Photo project: “The Natzweiler concentration camp and its satellite camps on both sides of the Rhine”

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In collaboration with the École ORT (Strasbourg) and the Centre européen du résistant déporte (CERD), the VGKN designed the planning in spring 2017 and, with the start of the school yeear 2017/2018, the implementation of a Franco-German photo project on the history of the KL Natzweiler subcamps.

Both on the German and the French side, this history is still little known and awareness of the historical extent of the Natzweiler concentration camp complex between 1941 and 1945 is only marginally developed. In addition, the memory of the inhuman crimes committed in the main and subcamps of KL Natzweiler is still relatively separate on the left and right sides of the Rhine.

As the initiator of the project, the École ORT in Strasbourg was certainly a reaction to these abuses of collective remembrance, and the representatives of the Natzweiler memorial sites on both sides of the Rhine were approached. The resulting project was not only in line with the fundamental concern of CERD and VGKN to contribute to the deepening of a common, cross-border culture of remembrance, but was also committed to the objective of promoting encounters between German and French schoolchildren around the theme of Natzweiler, in order to help contrast the past with a better present and future.

A German-French photo exhibition

This Franco-German project culminated in a photo exhibition on the former KL Natzweiler subcamps and the memorials that now exist at some of these sites, created by German and French students. The CERD and the VGKN accompanied the students on both sides of the Rhine.

On 29 September 2017, the project was officially opened at CERD in the presence of some of the German and French students involved. On this occasion, they got to know the memorials of the former main camp Natzweiler at Struthof and fundamental questions about the culture of memory and photography were discussed: How do you photograph a memorial site? What does it mean to photograph a memorial? Is there a photographic culture of remembrance?..

Teachers and students of the École ORT Strasbourg and the Auguste-Pattberg-Gymnasium Neckarelz at the CERD (© Audrey Studer, Press Officer, CERD)

« Photographier la mémoire » – „Die Erinnerung fotografieren“ – “Photographing the memory””

Afterwards, the students returned to their schools and in the following months began to photograph the historical sites of the former subcamps of KL Natzweiler in their vicinity as well as the memorials there today, where they exist. While on the French side, classes from the Strasbourg École ORT, the Lycée Julie Daubié in Rombas, Metz, and the Cité scolaire de la Haute-Bruche in Schirmeck visited places in what is now Alsace and Lorraine, on the German side, smaller groups of students from a total of 12 schools from all over Baden-Württemberg were involved in the project, visiting and photographing the memorials of former subcamps in their immediate vicinity. These were students from the following schools: Geschwister-Scholl-School Tübingen, Immanuel-Kant Realschule Leinfelden, Gymnasium Gosheim-Wehingen, Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Nagold, Robert-Gerwig-Gymnasium Haslach im Kinzigtal, Sibilla-Egen-Schule Schwäbisch Hall, Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium Leonberg, Auguste-Pattberg-Gymnasium Neckarelz, Liselotte-Gymnasium Mannheim, Gymnasium Spaichingen, Realschule Spaichingen, Friedrich-Abel-Gymnasium Vaihingen an der Enz.

After having assembled a large corpus of photographs that both documented the places of remembrance and reflected the young people’s subjective view of them, the German and French students selected the photographs that would make up the exhibition at a joint meeting and in joint work on December 5, 2017 in Strasbourg. At the same time, a bilingual accompanying book was produced, which recorded both the work in the project and the subject and content of the exhibition in printed form. On January 26, 2018, this exhibition on the former KL Natzweiler and its subcamps, created by students, was officially opened in Strasbourg at the École ORT.

In its entirety, this project must be seen as part of the efforts of the CERD and the VGKN to place the history of KL Natzweiler and its network of subcamps on both sides of the Rhine in its overall context and to communicate it appropriately. This can only succeed with a perspective that is not bound by national borders, with a European perspective, because this history is a European history and not “only” a German or French history. Not least in order to give more visibility to efforts of this kind, CERD and VGKN jointly applied to the European Commission for the European Heritage Label in 2017 and were awarded it.