The Dachau International Committee Study Prize award
General Jean-Michel Thomas, President
Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of the International Dachau Committee, I would like to briefly welcome all participants, some of whom are members present at this video conference, following our General Assembly this morning.
First of all, I would like to thank the Chair of the Jury, Prof. Dr. Sybille Steinbacher, and each and every member of the Jury for this award, especially our representative Prof. Dr. Ernst Berger. He has personally praised the quality and work of your distinguished international jury, to whom I hereby express my appreciation.
I would like to welcome the personalities of the memorials in Munich and Dachau who were able to join us, not forgetting the few members of the CID who are also present after our General Assembly this morning.
The holding of this ceremony by video conference unfortunately deprives us of the usual accompaniment and support from other representatives of the world of commemoration of the concentration camps, which I very much regret.
The CID Prize is intended to honour academic work that deals with the history of the Dachau camp and the persecution policies of the Nazi regime, but also with coming to terms with Nazi crimes after the end of the Second World War, with the study of memorial sites or with work that focuses on pedagogy and education.
As you know, this prize is named after the renowned historian Stanislav Zámečník, a Czech resistance fighter who was deported to Dachau by the Gestapo in February 1941 and worked there in the herb garden and later in the infirmary until the camp was liberated.
After more than four years of imprisonment in Dachau, Stanislav Zámečník returned to Czechoslovakia, where he enrolled at the University of Prague to study history. He then dedicated his life to researching the history of the Dachau camp and National Socialism, which found expression in his extraordinary monograph: "That was Dachau".
The prize is being awarded today for the third time. However, it has already gained real notoriety by very quickly becoming an esteemed recognition, a seal of quality and respectability, awarded after a tough selection process.
Unfortunately, I have not yet read the work that is being praised and honoured today, so I cannot talk about it. So I will have an open ear for the two personalities who will now tell us about it.
Nor do I have the pleasure of honouring the brilliant winner of this prize, Dr Markus WEGEWITZ, for his work :
Cultivated antifascism. Nicolas Rost und der lange Kampf gegen Nationalsozialismus 1919 bis 1967.
This ceremonial presentation of the diploma, without a warm handshake and without champagne, is of course frustrating. But it concretises for all of us the research work on publicising and remembering the Dachau camp, i.e. our common goal. And it is in this spirit that we will extend our warmest congratulations to the radiant laureate.
Dr. Markus WEGEWITZ I have the honour, on behalf of the CID, to present you with the Stanislav Zámečník Prize 2022, with our warmest congratulations.
Prof. Dr. Annette Eberle
Dear members of the Comité International de Dachau, dear colleagues of the jury, ladies and gentlemen, and we are very pleased to welcome you, Dear Mr Wegewitz,
On behalf of the jury, we would like to congratulate Mr Wegewitz most warmly on being awarded the Stanislav Zámečník Prize of the Comité International de Dachau. In great agreement we found that your dissertation " Cultivated Anti-Fascism. Nicolaas Rost and the Long Struggle against National Socialism, 1919-1967", corresponds in a very convincing way to the intentions of the prize donors. We are therefore very grateful that the thesis was able to be written under the supervision of Norbert Frei at the University of Jena, and that you were able to defend it there very successfully in February 2021 with the grade "summa cum laude".
Since the inception of the Stanislav Zámečník Prize of the CID, it has become apparent what significant impulses the previous prize winners have been able to give with their works for the historiography of the Dachau concentration camp through new, as well as fundamental insights into the history of the international prisoner society. You are continuing this tradition with your work on the history of experience of anti-fascism in Europe using the example of the political biography of the Dutch journalist Nicolaas Rost, who was also a survivor of Dachau concentration camp. To honour this achievement of yours, we are giving the laudation on the award-winning work today as a Dutch-German duo. I, Annette Eberle, will begin and Hans de Vries, a long-standing expert at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, will then add from the perspective of the debate in the Netherlands.
