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Action Reconciliation/Service for Peace

The following material is from the Action Reconciliation/Service for Peace (ARSP) website.

  1. Action Reconciliation / Service for Peace
  2. Our Beginning and our History
  3. Our International Programs
  4. Our History in the USA
  5. Our Service in the USA
  6. Holocaust and Peace Education in the USA
  7. Working with the Jewish Elderly and Holocaust Survivors in the USA
  8. Community Organizing in the USA
  9. Working with Marginalized Groups in the USA
  10. Info for Potential Placements
Action Reconciliation / Service for Peace (ARSP) The Berlin based German peace-organization "Aktion S®hnezeichen Friedensdienste" sends about 150 young German adults annually to countries which were affected by WW II in order to work with the peoples who suffered through the Nazi regime;
Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Israel, Great Britain, France, Poland, USA, Commonwealth of Independent States (former USSR) and the Czech Republic. These volunteers work in a broad variety of peace, social-justice and social service organizations.

In addition ARSP runs regular study trips and work camps at the memorial sites of Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland. There are also short term work camps with more than 300 volunteers from various countries every year. Besides working at memorial sites, these young people are volunteering in Jewish communities as well as doing social services. Conscious of its unique historical legacy, ARSP is also actively engaged in peace and anti-racism movements in Germany.

How it started
Action Reconciliation / Service for Peace (ARSP) was founded in Berlin at the1958 synod of the Protestant Church by individuals who had belonged to a small resistance group during the Nazi regime called the "Confessing Church". During a discussion of Protestant leaders about their position on chaplains within the German army and the question of nuclear armament on German soil, Reverend Lothar Kreyssig presented a "Call for Peace" and urged the delegates to support his plan. A majority of the delegates supported Kreyssig's plan and Action Reconciliation was born. Thirteen years after his original vision in 1945, it finally became a reality.

The Call For Peace
"We Germans began World War II and by this alone, more than others, we are guilty of bringing immeasurable suffering to humankind. Germans have murdered millions of Jews in an outrageous rebellion against God. Those of us, who survived and did not intend this, failed to do enough to prevent it. We ask the peoples who suffered violence at our hands to allow us to perform a good deed in their countries with our hands and resources, to erect a village, a settlement, a hospital, or whatever they request, as a sign of atonement. Let us begin in Poland, Russia, and Israel, whose people we hurt the most. We ask the governments of Poland, the USSR, and Israel to help make this service possible and not see this as major support or reparation, but as a call for forgiveness and peace."
Lothar Kreyssig, 1958

The Founder - Lothar Kreyssig
A Lutheran minister and a family court judge in the small Prussian City of Brandenburg, Lothar Kreyssig had been responsible as a guardian for several hundred mentally retarded children, youths and adults. In 1940, death certificates of his wards, both Jewish and Christian, began to accumulate on his desk. Kreyssig publicly charged the Nazis with the systematic extermination of mentally and physically impaired people, and demanded that Himmler stop this so-called "Operation Mercy Killing"; his plea was of course refused. The Nazis warned him to stop his investigations and it is astonishing that Kreyssig was not sent to prison or a concentration camp. However he was forced to resign as a judge, and returned to parish ministry. Kreyssig became one of the most outspoken, members of the "Confessing Church". He understood his commitment to speak out against the Nazis to be a moral and political obligation for every Christian.
After the war, Lothar Kreyssig felt deeply the tremendous failure of Christians in denying their responsibility for what had happened between 1933 and 1945. He strongly believed that the Holocaust was the most profound crisis in the history of Christianity, and searched for ways to atone for the outrageous crimes committed by Germans.

However, the first ARSP volunteers did not work in the countries originally envisioned in the "Call for Peace."
The wounds in Poland, Russia and Israel were still too deep, and the Cold War had begun. Instead, ARSP started working in Western and Southern Europe.

The first volunteers were young people who had been trained in construction and other practical skills. Unions and Protestant ministries in industrial, working-class areas recruited them. Many of the volunteers quit their jobs to be part of this new exciting venture, sometimes against the will of their parents.

First Projects In Host Countries

1959 - The Netherlands
A Dutch group invited German volunteers to help build a recreational center for workers from Rotterdam in Oudorp. The Netherlands was the first country to respond positively to Kreyssig's "Call for Peace."

1960 - Norway, Greece and Yugoslavia
Volunteers traveled to Norway to rebuild a church in Koklev, a village completely destroyed by the German army.
In Servia, Greece, another burnt village, volunteers constructed a water reservoir.
Volunteers also helped build houses in Skopje, Yugoslavia, an area devastated by an earthquake.

