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What is Gedenkdienst?

Each year we host a young person from Austria, who is working in Holocaust education and commemoration as part of the Austrian Gedenkdienst programme. Here we explain the importance of the programme to our work and are given an insight into the life of our current Gedenkdiener, Jakob.

What is Gedenkdienst?

Gedenkdienst, (pronounced almost exactly like it’s spelled: ghe-den-ke-deenst) is an opportunity for young people to acknowledge and take responsibility for the atrocities done by their country in the past. In Austria, the Gedenkdienst programme remembers the atrocities of Nazism and commemorates the victims of the Holocaust.

Every year, young Austrians set out to work in the field of Holocaust education and commemoration, contributing to a vital cause and shining a light on the darkness of the past.

Austrian Service Abroad defines it as a ‘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.’ They say it is ‘about peace on the basis of honesty regarding the past’.

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.

We at HMDT really value this initiative, as do our sister charities in the UK and across the world. This year, we are fortunate to have Jakob Riegler as our Gedenkdiener. Jakob is our fifth Gedenkdiener, and our first full-time Gedenkdiener, as in the past we shared the programme with JW3, the Jewish Community Centre in London.

2020 is of course like no other for the Gedenkdienst programme. Like so many of us, Jakob is working from home and although we’ve only met him virtually so far, he’s very quickly become part of the team.

To bring the programme to life, we’ve asked Jakob to document his day ‘in the life of a Gedenkdiener’ and here is what it looks like in a global pandemic.

Breakfast: eggs, toast and tea










Catch up with my manager, Rachel







Daily walk








Back to my work station (which is also my bedroom at the moment!)










Spending time with flatmates in the evening








This week, we are celebrating the contribution of young people to Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration.

  • You can still sign up to our event Shining a light: young people and HMD taking place on Thursday 26 November at 5pm.
  • We are also inviting young people to Light up the Darkness and enter our exciting new photography competition, with Rankin photographer as one of the judges on the panel.