A victims' association has ended its collaboration with the Saxony Memorial Foundation. This does not sufficiently distinguish between Nazi injustice and that of the GDR.

A mother and her son look at the Torgau prison building.  In the foreground a sculpture commemorates the victims of the Nazi military justice system.

A sculpture commemorates the victims of the Nazi military justice system in front of the then Torgau military prison. Photo: image alliance/dpa

SEDAN taz | The Federal Association of Victims of Nazi Military Justice states that the situation is no longer acceptable. To this day, there is still no appropriate memorial site “for those who opposed Hitler's war of annihilation.” He has wanted one of these for more than 30 years in Torgau, the headquarters of Nazi military justice at the end of World War II. The idea: an exhibition that represents injustice. Although there is already a monument in Torgau, it equates the dictatorship of the GDR with the Nazi dictatorship under the title “Traces of injustice”.

To change this, the Federal Association of Victims of Nazi Military Justice has been working with the Saxon Memorials Foundation. But now the association ended the cooperation. Although a new concept has been around for years, the new exhibition will take a while to arrive. Furthermore, the federal association was not sufficiently included in the concept.

The CEO of the Saxony Memorial Foundation, Markus Pieper, is surprised. “I'm sorry, but I can't understand the accusations,” he told the taz. There used to be conflicts over the politics of memory. But he took over as CEO in 2021 to change exactly that. “The old exhibition was rightly criticized on many points,” he said. But in August the new permanent exhibition will open in Torgau. The central theme: the history of the National Socialist military justice system.

Rolf Surmann recently served on the advisory board of the Federal Association Memorial Foundation. He says it's true that the new exhibition will open soon, but that's not all. He also noted that there was still a need for discussion. The foundation did not comply with this. Surmann doesn't want to see the 2021 realignment as a new beginning.

Debate that has lasted for decades

The background: In 1943 the Reich military court moved to Torgau. In this northern Saxon city, convicted soldiers, deserters and war objectors were held in two military prisons. About 20,000 of them were executed. After the war, the infrastructure was used first by the Soviet Union and then by the GDR prison system.

After reunification, the Saxon Memorials Foundation was founded in 1994. However, the CDU government of Saxony politically aligned the commemoration in such a way that the SED dictatorship was equated with the Nazi dictatorship. Even the uniqueness of the Shoah did not clarify the underlying law. An affront to victims' organizations.

After the conflict came to a head in 2004, the Central Council of Jews, the Association of Those Persecuted by National Socialism and the Federal Association of Victims of Nazi Military Justice ended their collaboration with the foundation for several years. Only a revised legal text recovered victims' associations. The innovation was adopted in 2012. However, working with the foundation proved difficult, reports Surmann.

He was personally motivated by “the fact that the survivors still experience a dignified commemoration at the central site of their persecution.” But despite the new law and a new concept for the exhibition under the direction of the then general director of the foundation, Siegfried Reiprich, nothing has changed. On the contrary: Reiprich is said to have used the funds to commemorate the injustices of the GDR.

His successor, Markus Pieper, told the TAZ that he followed a different line: “We have to carefully and sensitively approach the fact that we have places where different dictatorships persecuted and killed people.” important to highlight the differences. “These are different dictatorships that cannot be compared.”

The change was noted positively, Surmann told the taz. Corrections and individual agreements, which worked. But the federal association saw the need to continue discussing. The distinction between perpetrators and victims is still not clear enough. However, despite repeated requests, this was not addressed.

The Federal Association sees this as a continued disregard for the history of persecution of the victims it represents. Pieper says he didn't perceive it that way. “We, as a memorial, consider that the dialogue was constructive,” he assured the taz. Now he is lost and regrets having left. “We will be happy to resume the conversation at any time.”

But Surmann does not want to comment on the matter at the moment. He sounds disappointed and frustrated. “30 years and we have not moved forward. Meanwhile, all those who suffered the injustice of the Nazi military justice system and were active with us are dead.”

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