“Once – but never again”

Young people from Borne and Rheine visited Bergen-Belsen memorial in 2021

The foundation “De 3 Kearls” in Borne, together with the twinning association of the city of Rheine, invited young people from Borne and Rheine to a memorial trip to the former concentration camp Bergen-Belsen at the end of October 2021. On a sunny autumn day, the young people found a now peaceful place that gradually revealed the horrors of the past. Up to 52,000 people lost their lives at this place in the Hanover area.

The first stop in Bergen-Belsen was the railway tracks where the prisoners arrived during the deportations. From there they had to march on towards the concentration camp. Dutch and German youths are now standing together in front of a single train wagon. The wagon is not large, but it still catches the eye. Inside, squares of less than one square metre are drawn on the floor with white paint. They mark the space that was designated for a prisoner. The students stand in the middle of the squares, look down at themselves and realise how little space there must have been in this wagon for 150 people.

The mood is very depressed as everyone walks together to the memorial stone of Anne and Margot Frank to lay a wreath. “Once, but never again” is written in German and Dutch (“Eens mar noit weer”) on the ribbon. Below that: “Jeugd Borne and Youth Rheine”. Andre Schaper reports on the parallels in the lives of Anne Frank and the young Ilse de Beer, a Rhenish woman whom the Nazis deported to Bergen-Belsen. Ilse de Beer was only four days younger than Anne Frank. The Rhenish woman was murdered by the Nazis in Riga in 1941. After hiding for two years in a back house in Amsterdam, Anne Frank was first sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen. She died here in the spring of 1945. The group commemorates the victims of the National Socialist genocide of the Jews and the victims of the World War in a joint minute of silence.

“We not only celebrate together, we also commemorate together,” said Clemens Schöpker, representative of the Rheine Town Twinning Association. For the students, the trip was free of charge, fully financed by the Dutch side. “On behalf of the city of Rheine, I would like to thank you for your commitment and for covering all the costs,” said Rheine’s deputy mayor Birgitt Overesch, who accompanied the young people on the day.

In the return luggage: Many memories

2019 Memorial trip to Bernburg and Magdeburg

Even the old Goethe knew: “The best education is found by a clever person on a journey”. Perhaps with this in mind, some of the 56 people went along to learn more about dark chapters of German history during the memorial trip organised by the Rheine Town Twinning Association. Among them were interested citizens as well as pupils from the commercial schools and the Josef Piper School.

After a long bus ride, the reception by the deputy mayor of our twin town Bernburg Paul Koller and a short guided tour of the Schlossberg, we went to the euthanasia memorial. From 1940, one of the six central “euthanasia” institutions, where people were murdered with carbon monoxide gas, was located on the grounds of today’s Bernburg Specialist Hospital. More than 14,000 sick and disabled people as well as prisoners from various concentration camps became victims of National Socialist crimes in Bernburg alone. Standing in the gas chamber in the vaulted cellar, knowing that so many people met an agonising end here, made one feel quite queasy. “It is frightening how efficiently and purposefully people were killed. The dances seem typically German,” said one of the participants of the memorial trip.

It was also a special experience for Roswitha Lührs. During the lecture by the director of the memorial, Dr Ute Hoffmann, when she saw a map on which Bernburg and the town of Bedburg in North Rhine-Westphalia were connected, she took notice: the last sign of life of her Jewish grandfather, Iwan Hess (born in 1893), came from the Bedburg clinic in 1940. Since then, the traces have been lost. “I have a new lead. Maybe the fate of my grandfather can be clarified with the help of the memorial.”

Another participant of the memorial trip later said: “When you see it on site, it is impressive, depressing and confusing. The pupils, such as Christopher Reinatz from the Josef Piper School, were also affected: “We in the curative education department have prepared ourselves for this, as we will later be working with people with disabilities. Therefore, the reappraisal and the continuation of remembrance as well as the sensitisation of young people is very important.”