From Labour Camps to Factory Housing
Ayse Güleç is engaged in several projects related to the autonomous organization of migrants. She is director of the educational division of the Schlachthof, a self-determined initiative in Kassel that grew out of a squatting project in the 70s. Ayse assists us in the recording of onomatopoeic animal sounds, read in different languages spoken in Kassel. Over tea, our conversations revolve around the many chapters in the migrational history of Kassel.
Huguenots and Integration
- Migration has written itself into Kassel since long ago in highly diverse ways, being inscribed into the city’s history and society, even into the cityscape. Back when we laid the trail on the Auehang, we stumbled upon an early chapter of Kassel’s migrational history: the Terassengarten, which became a cenotaph in the twentieth century, was built in the eighteenth century by Paul du Ry, a Huguenot soldier and engineer who fled from France to Kassel. I was struck by the fact that Landgrave Karl granted asylum on a grand scale to Huguenots at the time, and that he even commissioned Paul du Ry to build an entire urban district for these new inhabitants—the Oberneustadt, or the Huguenottenquartier above Schöne Aussicht. In Kassel the Huguenots were guaranteed religious freedom and the use of their own language, even economic support. Why were they thus accommodated with such open-heartedness?
- It must have been because during the Thirty Years’ War many princedoms were bled dry. There was a shortage of employable men. Many of them died in the war and the land was financially exhausted. In this sense, the Huguenots, who were expelled for their religious affiliation, were welcomed here. These people’s trades, expertise, and craftsmanship were needed, so there was a demand of sorts, and a usefulness, maybe even an ideology of usability. And we can still see this today in our migrational history. Currently Germany lacks well-educated skilled workers, and as a consequence a new law has been passed: Germany now recognizes qualifications belonging to non-EU nationals, migrants in Germany with degrees obtained outside the EU. This wasn’t always possible.
To this day, the history of the Huguenots and Landgrave Karl is a very important referential arc when we talk about Kassel and its current situation as a migrational society and a site of equitable coexistence where people from one hundred and fifty different countries live. With this observation, we want to articulate that a tradition exists which upholds openness toward other people regardless of their cultural and religious origin. But differences live on, as you mentioned—they were permitted to practice their own religion and speak their own language. The going philosophy in the seventies, eighties and nineties maintained that children of migrant generations ought not to forget their mother tongue. Now, after some time has passed, we are seeing a doctrine which insists that whoever lives here must speak German. This marks a fundamental change. There are, of course, advocates of bilingualism, but many migrating people have been coming to the realization that the German language is very, very important for living, working and existing here.
- . . . and that integration actually means deciding to take on the other identity. The preservation of heterogenous identity is frowned upon; instead you have to become German to be accepted here. That’s what I perceive as the undertone of the current concept of integration.
- Exactly, and the concept is pared down to language proficiency and not, for instance, to the question of whether one possesses the same rights or not.
Forced Laborers and Gastarbeiter
- In the nineteenth century the population of Kassel doubled, and this was linked to industrialization and the intensification of production, which was already happening as early as the nineteenth cetury. But one of the great chapters of this story, as demonstrated by this link, can be read in the production carried out during the Second World War by forced laborers. Ten thousand Kasselers were working in arms manufacture at Henschel, but the demand for war machinery was nonetheless impossible to meet. An additional workforce of twenty tousand was brought in. There were three different categories of worker: forced laborers, foreign workers, and already the first Gastarbeiter [guest workers], who came from friendly countries like Italy. Unlike the Huguenots’ role as skilled craftsmen, these workers were doing work they were retrained to do. They were people who had practiced quite different professions before they were deported to Germany to manufacture tanks in the factories of Henschel and Wegmann. Can you say something about how these people were housed and what the situation in Kassel was like?
- These companies had barrack-like spaces throughout the city. Strangely enough, they were called labor camps, these places where foreign workers and forced laborers were housed. It’s horrifying, when you look at the historical chronology, that these camps were utilized later on as housing for other groups of people, the first Gastarbeiter who were recruited after the war, for example. And what’s really striking is the shortness of the periods of time separating these different uses. The first recruited Gastarbeiter were housed in these camps only ten years after the forced laborers, and they too worked in factories belonging to Henschel and Wegmann. And this continuity is very, very horrifying. I saw an image in a documentary about the first generation of guest workers in Germany. This image really grabbed my attention, and I can still see it clearly: young, twenty-year-old Italien, Turkish, and Tunesian men who had just arrived at the beginning of the sixties standing in front of a workhouse of sorts—which was once a labor camp—getting their picture taken, and you can even still see the sign that reads “Arbeitslager.” In fact it was already 1955 when the first so-called “Gastarbeiterverträge” [guest worker treaties] were signed. Italy was the first country, followed by Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Tunesia. And, speaking of chronology, it’s perhaps also of interest that in 1955, when the first guest worker treaties were signed, both the first Documenta and the first German Horticultural Show took place in Kassel, and the Wirtschaftswunder was starting to really take off. Are there any indications or clues pointing to the existence of a discussion about the almost seamless continuity between forced labor and guest labor in Kassel? Has this caught anyone’s eye?
