Volunteer generation 2014/15 recently successfully completed their voluntary services in Coventry and London. Here they reflect on the their year in the UK, remembrance and reconciliation and offer insights into daily project life, ASF and British culture ....
"This year was extremely fruitful in various experiences and challenging situations. I did not regret my decision of becoming the ASF volunteer even once.
During this year I learnt a lot both about other people and myself. I became more independent, wiser and more patient as well as understanding and sympathetic. I enjoyed my life in Coventry. I met at least a hundred people and befriended with many of them. Being a volunteer enriched me and allowed me to better understand people with mental health issues. Working with them was not only pleasurable, but it also gave me an insight into British society. Many situations I had to deal with were difficult and demanding, but on the other hand they were also vital and, in the long run, helpful for me".
"The museum’s aim is to bring the Jewish beliefs, traditions and social history closer to people of all faiths, backgrounds and ages.
No matter who you are, everybody is welcomed warmly. It is a place for intercultural and interfaith education and dialogue throughout. Everybody and in particular the mostly Jewish volunteers are there to answer every possibly asked question about Judaism or “how it is to be Jewish”. There are very interested in intercultural exchange and happy to start conversations about for example how similar Islam, Christianity and Judaism are. More over the educational programme is at the heart of the museums work. About 90% of the visiting schoolchildren are non-Jewish, that nearly says it all. The programme’s aims are that children of all ages and backgrounds are able to learn about Judaism in a peaceful and non-judgmental environment.
I think the museum’s education work is very important as it tries to foster interfaith dialogue and understanding and acceptance of each other. In particular listening to Holocaust survivors talking to school groups always gave me the unique feeling of goosebumps and the satisfaction that this work combatting antisemitism and discrimination of any kind is always necessary".
"Reconciliation means to me restoring mutual respect between individuals from different cultural backgrounds.
ASF was created as a German organisation atoning for war crimes. During the voluntary service I better understood what it means for German people. The youngest generation doesn't feel guilty because of the war but it has historical awareness. It was much easier to understand history, the need for reconciliation, having the possibility to discuss history with German people. In the past Germany was the most militant country in Europe. Nowadays postwar generations are trying to introduce and maintain peace.
It is great that ASF doesn’t only enrol volunteers from Germany but also from Poland and Ukraine. These are people from three neighbouring European countries, involved in WWII, who fought each other. WWII caused the history of those countries to be totally different. For many years borders were closed and nations isolated. Now people from those countries meet each other and take part in the same project, working in different organisations across the whole of Europe".
"London is never boring and has so many faces, you can just drift along the busy and chaotic ways of the city and look at it, alone with yourself in the crowds.
There is so much to see and so much to do and I will miss the wide range of options, the concerts and museums, and the variety of that place: There are parks like Hampstead Heath where you actually feel as if you were in the countryside – and then Piccadilly Circus with its glimmering advertising screens tourists with selfie sticks, red buses, black cabs and Amor in the centre. There are the spruced up streets of Kensington where you can feel posh for a while and coming back to "my" Tube station in Brixton, you are often welcomed by the sound of steel drums and fanatic preachers and have to make your way through a lively, pleasant chaos, no matter at what time of the day.
Recently, when I was walking across London Bridge in the evening sun, a cyclist went past me, lifting his hands from the handlebars and exclaiming "Oh London! How beautiful you are! I love you!" Or to quote the author and poet Samuel Johnson "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford." And I think that is true..."
"How did I experience my contribution to reconciliation then?
I am well aware that the horrors survivors and refugees had to go through cannot by any means be undone. Though I don’t feel a personal guilt for what has happened 70 years ago, I still feel a responsibility for the future and as long as there are still survivors it is necessary to help them as much as possible. I also find it amazing how, in my project, you can simply sit with a survivor or refugee over a cup of tea and joke about the weather or the peculiarities of the British. Moments like these, in which all separating lines between the two interlocutors, like age, past, nationalities are blurring, if only for a second, are the ones which have made my time here very special.
And if someone tells me, that it makes a difference to their week if I come and see them for an hour every Friday, I don’t even have to think about whether or not this year has been worthwhile!"