The memorials are currently undergoing a fourfold process of transformation. First, a turning point foreseen since the 1990s has now definitely been reached; the age of eyewitnesses has come to a close. There is hardly anyone still living, who can personally recount the crimes of the Nazi period. For young visitors to the memorial sites, to whom such accounts are addressed, the Nazi period lies in an increasingly distant past. Often they see appeals made to them to "remember" something that their grandparents never directly experienced as a moral overload – as the wagging finger that says: "Remember!"
Second, the political climate in Germany and Europe has changed markedly, as right-wing extremist and populist parties have strengthened. Memorials are increasingly confronted with efforts to revise how history is portrayed – a challenged to which they must rise.
Third, digitalization has radically altered the way in which knowledge is acquired and opinions are formed. This also requires new educational approaches and formats.
Fourth, we live in a society of migrants. Many visitors to the memorials have no personal or family connection to the Nazi period or the GDR, but they certainly may have experienced persecution in a different country. To successfully carry out our mission, memorials need to engage with crimes committed by other societies and governments, without relativizing German crimes, particularly those of the Nazi period, or instrumentalizing their victims.
These challenges have informed the three goals that the foundation has set for the coming years:
1. The methods and content of the educational programmes at the memorials must be adapted to the current generational shift and growing social diversity.
2. Preserving the collections and the structural remnants of the sites also requires creating digital records and presentation formats. Fake histories presented in various media must be countered through serious, research-based sources of information.
3. The rise in racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, and anti-democratic thinking must be countered by clear advocacy for a humane, democratic, and open-minded society.
Prof. Dr. Jens-Christian Wagner