- I don’t believe so. It has attracted attention in migration research, but I presume that it didn’t occur to those who were involved in it at the time.
It’s also interesting to imagine the scale of it. Every day forced laborers in groups of two thousand were marched under guard from the labor camp Möncheberg to the factory complexes, half-starved, in torn, ragged clothes, and in the evening they were marched back. You have to imagine this happening in a city as small as Kassel, and Möncheberg was just one of many camps spread out across the entire city. And the forced laborers didn’t only work in arms manufacture. There were component suppliers too, other factories that the industry was dependent on.
- Not to mention bakeries and farms that maybe had only one or two foreign workers, but nevertheless, the whole city had recourse to them. It’s of course attractive to have an additional cheap workforce which one might not even be able to afford.
- It’s really an interesting question whether these people noticed this continuity or not, the people who lived ten years later in these camps where forced laborers once dwelled. I wonder if they sensed anything, whether or not something seemed odd to them, whether the euphoria they initially felt hindered them from seeing the links. The first Gastarbeiter were like pioneers who didn’t know what they were getting into, who cheerfully and courageously traveled to a new place, not knowing where they would end up. We’re talking about curious, brave, confident people. Surely some of them must have thought it strange being housed in such big camps. They must have wondered what might have been there before, but I think these questions were outweighed by the euphoria that came with a new beginning, a euphoria that was shared by the city that had recruited them.
- The Atmosphere of departure
- The Atmosphere of departure and the negation of what happened in those places . . . people don’t talk about this, which is why I think the images from that time more strongly document the past, revealing the historical continuitiy.
It’s interesting that quite a lot of images exist of the aftermath of the bombardment of Kassel, really down to the small details, but there are very few photographs of the camps. Photographing or making contact with the forced laborers was forbidden. Propaganda framed the prisoners as wild rapists whom one should steer clear of. This was explained by pointing out how long it had been since these men had been with a woman, as there weren’t any women in the camps.
- It was the same thing with the Gastarbeiter.
- Yes, it was a perpetuation of the image of the wild foreigner who coudn’t control his sexual appetites.
I’m always noticing how interesting this temporal analogy to debris is. Kassel was still “snowed under” with debris up until the early fifties because the cleanup lasted so long. And then in preparation for the German Horticultural Show, the rubble was dumped over the Auehang, blanketed with earth, and then flowers—a sea of flowers. Psychologically speaking, this is quite a strong sign that society is allowing the past to rest, that it is starting afresh.
Recruitment and Ausländergesetz [aliens act]
- To add to this, the history of the camp continues in the history of asylum laws. Detention camps exist that regulate to what extent one can leave the facility and what one is allowed to do or not do. In this case, it’s the inverse: you can’t work.
And then there’s the shortage of skilled workers, which was the very reason for granting the Huguenots asylum and welcoming them with open arms: we need engineers to come and build our city. This characterizes the city to this day. The Du Ry family actually designed and built all the landmark buildings in Kassel. In contrast, today we are seeing a rather opaque policy regarding if and when a newcomer or migrant worker or asylum seeker can have his qualifications recognized in Germany.
- So far, migrants have had to go through a depreciation of their professional qualifications, which means their education or experience was useless and found no recognition here. In the nineties Germany attempted to recruit foreign workers according to the greencard model. But nobody wanted to come to Germany. Earlier on, the media had propagated an image—the boat is full, nobody else will be allowed in—and then an invitation was extended once again, but this time only to hignly qualified workers, whereupon they realized that nobody at all wanted to come because Germany was offering such bad conditions. Skilled workers were therefore still sought after for positions that couldn’t be filled by German nationals. This led to the German federal government’s issuance of a new law instituting the recognition of degrees obtained in foreign countries. This law has been in effect since April 4, 2012. We’re assuming that 300,000 persons from non-EU countries will be able to have their associate degrees and university degrees certified and recognized in Germany. This doesn’t mean they’ll receive a certificate from a German school. They’ll simply gain recognition for the education they obtained somewhere else.
