Social Work and Human Rights: Report from My Study Abroad – Part II
by Kristen Hibit
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of two blog posts by University of Buffalo School of Social Work MSW student Kristen Hibit, reporting on her recent study abroad with Dr. Elisabeth Reichert’s Global Seminar on Social Work and Human Rights, based in Munich, Germany. The link to Kristen’s first part is here: https://socialworksynergy.org/2019/06/11/social-work-and-human-rights-report-from-my-study-abroad/
All photos below are courtesy of the author.
Today’s focus was around women’s issues and mental illness by visiting Frauren Therapie Zentrum (Women’s Therapy Center). During the 1970’s, like the US, Germany experienced a psychiatric movement to give more rights to people with mental illness. Within this movement Frauren Therapie Zentrum was born and has been serving the community for over 40 years. They apply feminist, trauma and empowerment theory not only in their approach with their clients but also within their organizational culture. Many of their clients are immigrants and have suffered from traumatic experiences. They provide direct services to women and children and also demonstrate a commitment to politics through advocacy and policy efforts. They have trained and worked with other agencies to systematically identify trauma and abuse by administering appropriate questions to women in hospitals, doctors’ offices etc. They receive their funding through the City of Munich government and regularly meet with the government to report services and discuss collective goals.
Their services include:
- Counseling for people with psychosocial and psychosomatic issues through individual and group sessions
- Counseling for women who have been violent to their domestic partner
- Counseling, case management and crisis intervention for women with mental health issues, specializing in immigrants and mothers
- Occupational therapy: training to improve concentration, endurance, self-assertiveness, cooperation and relaxation
- Day care center for women with mental health problems for socialization and empowerment
- Outpatient social and health services for women with substance abuse through counseling, case management and reintegration
- Provide training to professionals in the mental health field
I was very impressed with the array of comprehensive services that Frauren Therapie Zentrum offers to support women with mental health issues. Their strong relationship with the City of Munich government seems to allow them to provide consistent services and their long history in serving women creates strong reputation within the community. Their integration of occupational therapy and work with other agencies demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of interprofessional collaboration and approaches to specific issues and in serving clients.
We took a tour of Dachau Concentration Camp, one of the first Nazi concentration camps, that opened in 1933. I was not sure how I would feel visiting a site where such horrible human rights violations occurred—genocide, torture, exploitation. I was interested to learn more about the Nazi regime especially from a German perspective. In order to truly honor human rights, we must understand and learn from our history which is why this visit was so important. You can of course find much historical information on the Dachau Concentration Camp, but what I most wanted to share with you are the interesting facts shared by our tour guide.
In the beginning days of Dachau, politicians were among the first prisoners. There was no plan during the first days, so prisoners were first stripped of their clothes and belongings and assigned to hard, physical labor that had no real purpose. Prisoners were told that work would set them free: “Arbeit befreit dich.”
The first barracks housed 2,000 people with 2,000 beds. During the last days before its liberation in 1945, there were no beds. Over 206,000 people came to Dachau from over 40 nations. As the regime continued to bring prisoners to Dachau, more populations entered the camp and were labeled—Jews, people in interracial populations, people with disabilities, homosexuals etc.
What I found most disturbing about the entire visit was the cremation area. The cremation area was separate from the main camp. Mass extermination began when the camp got more and more over crowded. Prisoners were assigned to the cremation area and were responsible for cremating other prisoners. These areas were separated so that there was no communication between these prisoners to find out about the mass exterminations.
The citizens of Dachau knew about the camp as prisoners arrived at the town train station and marched to the camp. Photos of healthy, newly arrived prisoners were released by the Nazis to show that the people were in good care—the power of propaganda. Even the Red Cross was called to the camp and released reports that conditions were fair. The Red Cross has since admitted knowing about the Holocaust and claimed responsibility for their silence. This demonstrates the fear and control that the Nazi party had on individuals and organizations. Many other companies supported the Nazi party during this time. Hugo Boss created Nazi uniforms; Mercedes and BMW created machinery. I especially appreciated learning this information as I am interested in ethical supply chains. To this day, BMW is one of the largest companies that has not paid reparations to survivors.
A major part of human rights is being able to say something or do something when something is not right. We learned about the brave people of Dachau who tried to seek justice and assist prisoners through small acts. We can credit the few citizens of Dachau who were able to sneak food to prisoners at parts of prison walls, the prisoners who snuck photos of the camp to expose the true conditions, the prisoner who built a radio to learn , the prisoners who tried to escape and the people who immigrated to the US and shared their knowledge.
