On 4 November 2019 the special exhibition entitled "Some Were Neighbours" by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) was inaugurated at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial by Prof. Dr Detlef Garbe (Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial), Dr Klaus Mueller (USHMM) and Darion K. Akins (US Consul General Hamburg).
Prof. Detlef Garbe, Director of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, described the key themes of the special exhibition as collaboration and complicity, and neighbours as Mitläufer and accomplices. He explained that the exhibition illustrated how commonplace marginalisation and persecution were in Germany between 1933 and 1945, and how few people chose to stand up to the regime. ‘Of course, not everyone behaved in this way, and there were isolated instances of people who provided assistance and support – but they were few and far between. They were by far the exception to the general rule, which was one of collaboration, countenance, and callous indifference.’
He added that residents of Hamburg also lived in the immediate vicinity of the Neuengamme concentration camp and its satellite camps, which were scattered throughout the metropolitan area. The main camp and its satellites would have been noticeable all over the city at the latest when thousands of concentration camp prisoners were assigned to recover bodies and clear away rubble in the wake of the city’s destruction from aerial bombing raids in summer 1943. ‘The contention that no-one knew anything about the concentration camps or that they could not have known about them is one of the great myths and legends; indeed, it is one that more or less defined the Federal Republic of Germany in the decades after the war.’
In his speech, Consul General Darion K. Akins referred to the personal responsibility of each individual for his or her actions. Even 81 years after the November pogroms, one had to remain vigilant and combat antisemitism. He highlighted the important role of the USHMM in the United States and of the memorial sites in Germany.
Dr Klaus Mueller, the USHMM’s European representative, reminded those present that the Nazi notion of Volksgemeinschaft, or ‘people’s community’, was founded on marginalisation. He appealed for renewed vigilance in our present times: ‘Today, antisemitism, racism, extremism, homophobia and transphobia, xenophobia and anti-Roma sentiments are not just expressed increasingly openly, but also implemented. The shocking attack in Halle has highlighted in a most tragic way the urgent need for a political and societal response.’
Visitors should be inspired by the exhibition to reflect on the influence they can have as individuals for a better future. ‘The Holocaust reminds us that the unthinkable is possible. It is also a reminder that individuals have more power than perhaps they might think – be it for good or for bad.’
The [German-language] exhibition Some Were Neighbours remains on show in the foyer of the main exhibition at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial until 12 January 2020. English hand-outs for the exhibition boards are available at the information desk in the main exhibition.