Resolving the Past – Creating the Future

In October, I have been invited by Young SIETAR to host a World Café at their global meeting. This year’s meeting took place in the youth hostel Ravensbrück situated in the former women’s concentration camp near Berlin.

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Inspired by the Peace Café at the European World Café Gathering in Dresden, Allison and me designed a World Café “Resolving the Past – Creating the Future” to debrief the group visit to the former concentration camp site.

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The questions that we used were linked to the theme of the conference “Redefining Interculturalism: Past Approaches, Current Needs, Future Directions”:

1. Past – remembering: What purpose does remembering serve?
2. Present – responsibility: What responsibility do I have to address the inequality of my society? And how do I take action?
3. Future – forgiveness: How does forgiveness allow me to move forward?

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In the harvest we asked “What is the big question that you avoided asking in this conversation?

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Participants captured those questions on post-it notes:
• What can I personally do to address and really act against inequalities in my surroundings?
• Why is there forgiveness with conditions?
• What exactly changes as soon as you forgive (in behaviour, emotions, etc.)?
• What is the power and danger of memorials?
• Are there things you can forgive yourself?
• What did you have to forgive?
• How “majorities” talk about “minorities”, if they are really minority in the world? How to forget or forgive this?
• How to reformulate forgiveness?
• Where am I victim and where am I a victimizer?
• Can we talk about something else, please?
• How do you forgive without God?
• Forgive me for asking, but…?
• With all of this (questions, trainings, etc.) are we (individually) really willing to change (learn, evolve, grow, shift paradigm) or are we trying to feel good and convince ourselves we are good people doing something good?
• When will we be brave enough to face/say what we need to?
• Is there a difference between forgiving people and forgiving “situations”?
• The questions were not answered in such a short time – where are the boundaries of my capacity to forgive?
• Is everything forgivable?
• Is it ever collective? Or always individual?
• How do you forgive?
• How are owning and learning connected in order to move forward?
• How will all the knowledge of this meeting lead me in the future?
• Collective just running from responsibility?
• Why do we pretend to communicate knowing that it is not possible because, thank God, we are different?
• How can we make sure that this event has lasting effects and benefits?
• Why “42” again?
• Do victims who don’t forgive become perpetrators one day?
• Why are we stuck in the same paradigm?
• Will forgiveness and remembering really help?
• Can Palestinians learn from Holocaust remembrance culture?
• understand – accept – feel => forgive?
• Where do we get the love from to embrace our stories, the present, and to forgive?
• Can I influence the process of forgiving cognitively?
• Have I done anything for which I am not yet forgiven?

Personally, this visit to a former concentration camp has been the most moving and touching visit for me. I have visited sites like that before, but when the guide asked the question “How is this history connected to your family” and told stories of how the local people of Ravensbrück where relating their family stories to the site, I realized that I had not asked the question to my grandparents – especially not to my grandfather who was fighting cancer in the last stage, aged 85. I had to leave the presentation room – crying. I have been told war stories by my grandfather but never dared to question things that were told me. What made him a victim (entering the army aged 17, his father being killed by the Russians, his mother committing suicide afterwards, him being a refugee in his own country – moving to Hamburg after the war)? And what made him a victimiser? Was he a bystander not taking responsibility for what was happening in the country?
I was crying that day because dialogue was impossible and my questions were never formulated while he was still alive – which is extremely frustrating for a dialogue facilitator. Exactly, a week later my grandfather died…

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