For over 50 years ARSP has been committed to working toward reconciliation and peace, as well as fighting racism, discrimination and social exclusion.
Today, these aims are continued and realised through the long-term international peace service programme. This is known as peace service because, in co-operation with our partners, volunteers develop their understanding of history and other cultures and societies, whilst experiencing and accepting different patterns of thought and behaviour. Nowadays, due to generational change, ARSP volunteers do not act from a feeling of personal guilt, but rather from the conviction that they want to make a positive contribution toward a more peaceful, just and tolerant world. Every year around 180 volunteers, mostly aged between nineteen and twenty five are active for ARSP in thirteen different countries on a variety of educational, historical, political and social projects.
ARSP in UK and the US
Britain differs from many of the countries ARSP works in due to the fact that there are fewer physical remainders of the horrors of the Nazi past. Towns and cities do not have concentration camp memorial sites that the public can visit on a daily basis or monuments to victims of the death marches or the numerous minority groups persecuted by the Nazis. In comparison to Germany there are far fewer services throughout the year commemorating the victims of Nazism, because in many cases events such as the Reichspogromnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) simply did not occur on British soil. Memorialisation, discussion and remembrance of the Nazi past is arguably far less pronounced in the UK and it could therefore be argued that due to the lack of tangible remainders of the Nazi past the work carried out by ARSP is essentially irrelevant.
After all, volunteers in countries such as Germany, Poland and Russia often spend significant amounts of time working at memorial sites and caring for Holocaust survivors, facilitating modern day forms of reconciliation that are often not possible in the UK. Whilst project work in the UK has a slightly different focus, the effects and consequences of the Second World War are far more prevalent than would initially appear. Nearly every village or town has a memorial to fallen soldiers, whilst London is full of monuments commemorating particular events or influential decision makers.
Furthermore the effects of the Holocaust were also keenly felt in Britain, due to the Kindertransport and the arrival of Jewish refugees who emigrated here following Hitler’s rise to power and before the outbreak of war in September 1939. This led to the foundation of organisations such as the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) which today still actively raises awareness on issues surrounding forced migration and is currently an ARSP project partner.
ARSP´s values and ideas continuously promoted by ARSP in all UK project work, ensure that the organisation remains as relevant now as it was on its foundation in the UK in 1961.
Since ARSP began work in the United States in 1968, more than 700 volunteers have worked in the United States in movements for peace and social justice and for reconciliation with the Jewish community.
After World War II, young Americans of the traditional peace churches – the Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren – came as volunteers to a destroyed Europe to work in refugee camps and settlements for "displaced persons." In the 1960s, American volunteers worked with German youth in local church congregations in West Germany.
After a decade of cooperation between American and German peace organizations in Europe, the peace churches and the United Church of Christ asked ARSP to send German volunteers to the United States to ensure that this peace service would not be a "one-way-street."
The United States was struggling to overcome racism. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Riots swept through the ghettos of American cities. The Vietnam War was at its peak. American church groups thought they could use help from young, highly motivated volunteers. They believed Americans and Germans could support and learn from each other since both nations faced similar problems of racism and militarism.
ARSP accepted the church groups' invitation to do volunteer work in the United States for several reasons:
- ARSP's leaders were aware that a large number of Holocaust survivors and refugees from Nazi Germany had fled or immigrated to the United States.
- American soldiers had lost their lives or been wounded liberating Europe from National Socialism.
- After 1945, citizens of the United States had sent manifold signs of reconciliation to Germany, including food and volunteers. The most famous example is the relief work of the Quakers. ARSP wanted to thank Americans for their support through its volunteer service in the United States.
- Prejudice still existed towards Germans in the United States. ARSP felt that young volunteers could serve as representatives of a new, peaceful Germany.
- ARSP opposed the war in Vietnam and decided to work with the U.S. peace churches that strongly protested the war.
- The Cold War and pervasive anti-Communist sentiment in the United States were a challenge to ARSP. The organization's leaders believed that through its work in Eastern and Western Europe ARSP could contribute to building bridges across ideological barriers.
- ARSP wanted to be a modest model of international, ecumenical, interfaith and practical cooperation.
At the invitation of the U.S. peace churches and the United Church of Christ, volunteers worked at camps for children from poor neighborhoods, community centers in urban ghettos, halfway houses, camps of migrant workers, and on Indian reservations.
In the 1970s, many ARSP volunteers worked in community organizing, especially helping migrant workers and dealing with housing problems.
In the 1980s our volunteers worked with the Jewish community for the first time. By the mid 1990s about half of the volunteers worked in Holocaust education or with the Jewish elderly.
Today our volunteers are active in ten cities in the U.S., specializing in one of four different fields:
- working with the Jewish community
- civic education and human rights
- social services with marginalized groups
- community organizing
The legacy unites us
The legacy of the Nazi past therefore retains significance as it links into contemporary life. Although the interpretation of this past differs from country to country it is clear that shared lessons can be applied to present day societies throughout Europe and the world. Acknowledging and understanding the impact of the past to ensure repetition does not occur, upholding democratic structures to create a fair and just world and respect and tolerance for every human being, irrespective of their skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, personal beliefs and political attitudes are all lessons that can be drawn from confronting and examining the consequences of National Socialism.