- That’s merely a correction after the fact. It’s still based on the principle of rotation while it ignores the question of how people could potentially be welcomed here. The principle that takes effect is the following: Now we need this workforce immediately. They should come and bring their know-how. But concerning what this means in terms of social and human standards, there is still a loophole in people’s heads: they don’t belong here and actually they shouldn’t stay very long at all. As soon as these people are no longer required, we ask that they leave—because they shouldn’t take jobs away from Germans.
- The Ausländergesetz itself in an instrument designed to protect the primacy of German nationals from those who would come from the outside. It means nothing more. In other words, the Ausländergesetz enables a differentiation—who belongs and who doesn’t—and other laws are added in order to make the already existing laws more applicable. The ideology of usability has always had something to do with economic strength, and it deems work a very important element.
- It seems schizophrenic to recruit people on such a large scale and simultaneously say “you don’t belong, and you have no right to demand anything.”
- The core issue is that any attempt at nation building, any attempt to answer the question of what the national identity is, always leads to an attempt at homogenizing everything. Will multilingualism be fostered or should everyone speak the same language? And how will the rights of nationals be protected from foreigners, and when? Because sometimes it’s loosened. And one can see the ideology of usability therein, the strategies of functionality too . . .
. . . which are in synch with the market: demand, production and the exploitation of resources.
When you listen to first-hand witnesses, you also notice, however, that they simply didn’t ask the question “what’s this place I’ve ended up in?” They worked and tried to earn money, and they had fun in their motley men’s groups. For example, people from all over Turkey were coming together, people who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know each other.
By the way, the camps also underwent another temporary use. German minorities who were banished from Czechia and Poland after the war were also housed there.
- Expulsion is another issue that is directly linked to migration, leading back into this cycle of warfare. A city like Kassel produces weapons. These weapons are deployed to defend Germany’s political or economic interests, or, in the event that they are exported, the interests of other countries. This results in the expulsion of people, either because they are looking for work, suffering from political persecution, or fleeing the ravages of war. At this very moment, all these forms of expulsion are taking place all over the world. And for one reason or another, some of these people end up in Kassel, which brings us back to the asylum law.
- We were speaking about the Huguenots and how the princedoms were bled dry. Such a situation reinforces the logic of “war nourishes war.” And this logic applies to postwar Kassel too. The city was destroyed so severely because the arms industry was located here, which means that Kassel’s claim to fame, namely its economic strength, butressed by the war industry, became the reason for its destruction. Still, after the war, production was continued, and today Kassel is still the cutting-edge location for tank production. Starting in the seventies, after the oil crisis, the first refugees came. In other words, there was a machinery that made it necessary for people to flee, like the Kurds in Turkey, for example. Turkey bought tanks from Germany and deployed them against Kurds; Kurds came to Germany and applied for asylum. The same holds true for many other regions where tanks from Kassel have been deployed. There’s a direct link.
Kemal Altun and Halit Yozgat
- Asylum seekers come into play here in a different manner. We just talked about how Kassel kept producing weapons after the war. In the seventies asylum seekers started coming to Kassel. This was surely an undesirable development—the Anwerbestopp [ban on asylum] came already in 1973. The asylum seekers were fleeing military coups in different countries where—again—tanks from Kassel were being deployed, after which various options were explored for regulating or totally pulling the plug on the asylum application process. Germany had a very unique asylum law, a big ornament of democracy for postwar Germany. It was tightened more and more, just to be repealed in 1993. Since then, approximately 3.9 percent of all applicants are in fact granted asylum. This means that it’s unbelievably difficult to gain asylum here as a victim of political persecution, even as a victim of torture. A well-known example is Kemal Altun, after whom a square in Kassel has been named. It’s the square in front of Schlachthof, where I work, and I was part of the initiative to name this square. Kemal Altun came from the Kurdish part of Turkey and applied for asylum in Germany. During his court hearing, he came to the realization that he would be deported, and in the middle of this situation, he chose suicide and jumped from the window.
In Kassel there’s another initiative aiming to name a square after Halit Yozgat. Halit Yozgat was murdered here in Kassel, the ninth victim of the neonazi group from Zwickau called the NSU. He had an internet cafe on Holländische Strasse and was shot there in April 2006. His parents wanted Holländische Strasse to be named after him. For mainstream society, the renaming was quite arduous, not only formally but also emotionally, and now a compromise has been made. A square at the Hauptfriedhof [main cemetery] will be named after Halit Yozgat. I’m citing these events because it’s important to see that these historical loops, recurrences and continuities claim victims.