Gedenkdienst is the concept of facing and taking responsibility for the darkest chapters of one’s own country’s history while being financially supported by one’s own government to do so. Gedenkdienst has the acknowledgment of, the apology for and the assumption of responsibility for atrocities done by one’s own country’s society in history as its basis. Gedenkdienst is not the attribution of past guilt to other people but other people taking responsibility for evil done by perpetrators of their own country. Gedenkdienst is about honesty with one’s country’s past and the desire to rectify past wrongs. Gedenkdienst is about laying a foundation for a transformation of the relationship of the conflicted parties towards improvement. Gedenkdienst is about providing people of the perpetrator’s side a platform for education and going to the victim’s side to serve the remembrance of the evil done and the commemoration of its victims. Gedenkdienst is about peace on the basis of honesty regarding the past.
The Austrian Gedenkdienst remembers the atrocities of National Socialism and commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. Austrian Gedenkdienst volunteers work at holocaust-memorials, in museums and research institutes, as for instance the “Simon Wiesenthal Centre” in Los Angeles, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest or the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The work at the numerous deployment sites mainly consists of the creation and organisation of tours and events, working in archives, giving lectures in universities and schools as well as discussions with contemporary witnesses and their documentation in order not to forget their experiences.
For several years Austrian Gedenkdienst volunteers are also sent to deployment sites in former countries of refuge of the groups of victims during the National Socialism, as for instance the Casa Stefan Zweig in Petropolis (Brasilia), the Centre for Jewish Studies in Shanghai as well as the Jewish Museum in Australia in Melbourne. During the last two centuries hundreds of young Austrian Gedenkdienst volunteers have dealt with the history of the holocaust in 22 different countries and they have done a great contribution to the historical reappraisal as well as the understanding of victims and minorities.