It is still possible today to touch the hearts of young people with the memory of the Holocaust. The bridge from the past to the present works when the old questions are set against a new background. This is the best of a great deal of good news from the award ceremony of the Europeans for Peace youth programme, which is organized by the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (EVZ). The programme, which was launched in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, has already supported more than 400 international youth projects. Five of 33 projects on the subject of “Human Rights in Past and Present” that were sponsored in the 2011/12 school year received an award from the EVZ Foundation on 17 January 2013 in Berlin. The winners included two German-Israeli youth projects. The special thing about Borderline Remix, a “hip hop opera for border-jumpers and stowaways”, and the dance piece Exodus Reloaded is that both projects take the experiences and the lessons from the Holocaust and German-Israeli history out into the world and depict present-day experiences with exclusion, violence and the search for humane asylum.
“It hardly ever used to affect me when I heard about refugees in the news,” says 16-year-old Luisa Sperl, a school student from Siegen and one of the more than 30 participants in Exodus Reloaded. “But now I’m more sensitized to the subject. I ask a lot of questions and want to help. I always wanted to go abroad after leaving school. Now I know that I’d like to go to Africa. I just can’t stop thinking about the plight of refugees.”
During the exchange with the Israeli students from Ramot Hefer High School in Ma’abarot, after visiting the contemporary witness Zvi Cohen and the Yad Vashem Memorial, Luisa said she hated Germany, including herself, her parents and grandparents, every German. She was expressing a familiar emotional response among Germans which has, however, become rare among her own generation. An Israeli girl replied, and told Luisa that it was neither her fault nor that of her generation. The important thing was that they were actually hearing about this history and that it would never be repeated.
In the dances, which they developed with the choreographers Sharon Hilleli Assa and Ulrike Flämig, the school students express their own anger as well as the fears and helplessness of the Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis. They depict what they have heard and experienced themselves and also use sounds recordings of contemporary witnesses in their dance piece. The final station of the Exodus Reloaded journey took the Israeli and German students to an organization called Education Instead of Expulsion (AsA) in Bonn. There they met with young people from Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Iran and other countries. They carried out research in a refugee centre, included these experiences in their dance scenes and compared the fates of these families with their own lives, and those of Israeli and German families. “We awarded the prize to this project, because the bridge between past and present is strikingly successful,” says Sonja Böhme, explaining the decision of the EVZ panel of judges.
How did the idea for a dance piece develop from the given topic: Human Rights in Past and Present? Astrid Greve, a teacher at the Evangelisches Gymnasium, the students’ high school in Siegen, says: “As it happened, we were already looking for a partner school in Israel. We had decided to confront history under the aspect of ‘Looking back, moving forward’, but we also wanted to combine our efforts with those of young Israelis. Dance transcends time, borders and cultural differences. And we have certainly taken a very long look back – as far as biblical history and the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. The idea seemed right, because the first venue for our exchange lay in the desert.”
“I always thought that asylum was a Jewish theme,” says 21-year-old Guy Gefen from Israel. He plays the bass guitar in Borderline Remix. The musicians from Heartbeat.fm in Jerusalem create spaces where Palestinian and Israeli young people can meet and make music together. It’s the second time that Heardbeat.fm has been among the prize winners of Europeans for Peace. During the preparations for Borderline Remix, they brought together young Germans, Israelis, Palestinians and Sudanese refugees living in Israel. “When I heard the stories the Sudanese refugees had to tell, I realized that being given asylum is a fundamental human right,” says Guy Gefen. The two 18-year-old students from Sudan were on the run for three years. They had been forced to watch as their parents were killed in Darfur. It was in Israel that they finally found a place where they could live and go to school.
“We didn’t have a lot of time for rehearsals, just a week in Jerusalem and a week in Mannheim,” says Guy Gefen. Finding a mutual basis was quite difficult at first. “But we discovered it in art, music, dance and in the videos. The great thing is the social network that has emerged from this project. Some of the Palestinians had never met Israelis before and vice versa.” This is exactly what the EVZ sponsorship programme is aiming for. The judges don’t simply evaluate the visible artistic results of the projects, but also the learning processes that the encounters generate. The musicians want to use the 1,500 euros in prize money to carry on promoting Borderline Remix. Following their performances in Jerusalem and Mannheim, a tour is being scheduled for Palestine and Israel and several European cities, including Berlin.