Barack reconstruction

Barack reconstruction

Barack reconstruction

Since 2017, the Memory, Education, Culture Foundation has been gradually implementing an action programme at Stalag VIII A Görlitz in several modules, on many levels, and in many areas for commemorating the former prisoner-of-war camp and historical and civic education.

The “Barrack reconstruction” module was implemented in 2021. Following an agreement between the Foundation and the municipality of Görlitz, a historically important barrack was dismantled and brought to Zgorzelec.

In subsequent years, a concept for the reconstruction of the barrack and a preliminary financial plan were developed. Representatives of the Foundation and the Meetingpoint Memory Messiaen e.V. association then presented the developed project to institutions in Poland and Saxony. The project comprised both the reconstruction of the barrack and the establishment of a historical and educational station within it.

As a succeeding step, the Foundation and the Association organised a working meeting on 11 April 2024 at the European Centre in Koźlice, where the project was presented and its viability was discussed.

The meeting was attended by representatives from numerous Polish and German institutions. The Polish side was represented by a distinguished delegation: Magdalena Erdman from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage; Robert Kostro, director of the Polish History Museum; Dr. Violetta Rezler-Wasielewska, director of the Central Museum of Prisoners of War in Łambinowice; Renata Paluch, head of the Educational Department of the Gross-Rosen Museum in Rogoźnica; Dr. Tomasz Głowiński, professor of the University of Wrocław; Dr. Marek Wolanin, member of the Foundation’s Council; and Dr. Wojciech Głowa, an archaeologist from Kraków who directed the dismantling of the barrack in Görlitz, as well as research work on its building materials.

The German side was comprised of notable representatives: Sven Hacker from the Saxon State Ministry of Culture, Department of Culture, Sorbian and Remembrance Culture; Benedikt Hummel, Mayor for Culture, Youth, Schools, Sports, Social Affairs, Building and Development of the City of Görlitz; Michael Heidrich and Henry Krause from the Saxon State Prime Minister’s Office; Antje Klose and Gabriele Neugebauer representing the District Administrator of Görlitz; Antonia Menzel Head of Cultural Affairs of the Görlitz City Council; and Tobias Panke, Head of the Office for Historic Preservation of the Görlitz City Council.

Kinga Hartmann-Wóycicka and Alexandra Grochowski presided over the meeting.

Participants at the meeting expressed their interest and willingness to cooperate and assist with the central concept. In this respect, the declarations of Dr. Violetta Rezler-Wasielewska and Prof. Tomasz Głowiński were particularly gratifying.

After the in-depth consideration of the project, it became clear that both the Polish and German sides expressed willingness to participate in the project and recognised its need for the Lower Silesian-Saxon border area, as well as its symbolic importance for the reconciliation between Polish-German relations.

Together for a region

European Memorial Park in the European City of Görlitz-Zgorzelec

A project of the Memory, Education, Culture Foundation and the Association Meetingpoint Memory Messiaen e.V.

Under what circumstances and for what purpose was a modern museum created on the site of the former prisoner-of-war camp Stalag VIII A of Görlitz, which is now on the side of Poland? Why was a World War II barrack chosen for this purpose?

Developed in 2017, the concept of the European Memorial Park envisions a complex effort to commemorate the fate of the prisoners of this camp as a symbol and warning against political extremism. This is particularly important for future generations from both sides of the Nysa border region where the descendants of the war victims meet.

In recent years, there has been a rise in nationalist sentiment and a strengthening of extreme right-wing groups both in Saxony and in Poland as evidenced by recent election results. Therefore, educational measures are urgently needed to protect the democratic order and promote civic attitudes among the people of the region.

The concept for the Memorial Park envisions long-term strategic activities impacting all social groups. It aims to revive the German-Polish border region through modern educational tourism offers and cultural activities.

The creation of the Memorial Park, with its emphasis on educational work, is an important testament that the vision of a European community and cooperation along with rising obligations is a priority for the Memory, Education, Culture Foundation and the Meetingpoint Memory Messiaen e.V. This commitment does not only come from the knowledge of the treaty provisions (see Treaty of Good Neighbourhood and Friendly Cooperation of 17 June 1991) but also from an underlying concern for democratic order in the region.

Substantive pillars of the Memorial Park

Main areas of activity. Structural and functional breakdown

The operating strategy of the ‘Memorial Park’ is mainly based on three pillars. These include the following thematic areas:

– The past for the future. Research, archival, exhibition, and publishing activities

– Culture and art as an expression of memory

– Europe and us. Citizenship education

The activities in the areas mentioned above are designed to complement each other, forming a cohesive and holistic program. The specific reference to the place where they are situated in the former World War II prisoner-of-war camp is important to the historical memory of the communist dictatorship times by acknowledging the challenges of social memory in a region that experienced a complete population shift, resulting in a disproportion between both tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

As such, special emphasis is placed on education in its broadest sense.

The “citizenship education” profile is an innovation in the educational landscape of the Polish-Saxon border region.

