Focus on Europe
Anna Schulte is doing voluntary service at Auschwitz – and discovering more about herself.
“Auschwitz symbolises the horrors of the Holocaust more than other places. Few people know that before the outbreak of Second World War the small Polish town had been the home of a large number of Jews since medieval times. But the Holocaust drastically changed all this. One of my tasks is to show visitors to the International Youth Meeting Center that Auschwitz, or Oświęcim in Polish, is more than a former concentration camp. In addition to this, I help to organise and accompany groups of young people who I also assist and advise. Discovering and coming to terms with history is important to me, because it is an essential element in the path to the future. The causes that led to the Holocaust still exist today. It is only possible to prevent such terrible events from happening by learning from history.
Many of the young people I meet here find it hard to imagine why I want to work and live in this horrific place. It may sound strange, but although I do often think about this, it is not on my mind all the time. I meet with friends in town, go to the cinema with them or enjoy sport with them. This is all part of my everyday life, in addition to learning more about history. My voluntary service is also giving me the chance to develop my skills, and with Polish I am learning an entirely new language. I have managed to overcome my initial fears of getting to know history, different people, cultures and religions. For me, Auschwitz in general is historically and politically interesting, too. The region was an interface between Slavs and Germans. Jewish visitors experience this place above all as a terrible cemetery without graves. There are many different perspectives, and working here has certainly broadened my own views. Nowadays, I feel I’m more of a European, and no longer just a German.” ■
ANNA SCHULTE // AUSCHWITZ
Anna Schulte, 19, grew up in Warstein, North Rhine-Westphalia. After leaving school, she travelled to Auschwitz, Poland, in late 2013. She is completing a year of voluntary service at the International Youth Meeting Center under the auspices of the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP). Some 2,000 groups from more than 30 countries have already visited the Meeting Center, which was founded in 1986. They have taken part in seminars with historical witnesses and visited the memorial together. From 1940 to 1945, between 1.1 and 1.5 million Jews, Sinti and Roma and prisoners of war from many nations were murdered in Auschwitz. Anna is pictured at the former concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
Text: Clara Görtz, Helen Sibum; photograph: Stephan Pramme