“The past is never dead; it has not even passed.”
Reappraisal of Regional and International History
“Arbeitskreis Regionalgeschichte” – Regional History Study-Group
Because the National Socialist era was concealed in local archives, a study-group of citizens interested in history met in 1981 in order to have a critical look at the tabooed history of former county and city of Neustadt am Rübenberge (near Hanover /Lower Saxony). From the very beginning, local authorities created considerable difficulties in order to thwart this effort to explore the Nazi era within the concrete local framework: the access to the city archives was banned, well-attended events at the former county adult education center on this subject were canceled without replacement and municipal subsidies for publications on the history from 1933 to 1945 were refused. Our first documentation caused a scandal in Neustadt and could only be sold under the counter, which did not in the least harm its success. The public interest was enormous. The many positive reactions encouraged us to continue. To do so, independent structures were necessary; that’s why a non-profit organization and a publishing company were founded.
It soon became obvious that we couldn’t restrict ourselves to the Hanover region in studying this subject since the fate of the Jewish inhabitants of Neustadt could not be explained on a local level. We followed the traces of those who had fled Neustadt to Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Auschwitz, to name just a few places. In order to shed light on the history of the Wunstorf military airfield, that had been kept secret, we went to Freiburg/Breisgau and then to Guernica in The Basque Provinces of Spain.
Likewise, when we turned to other subjects such as the history of the 16th century witch trials in the principality of Calenberg-Göttingen , it became obvious that these events were hardly comprehensible without the knowledge of the Reformation in Germany and the Revolution in the Netherlands.
When exploring the history of forced labor in the Hanover Continental Tire Company, we first had to study the deadly living conditions of people working on rubber plantations in Latin America, Africa and Asia and of forced female laborers in the concentration camps of this company. Once again, it became apparent that local history can only be studied if nationwide events and structures are included and considered. Restricting yourself to your own place or your own region – an approach that continues to prevail in local history studies – necessarily leads to misinterpretations.
This assessment did not fail to have consequences for the public presentation of the results of our research. Whereas we had used the traditional possibilities of public relations such as lectures, movies, newspaper articles, exhibits and books, we started using radio broadcasts in 1999. “Radio Flora”, a citizens’ radio station in Hanover that worked in the tradition of free radio stations, was ready to offer us the technical facilities to produce pieces on historical subjects and to air them on FM. However, the range of this radio station was limited to approximately 35 kilometers around Hanover. The politically motivated refusal of the Lower Saxony Media Authority to renew the FM license, which forced the exclusive operation of an Internet radio station in April 2009, caused the loss of listeners in the Hanover region on the one hand. On the other hand, however, it made it possible to present historical subjects to a national audience. Thus we produced programs on various historical subjects, our emphasis being on the military history of the Hanover region. In various radio programs we dealt with the ‘forgotten’ history of the Wunstorf and Langenhagen military airfields. We particularly focused on the training of bomber crews for the Legion Condor during the Spanish Civil War and the destruction of the Basque city of Guernica, but also on the preparation of the bombardment of Guernica and its aftermath. Moreover, we produced a radio program on the attack on Poland by the German air force on September 1st 1939 and the part German air force units from the Hanover region played in shelling residential areas, in particular those with a primarily Jewish population. Moreover, by airing the program on the International Women’s Channel, we commemorated the former women’s concentration camp on the compound of the Continental Tire Factory in Hanover-Limmer. This time-consuming research and publishing would have been impossible without our active members volunteering for decades. Thus, a series of publications, exhibitions, numerous events and radio programs reminded people of the victims of the Nazi dictatorship such as Jewish men and women, Sinti, members of labor unions, foreign workers, both male and female, prisoners of war and others. But we did not leave unmentioned the perpetrators and beneficiaries of tyranny. We chose a new method of publication for our project on “Forced Labor during the Nazi Era in the Hanover Region” by posting the results of our research on our Website as a “work in progress”. This way the most detailed documentation on forced labor in the Hanover region was created. In order to keep alive the memory of the victims of the Nazi dictatorship and of its racist frenzy, the Regional History Study-Group also fought for setting up a plaque on the former location of the Jewish synagogue in Neustadt; we were able to complete this project thanks to the support of many people.
Even though the motion to rename streets after assassinated Jews and Sinti was supported by the signatures of 500 people, it was not supported by a majority of the Neustadt city council. The Regional History Study-Group now supports the initiative to erect a memorial for the assassinated and expelled Jewish citizens of Neustadt and organizes laying cobblestones. The fact that the trivialization of the Nazi dictatorship can be observed time and again, the resurgence of anti-Semitic and racist propaganda and an increasing militarism are sufficient reasons to pursue our work. That is why we necessarily deal also with the (social) history of the Federal Republic of Germany and the consequences of present German domestic and foreign policy.
Much remains to be done.