Step by step, both societies are coming closer together, and the inhabitants are getting to know each other’s cultural heritage and customs. However, this does not indicate that all barriers, prejudices, and negative stereotypes have disappeared, some of them are deeply rooted in social mentality. Satisfaction with the economic standard of everyday life has proved to be an insufficient guarantee for the consolidation of a democratic political culture.

The current political tension in Europe and the economic consequences caused by the war in Ukraine is encouraging the development of extreme nationalist attitudes in Europe, which includes Poland and Germany, posing a threat to democracy. Looking ahead, for the border region to become a vibrant and harmonious leader in times of structural change, countries must work together in solidarity within the framework of the European neighbourhood and security.

A key project for 2025-2030 is the conception of the Memorial Park, which is the reconstruction of an RLM 501 barrack of the type from World War II. Its completion will open up many educational and tourism opportunities for the region.

The experience gained from several years of work in accordance with the statutes of both institutions and the thematic fields outlined above has made it possible to undertake a project of structural and symbolic importance in the area of the European City of Görlitz-Zgorzelec. An instrumentarium (financial and content-related scope of the project) was developed to enable the creation of a museum, educational, cultural, and tourist facility in the border triangle of Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

For the practical implementation of the areas of cooperation between the Foundation and the Association described above, several modules have been developed. One of these modules is presented here.

The module intended to be implemented between 2025 and 2030 is the creation of a museum and educational facility in a reconstructed World War II barrack. This facility will serve for both historical and political education, as well as the commemoration of the former prisoner-of-war camp Stalag VIII A Görlitz as an example of the terror and authoritarian rule of the Third Reich.

The work on this module is also important for implementing the joint strategy for further developing culture, education, and tourism in the European City of Görlitz-Zgorzelec. The implementation will showcase an example of European goals for joint cross-border activities to strengthen the identity and civil society in the border region of Lower Silesia, Saxony, and beyond.

How the idea of barrack reconstruction developed. An overview of select facts

The original World War II barrack of type RLM 501 which was used for prisoners of war and concentration camps located on the Görlitz site had to be quickly demolished due to planned construction activities. Because of its historical value, it was finally handed over by bilateral agreement to the Memory, Education, Culture Foundation, which legally manages part of the site of the former prisoner of war camp located in Görlitz-Ost until 1945 and is now in Zgorzelec.

The Meetingpoint Memory Messiaen e.V. association directed efforts in securing permission from the Saxon State Conservator of Monuments to relocate the barracks as well as prepared the documentation and organised the fundraising necessary for this phase of the project.

In turn, a team of Polish specialists led by Dr. Wojciech Głowa conducted detailed research into the structure of the building, archived the existing condition, and drew up a conservation plan for the various parts before dismantling the barrack.

After a team from Krakow carefully dismantled and removed the elements that had lost their utilitarian value, the barrack was handed over to the Polish side. The components are currently stored near Zgorzelec, with funding provided by the Memory, Education, Culture Foundation since 2021.

The next stage of the project is the reconstruction of the barrack and the creation of a centre for historical education about World War II and the social and civic education for a democratic Europe. This will be the only centre of its kind in the Polish-Saxon border region and the Polish-German-Czech triangle.

The reconstructed barracks will house a modern exhibition on Stalag VIII A Görlitz and the prisoners of this camp. The exhibition will utilize multilingual materials developed using the latest museum methods and technology.

The completion of this module will be a foundation for the next phase: developing a permanent outdoor exhibition on the preserved foundations of the barracks and fragments of the camp infrastructure. This will create a fascinating historical and exhibition space for visitors similar to modern solutions used in many historical memorial sites (e.g. Berlin, Łambinowice).

Brief overview of activities undertaken and planned

In October 2021, the barrack was dismantled by strictly following a detailed protocol. A chemical analysis of the materials and paints used in the construction was laboratory examined in Krakow. This thorough examination will ensure that appropriate substances will be used for both reconstruction and preservation of parts in the process of reconstruction.

Planning the restoration of the barracks, administered in collaboration with conservationists, architects, an archaeologist, and the construction company, will provide an accurate plan for financing the costs, as well as contingency plans for the construction and the division of the project into different phases and trades.

While most of the original elements of the protected barrack from Görlitz will undergo a professional restoration, some sections of the walls as well as the roof and floor will require new construction.

The foundation of the reconstructed barrack at the memorial site is intended to be the original foundation of a similar barrack at Stalag VIII A. However, both the foundation and the ground have to be archaeologically examined and prepared before the barrack can be erected.

During construction, the connection of new utilities is an important factor that has to be completed for the barrack to fulfil its expected function.

The barrack will be reconstructed by experts using original and reconstructed parts, basing their work on the detailed analysis of the dismantling documentation for the reconstruction.

Exhibitions housed in the barracks and state-of-the-art educational tools will create an active place of remembrance and learning. The exhibitions and media stations will be designed in parallel with the construction of the barrack. Alongside the construction, a comprehensive search for archival materials from around the world will be initiated.

The total cost for the three-year project is estimated at 1,530,000.00 EUR. A financial plan for 2023 has already been established.