1961 - England, France and Israel
In England, an International Youth Encounter Center was built by ARSP volunteers at the site of the ruins of the Coventry Cathedral, which had been bombed by the German Air Force in 1940.
In France, volunteers built a synagogue in Villeurbanne, a suburb of Lyon, where Nazis had murdered almost the entire Jewish population.
Volunteers also helped construct the Church of Reconciliation in Taize, a small village in Southern France where refugees from occupied Northern France had been hidden in an empty castle by a Protestant community.
After the Eichmann trial and long negotiations, Israel allowed the first ARSP volunteers to work in Kibbutz Urim. Later, volunteers helped to build the Jewish Institute for the Blind in Jerusalem.

1967 - Poland
After ten years of discussion, Poland permitted volunteers to work at the memorial sites of the Auschwitz, Majdanek and former concentration camps. Volunteers serve as guides for youth groups and other visitors, and help facilitate discussions about the lessons of the Nazi regime for today.

1968 - Invitation to the USA

1986 - International Youth Encounter Center Auschwitz
ARSP built the International Youth Encounter Center in Auschwitz, which hosts seminars and study programs, and organizes volunteer work for youth groups.

1990 - Soviet Union
Because of the Cold War, it was very difficult to start working in the Soviet Union. At the time of the Khrushchev government, only a few German volunteers were allowed to participate in international work camps in the USSR. However, during the period of Perestroika and Glasnost the borders became more open, and ARSP organized the first study tours to Chatyn, a memorial site near Minsk. At last, the first long-term volunteer served at a hospital in Moscow.

1993 - Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is the most recent country to be served. The first long-term volunteers worked with the elderly in the Jewish community in Prague.


An Invitation to Serve in the United States
Don Sneider, the training director of the Brethren Volunteer Service in the United States wrote to ARSP's Berlin office:

"Hundreds of conscientious objectors were sent to Germany in the days of 'reconstruction' and they are even volunteering today. It would be promising if it could be a reciprocal venture. The idea of reconciliation is so important in these days and the demonstration of good will and compassion must be heard in these days of hate and destruction."

Since its invitation in 1968, more than 700 volunteers have worked in the United States in the movements for peace and social justice and for reconciliation with the Jewish community.

After World War II, young Americans of the traditional peace churches — the Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren — came as volunteers to a destroyed Europe to work in refugee camps and settlements for "displaced persons." In the 1960s, American volunteers worked with German youth in local church congregations in West-Germany.

In 1968, after a decade of cooperation between American and German peace organizations in Europe, the peace churches and the United Church of Christ asked ARSP to send German volunteers to the United States, so that their peace service would not be a "one-way-street." In 1968 the United States were suffering growing social problems in large cities and were struggling to overcome racism. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, riots swept through the ghettos of American cities, the Vietnam War was at its peak. American church groups thought they could use help from young, highly motivated volunteers. They believed Americans and Germans could support and learn from each other because both nations faced similar problems of racism and militarism.


ARSP
accepted the church groups' invitation to do volunteer work in the United States for several reasons:


The first ARSP volunteer placements in the United States began in fall 1968.
At the invitation of the U.S. peace churches and the United Church of Christ, volunteers worked at camps for children from poor neighborhoods, community centers in urban ghettos, halfway houses, camps of migrant workers, and on Indian reservations.

In the 1970s, many ARSP volunteers worked for the United Farm Workers (UFW), a union of Mexican migrant workers founded by Cesar Chavez. They helped to organize the UFW campaign to boycott lettuce and grapes all over the country.

The service of ARSP Volunteers lasts 18 months. They spend 16 months in their placements and 2 months in the preparation, orientation and evaluation seminars in Berlin, Philadelphia and other locations in the US.


Serving in the United States
Since its first invitation to the U.S. in 1968, more than 700 volunteers have worked here in the fields of social service, community organizing, peace education and reconciliation with the Jewish community. Currently the work in the U.S. is under the auspices of the United Church of Christ (UCC) which provides visa sponsorship for ARSP volunteers and staff.

There are five different working fields our volunteers serve in here in the US:



Holocaust and Peace Education
Holocaust Education agencies provide the public with an introduction to the Holocaust, make Holocaust related materials accessible and help contemplate what we can learn from this horrible event more than 50 years ago. Some of the means they use include:



Placing volunteers in American peace organizations has been another important area of ARSP's work. The volunteers learn about the history and the practice of nonviolence. They also become aware of the links between activism for peace and the struggle for social justice.