Stanislav Zámečník, who gave his name to the prize, joined the resistance against the Nazi regime at the age of 17 after the German occupation of his homeland, Czechoslovakia, and was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp from February 1941 until liberation on 29 April 1945, met Nicolaas Roost, who was a prisoner there from 17 June 1944 until liberation, in the infirmary. In Zámečník's authoritative and so far only monograph on the camp, published in 2002 and entitled "That was Dachau", he recalls Nico Rost in a long paragraph about the resistance in the infirmary by the prisoners working there: the Czech doctor Dr František Blaha and the German socialist Heinrich Stöhr, head orderly in the precinct. Both risked their lives to protect and save the lives of the prisoners entrusted to them. Zámečník writes: "(...) the Dutchman Nico Rost and the German Heinrich Auer were lucky enough to get into the precinct immediately after arriving at the camp. Thanks to Stöhr, they remained in a quiet environment until the end of the war and were even able to devote themselves to literary studies." The prisoner solidarity experienced in this way resulted in secret diary entries, on the basis of which Nico Roost's experiential report "Goethe in Dachau" about prisoner society in the last years of the war was written. The book was published in the Netherlands in 1946 and in German translation by the East Berlin publishing house Volk und Welt in 1948. The book has become an important source of information on the limits and possibilities of solidarity in the face of a system characterised by absolute inhumanity, also through its reception at the Dachau concentration camp memorial. Rost's survivor's account serves to reflect on the question of whether and in what way solidarity could shape the situation of the prisoners despite the everyday terror, as well as the coexistence in the field of conflict between the different prisoner groups and nations. These discussions accompanied my first involvement with "Goethe in Dachau" when I was commissioned to establish an education department at the memorial in the early 2000s. For today's visitors, excerpts from it as well as from his book "I was in Dachau again", published in 1955, can be heard with the audio guide. Less well known are Rost's earlier writings on the nature of Nazi terror in the camp and in the war from the 1930s: Like the Dutch text "The Oranienburg Brewery. A Concentration Camp in the Third Reich" from 1933, or his reportage on the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Condor air squadron, which he published in the Netherlands after his return as a war observer of the Spanish Civil War. These stations are also reflected in Wegewitz's work as a frame of reference for anti-fascist experiences.
Even after liberation, Nico Rost saw himself as part of the society of prisoners and survivors in their struggle for the memory of the former site of Nazi terror. For him, the fight against forgetting continued the fight against fascism. Barbara Distel, the former director of the concentration camp memorial who accompanied the construction of the memorial from the beginning, paid tribute to his role in the establishment of the concentration camp memorial in her report, which she wrote as a member of the jury on the work of Markus Wegewitz to be awarded today. In it, she wrote about Nico Rost's contribution to the work of the Comité Internati-onal de Dachau: "With the beginning of the efforts of the Comité International de Dachau, newly founded in 1955, to create a memorial on the site of the former prisoners' camp in Dachau, Nico Rost became one of the most important protagonists. His many international connections, especially to the Belgian leadership of the Comité, his knowledge of German and his talent for writing predestined him to be an energetic mediator, especially between the German survivors and the representatives of the remaining national member associations of the organisation. Nico Rost was forgotten after his sudden death in 1967 until the literary critic Wilfried F. Schoeller published a new edition of "Goethe in Dachau" as well as other writings by Nico Rost in 1999 in the Berlin publishing house Volk und Welt."
With his dissertation, Markus Wegewitz has now succeeded in remembering the collective experiences of the Dachau prisoners' society, starting from the world of experience of the author of "Goethe in Dachau", in order to draw and historically analyse them as part of a history of political experience of antifa-schism in Europe. And this is based on a present in which anti-fascism as a political movement against right-wing extremism and right-wing populism in Europe is becoming both necessary and sadly topical. And, very topically, a present in which anti-fascism is cruelly reinterpreted and serves as a legitimisation for the military attack on Ukraine and for war crimes. The author could not yet have foreseen this connection. Indicative of the convincing academic methodological approach of examining anti-fascism as a history of experience is the point at which Markus Wegewitz characterises "Goethe von Dachau" as part of a collective of memoirs about surviving fascist terror: "Subsequent sense-making pervades the survivors' memoirs in general and Rost's own "diary" Goethe in Dachau" in particular. As a historical source, the account hardly holds any unmediated experiences of the concentration camp. Instead, the book follows a complex pattern of interpretation rooted in the anti-fascist concept of culture, which makes it difficult to read it as a source for a history of experience of the period before liberation. In the individual description of the concentration camps, the political influence of the observer must always be taken into account, also because such a perspective is in many places the only chance to approach the history of the camp. The experiences of the anti-fascists in the strange world of the concentration camps draw on the years of commitment before the imprisonment as well as on the experiences in the camps themselves, but also on the expectations and hopes for the time after the end of the National Socialist regime". (S. 147)
This quotation also sheds light on the analytical potential of the inter-disciplinary approach in the cross-fertilisation of social, intellectual and political history. Thus, Nico Rost's career also becomes clear, growing up in a bourgeois environment and spending his life fighting for social justice and against National Socialist oppression. The historical development of anti-fascism as a political movement is traced in conjunction with the political development of fascism, up to the after-effects of National Socialism in the 1950s and 60s, and always starting from the stations in Nico Rost's life as intermediate stations in his political and biographical search. According to the Dutch historian Peter Romijin, one of the reviewers of the dissertation, Wegewitz thus succeeds in making an innovative contribution to understanding the history of anti-fascism through the example of Rost's development: "Rost shows himself to be an internationalist, a man who was part of various networks of bohemians, writers, journalists and politicians. This ties in very well with the current tendency to write transnational histories of resistance networks in Europe, where anti-fascist action is embedded in longer-term engagement and activism."
