At the beginning of the founding document of Action Reconciliation stands the recognition of guilt for the National Socialist crimes. It was read out at the synod of the Protestant Church in Germany in 1958 and signed by two thirds of its members.
It states the following: 'We Germans started the Second World War and have thus, more than others, inflicted immeasurable suffering on humanity. Germans killed millions of Jews in a sacrilegious revolt against God. Those of us who survived and didn't want it to happen, didn't do enough to prevent it."
Believing that the first step towards reconciliation should be taken by the perpetrators and their descendants, the founders of Action Reconciliation asked "the peoples who have suffered violence from us to allow us to do something good with our hands and with our means in their land" – as a sign of the request for forgiveness and peace.
Initiated by Protestant Christians, Action Reconciliation understood itself from the beginning as being ecumenically and ideologically open. Anyone who feels committed to the founding document is invited to participate.
ASF/ARSP was founded as an organisation encompassing all of Germany, but the division of Germany soon impeded joint efforts: Aktion Sühnezeichen began its work in the GDR in 1962 with clearing activities at three churches in Magdeburg which had been destroyed during the war. This was the starting point for developing an extensive programme of short-term voluntary services: the summer camps.
In West Germany, Aktion Sühnezeichen started its work in 1959 with the construction of a holiday camp for working-class families from Rotterdam in Ouddorp in the Netherlands. In the course of the 1960s, our projects, initially mainly construction projects, shifted their focus to social services for peace (in Germany and abroad). In 1968, the organisation changed its name to Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (ASF).
When Germany was united, the course was set for combining the two branches. Since 1991, staff, members and volunteers in the East and West have been working together to continue and further develop volunteer services under the name Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste/Action Reconciliation Service for Peace.
In the past few years ASF/ARSP’s work has become more and more international. Since 1995, initiated by requests from partner organisations in countries where we carry out our projects, we have had volunteers from outside Germany in long-term services for peace.
Since the turn of the millenium, we have added the tri-lateral volunteer programmes: since 2001 ASF/ARSP volunteers from Germany and Poland have worked together in joint projects in Great Britain. Since 2009, Germans and Ukrainians have been active in joint ASF/ARSP projects in Poland. Our volunteers get a chance to change their perspective and intensively discuss the significance of National Socialism in their respective countries or origin. A new and peaceful path emerges while working together.