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"The past must never be repeated"

Flowers placed lovingly on a simple memorial where, 80 years ago, my mother lived in a draughty wooden hut. She was there under guard by the Nazis, working as a slave in their munitions factory.

A friend in Germany sent me this photograph, and a couple more. It was taken in Schweinfurt, where, in World War II, factories were using slave workers to operate the production lines. Those factories were turning out millions of ball bearings for German war machines.

Many of the slave workers, among them my mother - then in her late teens, were abducted from Ukraine and Poland. My mother had left her home in Ukraine in the morning to go to school, was abducted by German soldiers at lunchtime, and never saw her home or her parents again.

She spent the last year of the war in Schweinfurt, praying she would survive the relentless bombing by Allied planes desperate to shut down the factories.

The memorial pictured above is in a grassy meadow by the River Main, on the edge of Schweinfurt. It marks the spot where 10,000 slaves would be marched each morning, often in shackles, three kilometres from their wooden barracks to the factories.

Taking care of the memorial, and the information boards around it, is now the job of students from a local school. Some of them helped plan the ceremony, and recited poems they'd written about the suffering of the slave workers.

Second from the right in the photo, with the white beard, is my friend Werner Enke. Last year Werner met me in Schweinfurt. He took me around the area where the barracks had stood, and shared a lot of information about what happened to people like my mother.

Werner is from the Initiative Against Forgetting, a group which was instrumental in creating the monument and establishing the trail that leads from the site of the barracks to the factories.

At the ceremony he spoke about how the memorial, a simple stone bench, was meant to invite visitors to settle down and reflect on what happened here. Carved into the monument is the phrase 'Human dignity is inviolable.' That, said Werner, is the central point of the monument.

The head of the school's history department said the words on the memorial were not some utopian ideal; it was the responsibility of everyone to make the idea a reality. "The past," she said, "should never be repeated."

Photo: Antonia Seipel

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