The entire day was quite heavy. It was painful to hear about the processes of the camp and the horrible actions carried out by the Nazi party. It is completely disheartening that humans are capable of treating other humans in such a cruel capacity. Power can be quite dangerous and we need to understand who holds power and what that means for others. We must never forget what we have learned from Dachau. We must remember that when we are in our own communities and see something that is not right, not matter how small or large, we must say something to truly uphold human rights.
After we returned to Munich, my roommate Kayla and I headed to Olympiapark, which housed the 1972 Olympics, to process everything we learned and felt from our day at Dachau. I am being more conscious about my own self-care. Self-care includes allowing yourself time to process information and feelings. I am glad we did so in such a beautiful space in Munich!
We took a day trip to Nuremberg by train to visit the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds (Propaganda Museum) and Nuremberg Court House where the Nuremburg trails took place. Unfortunately, the Documentation Center did not have English information headsets available at the time of our visit, so we were not able to get the most out of our visit. The Documentation Center focuses on the tactics and media used by the National Socialist to hold rallies and spread information during the dictatorship. The museum is on the grounds where the party held rallies and Hilter gave some of his most famous speeches.
We concluded our day at the Memorium Nuremberg Trials and Courthouse. This courtroom is significant in history because it hosted the Nuremberg Trials where leaders of the Nazi regime were tried by the International Military Tribunal. These trials had a major influence on international criminal law and human rights. Twenty-two people and seven organizations were tried on crimes against peace and humanity, forced labor, conspiracy and war crimes—new concepts used in a fair trial.
Having just visited Dachau, I could not help but think about the courageous survivors who provided testimony that helped seek justice and the re-traumatization that they must have experienced during that trial period. I really enjoyed my time at the Memorium as I learned a lot about the key players in International Military Tribunal and the international response to such crimes. These trails hold a legacy in an international commitment to human rights and holding states accountable for human rights abuses.
We had a free day to explore Munich or greater Bavaria so I headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ski village that hosted the 1936 Olympics. If you ever have the opportunity to visit southern Bavaria, you should do so. It was the most breath taking, incredible experiences.
We went up to the top of the highest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze, via train and cable car. WOW is all I can say!
We then took a cable car to Eibsee lake and took a boat around the lake for the most gorgeous views.
I am a lover of the outdoors so it was nice to get out of the city and experience beautiful nature. We live in an incredibly beautiful world. I highly recommend visiting this town if you have the opportunity!
Our entire program took a break from coursework and took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria. This was my first time in Austria making it #27 of my countries visited. We explored the city center and visited Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe.
The top of the fortress offers incredible views of the entire city and the Alps! What a beautiful city between the architecture, clean streets and posh businesses.
On the last day of our program, we visited Adwiga, an agency that assists survivors of human trafficking. I was most interested in visiting this agency because my field placement this year was with Freedom Network USA, a coalition of organizations and individuals who utilize a human right based approach to human trafficking. I was interested in learning how the agency and Germany respond the issue in collaboration with other countries within the EU, especially with the influx of migration from Africa and the Middle East.
We met with Adina, a licensed counselor for Adwiga, who also conducts research at the European Commission. The agency provides counseling and case management services for survivors of human trafficking. They work directly with police, who provide many of their referrals, and also work within refugee camps to screen for human trafficking. Adigwa works closely with the International Organization for Migration and Europole International Investigations on trafficking; most trafficking cases cross boarders within the EU. As in the US, it is difficult to prosecute cases. According to their national report about 800 cases were closed last year. Germany does not incarcerate perpetrators often, but traffickers do owe restitution to survivors, who are entitled to that as well as social benefits and accommodations. Adigwa counselors come from many of the countries that survivors come from, and thus can communicate in the native language of the client, with no need for telephonic interpretation.
Our group concluded our program with a final discussion on how human rights must be integrated into all levels of service provision and in all industries. We all agreed that although the US had great influence in constructing and upholding human rights, the US needs to improve policies and services provisions to be more accountable.
Stay tuned for a final reflection of the program and being abroad!
Kristen Hibit is a full-time MSW student slated to graduate in May 2020. Kristen currently works as a Immigrant Work Specialist at the New York State Department of Labor, Division of Immigrants Policies and Affairs. She provides workers’ rights education and services to immigrant workers, and labor law compliance education to agricultural businesses. Previously, Kristen worked with refugee populations developing employment services and business partnerships to facilitate and support the hiring of refugees. Kristen recently completed her first placement at Freedom Network USA, a coalition of experts and advocates that utilize a human-rights-based approach to human trafficking. Kristen is focusing on macro social work and is particularly interested in policy work and human rights surrounding immigrant and refugee populations,and how this can be integrated into organizational structures to solve systemic issues.