Wegewitz succeeds in this primarily on the basis of extensive research of primary and secondary sources, especially Dutch sources - and here I hand over the floor to my fellow jury member Hans de Vries:
I was very impressed by Wegewitz's ability to make unlimited use of Dutch sources. Although he quite rightly emphasises that his research is not a biography, he has been able (among other things) to give Rost some biographical relief with the help of these sources.
In my view, very rightly, because in this way his protagonist does not appear as an abstract medium in the historical process of anti-fascism, but as a concrete person who sometimes made momentous decisions. I think this methodology is very important because otherwise anti-fascism is presented to too great an extent as an 'objective' historical construct.
Rost is absolutely a very 'biographable' person. Communist, but certainly not a Leninist. He showed himself to be quite independent of Comintern directives (although he denounced his 'friend' Jef Last). He made friends in Dachau (among others) with anti-class figures like Pim Boellaard and Carel Steensma (conservatives) and Stuuf Wiardi Beck-mann (social-democrat), which was very much resented by the Dutch CP leadership in the post-war period. He was a loner, a homeless leftist. And beyond that (which has nothing to do with politics and anti-fascism): he had a deep love for Germany, her language and literature. The biography (unfortunately not translated into German) by Hans Olink is called: "Nico Rost. De man die van Duitsland hield" (Nico Rost. The man who loved Germany). You can imagine that the CP showed little interest in his literary reflections. All this "gibberish" has nothing to do with the class struggle and anti-fascism. Markus Wegewitz's study thus also proves that it overcomes long-held stereotypes in historiography as well as in the culture of remembrance - entirely in the spirit of the current remembrance work of the Comité International de Dachau and of Stanislav Zámečník, who gave the prize its name.
Short presentation by the laureate Dr. des. Markus Wegewitz
Award of the Dachau International Committee Study Prize for the PhD thesis:
Cultivated Antifascism. Nicolaas Rost and the Long Struggle against National Socialism, 1919–1967
Markus Wegewitz's study sheds light on the history of antifascism, which is closely intertwined with the course set by the extreme 20th century. Antifascism is a dispositive of experience, a way of life and a political position at the same time. The study, which was written as a dissertation at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, offers a historical longitudinal section from the emergence of organised antifascism after the end of the First World War to the global 1960s. In the process, central ideas, forms of organisation, patterns of memory and components of political culture are elaborated.
In order to relate these different lines of development to each other, the study uses an experiential approach, methods of historical biography. In this way, the interpretive appropriation of historical reality by antifascists is made comprehensible and, at the same time, social contexts, worlds of ideas and central discourses are made accessible beyond the individual level.
The protagonist of the study is the Dutch journalist, communist, survivor of the concentration camps Oranienburg, Vught and Dachau and founding member of the Comité International de Dachau, Nicolaas Rost (1896–1967). His life offers biographical insights into antifascism in the 20th century. As a reporter, organiser and translator, Rost worked above all else to connect antifascism across linguistic, cultural and national borders.
In particular, the study looks at the reference to German culture, which Rost and other antifascists used as a political argument. In this antifascism which especially emphasised cultural references, they set an essentialised humanist culture against fascist barbarism. In particular, the topos of the “defence of culture” was a decisive part of antifascist mobilisation and alliance policy over the decades.
Taken into account as well is the perspective with which survivors of the Dachau concentration camp and their organisations looked at anti-fascism. Rost's interpretation of his time of imprisonment in his book “Goethe in Dachau”, the inclusion of the victims of the Shoah and other groups of persecutees, as well as the political struggle for the establishment of a memorial at the site of the former Dachau concentration camp can be understood as anti-fascist practice.
Antifascism should be understood as a plural concept in which different humanist, socialist and communist ideas resonate and in whose historical genesis touches on different organisational concepts, notions of democracy, left utopias and means to achieve historical justice. Critical reflection on antifascism, its different varieties, political goals, and historical origins is urgently needed. Not in the least to discredit cherished political stereotypes and anti-communist reflexes. This study shows one way to do this.
More on Nico Rost in pdf:
Nico Rost; a bochure on the Dachau Concentrationcamp Published 1961 - 1963
An exhibition on Nico Rost ( in German) with the kind permission of the city of Dachau.