museum space, one for each of the periods linked to the site (as mentioned above). School and other groups will research, write and collate images to produce biographies of people who lived in the Föhrenwald/Waldram camp: these will hang from the trees. The place-name Föhrenwald means ‘pine forest’, so creating a forest of these symbolic biographical/ family trees charting individuals’ fates from WWII to the present day is evocative and poignant.
Being a self-funding project run by volunteers can be frustrating at times: so much more could be done if the state or federal government would help more with running costs, as they do with the DP camp exhibition at the Bergen-Belsen memorial. That said, Krafft does not think there should be rivalry here; what is important is that this history is now being published in different places by different people. Governmental support would make things easier but perhaps then, Krafft feels, the power and emotional quality of working with a group of people who passionately believe in what they do, who put their ‘Herzblut’ (their passion, literally ‘heart’s blood’) into the project, might be lost (appendix 4, 149). Former DPs who visited the project ‘are happy that their fate and their history is not forgotten here’. This feedback is really important to the project volunteers. Krafft believes that ‘you can’t be a good historian without emotion’ and that ‘there was such horror in this history and there were so many victims and such incredibly brutal things happened that it needs a period of healing’ (appendix 4, 150).
Summary of significance
This case study demonstrates how a not-for-profit volunteer-run society can rescue and bring to life a former DP camp site, a forgotten history, in the face of opposition, ignorance or indifference from some quarters. It illustrates how the site has different layers of history to tell, and how the group deals sensitively with interpreting their contested nature. The purpose of the project – remembrance, healing, creating a better world – through documentation, personal testimonies and methods engaging both heart (emotions) and head – reveals and is underpinned by the site’s historical and emotional value and significance to different stakeholder groups and at local, national and international levels. A major critical success factor was the multi- talented, action oriented volunteer group which avoided internal rivalries, deriving energy from the ‘Herzblut’ which its members contributed.
Appendix 4 – Pages 142–150 of dissertation
Interview 2: Dr. Sybille Krafft – President, Bürger Fürs Badehaus Waldram-Föhrenwald – 26 June 2017, at the Badehaus
Bibliography Excerpt – Section „Föhrenwald“
• Bürger fürs Badehaus Waldram-Föhrenwald (2017a) ‚Contemporary Witnesses‘ http://www.badehauswaldram.de/wpe/contemporary-witnesses/. Page consulted 13 April 2017
• Bürger fürs Badehaus Waldram-Föhrenwald (2017a) ‚Project Description‘ http://www.badehauswaldram.de/wpe/the-project/. Page consulted 13 April 2017
• Königseder, A and Wetzel, J (2001) Waiting for hope: Jewish displaced persons in World War II Germany. Evanston, Northwestern University Press
• Rubin, H and Rubin, I (2012) Qualitative interviewing: the art of hearing data. Los Angeles: Sage
• USHMM (nd.a) ‚Holocaust Encyclopedia: Foehrenwald‘, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007059.
Page consulted 14 April 2017
• World ORT (nd.) ‚ORT and the displaced person camps‘, http://dpcamps.ort.org/camps/. Page consulted 12 June 2017
• Yin R K (2014), Case study research: design and methods. Los Angeles: Sage
List of Figures / Page number in dissertation / Source
Figure 8 – Föhrenwald and Feldafing DP camp locations – page 85 – http://dpcamps.ort.org/camps/germany/us-zone/us-zone-v/
Figure 9 – Föhrenwald DP camp 1945 street scene – page 86 – https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1067800
Figure 10 – Föhrenwald Badehaus restoration 2017 – page 86 – Author’s own, 2017
Figure 11 – Föhrenwald ‚Children’s Worlds‘ exhibition – page 87 – Author’s own, 2017
Feel free to contact Noah Todd if you have further questions about this work.