This year I have been completing my volunteer placement in Germany with the Red Cross. Last month I had the opportunity to attend a Red Cross international Peace Camp at Vogelsang IP in the Eifel National Park, Germany. A former Nazi estate in the Eifel National Park (North Rhine-Westphalia), Vogelsang IP covers 200 hectares and is one of the largest constructions of the Nazi era. Because of the area’s military use as “Camp Vogelsang” after WW2, the site also reflects the evolution from the Cold War to modern Europe. Since 2006, Vogelsang IP has been open as an “international place” for tolerance, diversity and peaceful coexistence. Vogelsang IP, and the spreading wilderness of the surrounding Eifel National Park, now offer space relaxation and appreciation. The site serves as a reminder of the warning of the past while presenting a powerful forward-looking energy.
The international Red Cross and Red Crescent movement goes back to 1859, when the businessman Henry Dunant was shocked by the cruel conditions on the battlefields of Solferino in North Italy. With almost 40,000 men wounded and dying after battle, Dunant organised civilian assistance together with the local residents. As a result, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement were founded with the aim to promote the protection of life, health and dignity and the reduction of suffering of people in need. The IRC provides its services without consideration of nationality, origin or religious, ideological or political views of the victims. This also reflects what Vogelsang IP is trying to do. While the old National Socialist “Ogdensburg” aimed to create an elite, exclusionary force which could promote conquest and enforce conformity, at Vogelsang IP the Red Cross presents its positive values: humanity, human rights and personal commitment to others. This juxtaposition prompts visitors to consider which values they want to guide them: humanity, human rights and inclusivity OR passivity, isolation and aggression.
A key concept in post-war German has been “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (literally “working through the past”). Within this concept, it is viewed as essential to study the past, and particularly the Holocaust, in order to learn to live with it in both the present and the future. The issue of how to appropriately remember the Holocaust in Germany remains a controversial issue, and Germany has had to be careful to avoid creating sites that could be used as pilgrimage points for neo-Nazis. However, despite the difficulty of remembrance, it is imperative that the international community both remembers and reflects upon the holocaust. In particular, young Europeans who have grown up at a time when right-wing politics have been gaining popularity on the continent benefit from developing an understanding of the consequences of these ideologies.
Therefore, places like Vogelsang IP are very important in the modern world. This is particularly true because, while Vogelsang IP is a historical site, just over 80 years separate the laying of the foundations for the National Socialist “Ordensburg” Vogelsang and today’s International Place in the Eifel National Park.
The timeline of the Vogelsang IP site can be seen below;
1934 - Construction begins on Vogelsang, which is due to be one of three “Ordensburgen” used to train the future leaders of the NSDAP (Nazi Party).
1936 - Nazi training courses begin at the site.
1939 - Nazi training courses are suspended at the start of World War II.
1942 - The site is used as an “Adolf-Hitler-Schule” (Adolf Hitler School). Adolf Hitler Schools were 12 elite boarding schools run by the SS between 1937 and 1945, which accepted young people aged 14 to 18 years old. These schools aimed to indoctrinate young people into the ideologies of the Nazi Party, and pupils were chosen for their political dedication and physical fitness rather than their academic success. The SS often selected its future officers from these schools.
1945 - The site is occupied by the US army.
1946 - Following the division of Germany into 4 different “zones”, the British Army gain control of the site and use the area to establish the “Camp Vogelsang” training site.
1950 - The “Camp Vogelsang” training site is taken over by the Belgium army, who use the area until 2005. The area was also used partly as a NATO site for training exercises. Therefore, numerous traces of the Cold War period can still be seen in the area.
2004 - The Eifel National Park is established. It is decided that within 30 years of the foundation of the park, at least 75 percent of the national park’s area will be left to develop naturally instead of being used by humans.
2006 - Vogelsang IP is opened for visitors. Since the site was opened in 2006, the Vogelsang IP Academy has been offering a wide range of scientific and educational programmes. The staff conduct research, work on collecting and archiving as well as documenting and exhibiting the discoveries they make around them.
2012 - The opening of the Vogelsang IP cultural cinema.
2016 - Opening of the new Forum Vogelsang IP with National Socialist documentation and the Eifel National Park Centre. The Forum was deliberately built in the centre of the “Adlerhof” (eagle courtyard), where it contrasts with the original historical structures. The exhibit within the Forum Vogelsang IP presents photographs, films, sound recordings and written documents. It gives different perspectives on the historical site, for example exploring the motivation of the young men who trained here, exploring the daily life at the training site, and exploring the question of how many of these men became perpetrators and accomplices in the Holocaust. The exhibit does not aim to give easy answers, but instead to stimulate questions. What was the attraction of a place like Vogelsang during the Nazi era? What promises about the future did the people running the site make to the young people who went there? What attracted people to attend Nazi training camps? Were the drills and training designed to force them to take part in war crimes, or could they have said no?
Like most of the largest constructions from the Nazi era, the “Ordensburg” at Vogelsang was never completed. Nevertheless, the buildings which do exist are clearly political constructions – built as part of the architecture of domination, and serving the self-image of National Socialism by supporting the Nazi parties claims that they have power over people and nature. The majority of the buildings at Vogelsang IP now have new educational, but some are still unused and serve as complete monuments. For example, the swimming pool, built in 1936/37 is one of the few buildings that was remained almost completely in its original state. At one end of the pool, a large mosaic depicts three naked Aryan men, who represent the body cult nurtured by the Nazi Party.
The stated purpose of the “Ordensburgen” was to train young men to become leading officials in the Nazi party. From 1936 to 1939, the “Ordensjunker” (“nobles of the order”) attended their first seminars. At the start of the second world war, their training was terminated. However, many of the participants were involved in the German crimes in Central and Eastern Europe. Being in such close proximity to this history leads you to ask questions. What does this history mean to me? How might I have thought and acted in those days? Are there comparable situations in the world today? What meaning do democracy and plurality have in our society today?
While the National Socialist “Ordenburg” Vogelsang was a site where contempt for humanity was practiced, today the Vogelsang International Place is intended as a site for appreciation, cultural remembrance and a forum for discussions on the future of our rapidly evolving world. The Vogelsang IP Academy puts the focus on active individuals and examines the scope for action – both in the past and today. It strengthens social and individual abilities and examines the possibilities and perspectives of interaction in a pluralist, democratic society.