Our primary mission is to experience history together and take responsibility for the future. We also take a stance against antisemitism, racism, and injustice. Furthermore, we set an example for remembrance, solidarity, and peace through voluntary commitment and international cooperation. In Europe, in Israel and in the United States of America.
About ASF in Germany
For over 60 years, Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste e.V. (ASF) has been firmly committed to remembrance, reconciliation, and peace. The initiative was founded after World War II as a sign of atonement and solidarity with people and countries that suffered most from the unprecedented Nazi crimes. ASF remembers those who were persecuted and opposes all current forms of antisemitism, racism, queer hostility and exclusion of minorities.
Every year, ASF sends approximately 160 volunteers to various countries in Europe, Israel, and the USA. They accompany survivors of the Shoah and Nazi forced labor, they care for people with mental disabilities, or they assist staff in memorials and archives. In international two-week summer camps, volunteers support specific projects, such as the maintenance of Jewish cemeteries. In other summer projects, they conduct short-term research at memorial sites.
This commitment is only possible thanks to the generous support of our partner organizations. On one side, we partner with Jewish communities, churches, museums, and memorial sites; on the other side, we closely work with organizations that provide social services for the elderly, disadvantaged youth, minority groups, refugees, or people with disabilities. In most partner countries, ASF is represented by a permanent contact person and a country office.
We believe that a path for understanding and dialogue opens up when we closely cooperate with individuals and partner organizations that share our mission. Thus, volunteer service is peace service.
In the English-speaking countries, Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste e.V (ASF) is called Action Reconciliation Service for Peace – ARSP.
After World War II, young Americans of the traditional peace churches, namely 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 hand in hand with German youth in local church congregations in West Germany.
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 to ensure that peace service would not remain a one-way-street.
Therefore, in 1968, with modest resources, ARSP started the US-volunteer program. At that time, the US was struggling to overcome racism. Then, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots swept through American cities and protests against the Vietnam War were at its peak. In this context, American church groups thought that young, highly motivated volunteers from Germany could help. They firmly believed that Americans and Germans could support and learn from each other.
ARSP accepted the invitation to send volunteers to the United States for several reasons:
- ARSP’s leaders were aware that a large number of Holocaust survivors and refugees from Nazi Germany had fled or immigrated to the United States
- American soldiers had lost their lives or been wounded liberating Europe from National Socialism
- After 1945, citizens of the United States had sent manifold signs of reconciliation to Germany, including food and volunteers. The most famous example is the relief work of the Quakers. ARSP wanted to thank the American people for their support by engaging in volunteer service in the United States
- Prejudice still existed towards Germans in the United States. ARSP felt that young volunteers could serve as representatives of a new, peaceful Germany
- ARSP opposed the war in Vietnam and decided to work along the US peace churches that strongly protested against the war
- At the same time, the Cold War and pervasive anti-Communist sentiment in the United States were a challenge. ARSP leaders truly believed that they could build bridges between Eastern and Western Europe
- ARSP represented a practical model of cooperation. It worked on the international, ecumenical, and interfaith level to bring people together
The first ARSP volunteers in the late 1960s, worked at camps for children from disadvantaged neighborhoods, community centers in urban ghettos, halfway houses, camps of migrant workers, and on Indian reservations. In the 1970s, many ARSP volunteers got involved in community organizing. They helped , for example, migrant workers. In the 1980s, ARSP volunteers cautiously approached the Jewish community for the first time. By the mid 1990s, about half of the ARSP volunteers worked in Holocaust education or with the Jewish elderly.
Today, our volunteers are active in ten cities in the US, in one of four different fields:
- working with the Jewish community
- civic education
- social services with marginalized groups
- human rights
ARSP’s commitment is only possible thanks to our partner organizations. We have been working with many partner organizations for many years on the basis of equal cooperation. We exchange information on a regular basis – international cooperation enriches us greatly. Our volunteers have contact persons at their volunteer positions.
Working with the Elderly and the Jewish Community
ARSP has established contacts with Jewish organizations since the 1980s, when the groundwork for cooperation with the Jewish community was laid. Since then, many of our volunteers have assisted the “friendly visiting” program with Holocaust survivors, supported other programs, organized events, and socialized with people in the Jewish community:
- Edlavitch Jewish Community Center in Washington DC
- Hebrew Senior Life in Boston
- Project Ezra in New York City
- Selfhelp Home in New York City
- Jewish Family Service in Cincinnati OH
- Selfhelp Home in New York City
Supporting Civic Education and Human Rights
ARSP volunteers are also leaving a mark in educational institutions like Holocaust Centers and organizations that teach the significance of the moral choices that we make today. ARSP volunteers’ role in the following institutions is to learn about history, listen to stories of survivors, and to consequently take a stand against antisemitism, racism, and injustice:
- Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, IL
- Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center in Cincinnati, OH
- US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC
- The InterReligious Task Force for Latin America in Cleveland, OH
Supporting Social Services with Marginalized Groups
ARSP works closely with organizations that provide social services, for example, for children experiencing poverty, disadvantaged people, people with mental disabilities and those experiencing homelessness.
ARSP volunteers are proud to support:
- Cradles to Crayons in Chicago
- Cradles to Crayons in Philadelphia
- HIAS Pennsylvania in Philadelphia
- Family Promise in Philadelphia
- Christus Lutheran Church and the Sisters of St Joseph Neighborhood Center in Camden, NJ
- Joseph’s House in Camden NJ
- Clinton Housing Development Company in New York City
- Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) in Cleveland, OH
- Innisfree Villiage in Crozet, VA
“I appreciate the work of volunteers. It is important for both sides: As an act of reconciliation and also as a great help for the survivors of the Shoah.
Remembering is important as a call for the future – to do something against anti-Semitism and prejudice. Young people should learn from the past, realizing that they are not responsible for then, but for the future. If they answer: ‘We are all human beings’ – then I have achieved the most important thing.”
ASF partner and Holocaust survivor, Prague