At the beginning of July 2011 ARSP celebrated 50 years of work in the UK! Nostalgic moments remembering the last five decades of voluntary work in the UK as well as critical discussions and workshops on the meaning of the history of WWII for contemporary society characterised ARSP's anniversary events in both Coventry and London.
On 7th July 2011 Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP) celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in Coventry. It was appropriate that ARSP should mark this achievement in such a symbolically significant location, as the first ARSP volunteers came from Germany, 50 years ago, to help rebuild Coventry Cathedral which had been destroyed during the Blitz.
The celebratory day long event in Coventry reunited many former volunteers, friends and ARSP supporters who often hadn’t seen each other for many years. Coming from different countries, belonging to different generations and believing in different faiths, the audience formed the base of a unique event which filled the ruins and the Cathedral with a lively and inspiring atmosphere. The event was officially opened by Canon David Porter, the Lord Mayor of Coventry and ASF director, Dr Christian Staffa. All three speakers stressed the remarkable achievements of ARSP and its commitment to German-British reconciliation. They also referred to the importance of enhanced German-British encounters in today's society and encouraged ARSP to continue providing opportunities for mutual discussions on the history and the aftermath of WWII.
The opening speeches were followed by a presentation by one of the first ARSP volunteers, Ekkehart Lother, who came to Coventry in 1961, followed by volunteer Lena Mangold, who worked at the Association of Jewish Refugees in London in 2010/11. These presentations emphasised, in different ways, the values and ideas fundamental to the work of ARSP; sharing experiences, intercultural exchange and international understanding, in the process framing the past five decades within the perspective of the volunteer.
The highlight of the morning programme was the fascinating and at times polemical keynote speech on memories and national narratives by Dr Olaf Jensen of the University of Leicester, in which he presented and discussed his thesis of “Germany - the Champion in dealing with the past?”. His speech (a summary can be downloaded from this website) was answered by a panel of the three workshop facilitators, Katherine Klinger, Dr Ed Kessler and Chris McDermot, who contributed to the controversial character of the speech by adding comments from a diverse range of disciplines. The panel discussion was moderated by Christian Staffa.
During the afternoon guests had the opportunity to attend and participate in one of three different workshops; one discussing the impact of the Holocaust on 2nd and 3rd generations, led by Katherine Klinger, another on the challenges of Christian-Jewish relations, delivered by Dr Ed Kessler, the executive director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, and a third focusing on contemporary peace building, facilitated by one of ARSP's current project partners and trustees, Chris McDermot. All three workshops were very well attended and provoked much interesting discussion and debate, whilst also giving guests the chance to share their views on the work of ARSP.
A long day of reflection and discussion finished with a pilgrimage through the ruins and an expressive music performance of a German-Polish ensemble playing Dimitri Shostakovich’s 7 Romances. The event in Coventry brought together almost 100 people and the dynamic and controversial character of the event clearly showed the continuing contemporary relevance of ARSP's focus on history.
The following afternoon the German Embassy in London hosted a German-Polish reception to mark the 10th anniversary of ARSP’s trilateral programme, which features German, Polish and British participants.
The reception was opened by the German Ambassador Georg Boomgaarden and his Polish counterpart Barbara Tuge-Erecinska, who both stressed the significance of ARSP’s work in the field of German-Polish relations.
They were followed by Dr Paul Oestreicher, the former director of the Ministry of Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, Dr Elisabeth Raiser, chairwoman of ASF and current ARSP volunteer Maria Kozlowska, who spoke on behalf of Lili Pohlmann, a Polish-Jewish Shoah survivor.
Their speeches were attentively received by a trilateral audience, including representatives of a number of British charities, ARSP project partners and political and cultural representatives from Germany and Poland.
Both these events prove that the aims, goals and values of ARSP are as relevant now as they were 50 years ago and that intercultural exchanges and dialogues can help shape a more tolerant and understanding future.