Facing History and Ourselves
Boston, MA and New York, NY
Public Speaking, Library Assistance

Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA
Public Speaking, Library Assistance

Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois
Skokie, IL
Public Speaking, Library Assistant

US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Washington, DC
Archive Work, Research, Tour Guide

The Peace Museum
Chicago, IL
Events, Exhibitions, Tour Guide

Working with the Jewish Elderly and Holocaust Survivors
ARSP volunteers work in Jewish nursing homes and with Jewish agencies for the elderly. Mostly they visit senior citizens who cannot be completely independent anymore, run errands for them, cook meals and take them to activities outside their apartments. Building a relationship of trust can sometimes be a hard task, yet it is the rewarding to see strong friendships develop, despite this difficulty.

DOROT
New York, NY
Visiting Holocaust Survivors and Working with the Homeless

Isabella Geriatric Center
New York, NY
Recreational Activities, Friendly Visiting

Jewish Family and Children's Service
Pittsburgh, PA
Friendly Visiting, After-School Program

Philadelphia Geriatric Center
Philadelphia, PA
Assist with Shabbat Services, Friendly Visiting, Exercises

Project EZRA
New York, NY
Visiting Elderly Jews and Holocaust Survivors

Selfhelp Community Services
New York, NY
Visiting Jewish Holocaust Survivors

Selfelp Home
Chicago, IL
Recreational Activities, Friendly Visiting in a Home for Elderly Jews

Community Organizing
Community organizing is a grassroots approach to democracy that does not exist in Europe, the way it does in the US. Through community organizing, people, usually living in low-income and disadvantaged neighborhoods, learn to take their lives in their own hands and don't wait for politicians and bureaucrats to solve their problems. ARSP volunteers help to organize people in their struggle to better their situation by identifying the issue, the key people, setting up meetings and facilitating their actions.

Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT)

Chicago, IL
Community Organizing on Environmental Issues (Transportation & Air Quality)

Clinton Housing Development Co.
New York, NY
Tenant Organizing, After school program

Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA)

Chicago, IL
Social Justice Organizing, Staff Support, Educational Program



Working with Marginalized Groups
ARSP is also working with certain groups that are marginalized in the United States today. Some of these groups, such as the mentally ill, were also victims during the Nazi regime, the "forgotten victims". Other groups are disenfranchised by the violent structures of our society today. Through solidarity with people who are discriminated against, ARSP can contribute to the internal peace of a society.
ARSP volunteers learn much about innovative concepts of working with marginalized groups in the following projects:

Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
Cleveland, OH
Activities for kids in a shelter for battered women

Cobble Hill Health Center
Brooklyn, NY
Activities for Alzheimer Patients

Hopewell Inn
Mesopotamia, OH
Living and volunteering on a farm with the mentally ill

Innisfree Village
Crozet, VA
Living and Working in a Community with Adults who have Mental Disabilities

N Street Village
Washington, D.C.
Organizing Activities in a Home for Mentally Disabled Women

Project H.O.M.E.
Philadelphia, PA
Helping the Homeless

St. Paul's Community Church
Cleveland, OH
Helping the Homeless, After-School Program

Trinity Presbyterian Church
New York, NY
Helping the Homeless, After-School Program


Who Are Our Volunteers?

Most of our volunteers range in age from 19 to 26 years and have either just completed "Gymnasium" (equivalent of high school plus 2 years of college) or have already started university studies or completed apprenticeships. Almost everyone has had English in school for at least five years and is able to adjust to the language after the first few months.
Although ARSP has a religious background, the volunteers themselves have a wide variety of religious, social, and political viewpoints. All of the volunteers, however, share ARSP's commitment to learn from the history of the Nazi regime and work with today's disadvantaged and oppressed people.

Since military service is still mandatory for male German citizens, most male ARSP volunteers are conscientious objectors and therefore volunteer as a legal alternative to serving as a civilian serviceman in Germany. If a German recruit wants to object to the military service, he has to write a detailed paper on why he thinks he is unable to serve his country in the army. More and more German men - about 35% at the moment - serve their country in the military but in social services. Most of these conscientious objectors do some kind of social and community service in Germany. It is, however, also possible to do a similar service abroad. Such social services in foreign countries are offered by some fifty not-for-profit and church organizations.
The required time of service is ten (10) months in the military, or thirteen (13) months for social/community services in Germany, or fifteen (15) months for services abroad. However ARSP requires an 18-month commitment.

Info for Potential Placements

This material is from the Action Reconciliation/Service for Peace (ARSP) website.

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