Gertrud is committed against forgetting

At Zeitzeugenbörse e.V., Gertrud makes sure that history is not forgotten. She provides contemporary witnesses to schools and the media and records their experiences in writing. Especially today, with right-wing extremist or anti-Semitic tendencies in society, it is all the more important to document and disseminate the experiences of contemporary witnesses.

© Landesfreiwilligenagentur Berlin

I moved to Berlin in 2000 and I was then looking for a new occupation for my free time. There were various offers at the volunteer office. That's where I found the Zeitzeugenbörse. I gradually grew into the work. At first, like all newcomers, I started with mediation work. For this I made a scheme, which is also obvious for sociologists, in order to classify the experiences of the contemporary witnesses somehow, so that one can find and assign them more easily to the inquiries. Then I started making smaller brochures to record memories. Actually, my activity then moved more and more in this direction.  

My goal, or that of the people with whom I work - among them are also many young people - is especially to honor the oldest contemporary witnesses and to record their experiences. Since these topics they can talk about are also in great demand in schools and educational institutions and among journalists, we also do them a service because we provide them with the material and help them to better understand the history of Berlin in particular, but also that of Germany as a whole in the 20th century. 

„What particularly concerns me and also other colleagues in the Contemporary Witness Exchange (...) are the tendencies that we would not have expected at all - at least not me - for example right-wing extremist or anti-Semitic tendencies. I think it is extremely important that we all work together to counter such tendencies, also through increased education, for example, about war, the post-war period, the Holocaust and Nazi machinations. I believe that education also helps to counteract these tendencies.“


One challenge in our work is the age of the eyewitnesses. We always have the feeling that we now have to record their experiences before they die, so we have to hurry in a certain way.  Another challenge is that we have to deal with the new media in some way and want to offer the services of the eyewitness exchange through other channels than just a website. I don't think we've really mastered that challenge yet either, we don't really know yet if we should be on YouTube or Facebook or Instagram and wherever else. 

One way to solve the challenges is certainly to collaborate with others as much as possible, both to work in a team - that always lends itself and in sociology it's obvious anyway - but also to network as much as possible. 

Young people are important for our work. In the next two years we will be doing a large project dealing with migrant witnesses, and there are several young people involved. Then there are also young people who want to get involved to make podcasts. Since this is a new and unknown form of contemporary witness work, we are of course happy if we can inspire young people for this work. 

This portrait is from the competition "Gestalter:innen der Zivilgesellschaft" ("Shapers of Civil Society") of the Landesfreiwilligenagentur Berlin e.V. of the Landesnetzwerks Bürgerengagement Berlin. The competition was intended to draw attention to all those shapers of civil society in Berlin who are not yet so well known and have not yet received awards. It is precisely they who are to be honored for their special commitment. Five pioneers and implementers of humanity and public welfare were honored. The criteria were Achieving commitment - Driving forward integrative action - Promoting inclusion and diversity - Acting transparently and responsibly - Achieving effectiveness - Incorporating European values - Being a role model and instigator. The winners of the competition were announced during the 11th Berlin Commitment Week in September. Senator Elke Breitenbach was the patron of the competition.

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