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Helga Arntzen, founder of Travel for Peace

"I want to make the world a better place"

"I know what it is like to be refugee. I know what it is like to be a lonely child longing for security and care. I have been brainwashed and fooled by political propaganda. Many of these bitter experiences from my childhood are now used as the driving force for the work I do now, trying to make this world a little bit better," says Helga Arntzen, founder of Travel for Peacel and the foundation, White Buses to Auschwitz.

Helga ArntzenHelga was born in Heidelberg in South Germany in 1942. When she was six years old her mother took her and her brother with her to Berlin. Helga remembers this journey as one long “refugee nightmare”. Her grandmother lived in the Soviet occupied part of Berlin, and to get there, they had to travel through rough terrain and armed Russian guards with German Shepherd dogs.
- "I remember amongst other things that we were seeking shelter with a family who put themselves in grave danger by taking us in”, says Helga. This journey and the kindness of strangers made a big impression on the six year old.

Brainwashing

Helga started school in the east zone, but soon ran into problems because she was not a member of the Communist Pioneer movement. As soon as she became a member she received a lot of positive attention and good grades.
- "I was aware that we were brainwashed. We were taught that people in the West were suppressed by the Americans, and wanted help to be able to live a life as free and democratic as we lived in the East. But we were not allowed to receive radio transmissions from the West, and to read something that was written in the West was not allowed. This was not looked upon as a limitation of our freedom but rather as a protection against Western propaganda, which would undermine our democracy,” says Helga.
After a five-year stay in Berlin, Helga’s mother took her back to Heidelberg, and placed her with her father. Helga’s mother moved to Frankfurt. This happened just before the widespread worker’s revolt of 1953, which led to a mass exodus of East Germans to West-Berlin, which in turn led to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
- "It was a shock to come to the West and discover that everything that I had been told simply wasn’t true. When I saw what kind of a system I had been forced into in the East, I experienced a great desire to tell people around me what was really going on there. But few were interested – most people were preoccupied with their own material gain."

Idealistic organisations

In 1962 she married a Norwegian who studied in Heidelberg to become a doctor, and moved with him to Risør in Norway. She had started a number of humanitarian undertakings and started branch offices of idealistic organisations. The environmental organisation The Future in Our Hands, the aid organisation Save the Children and Amnesty International, pop up in Risør because of Helga’s initiative. She also started the Resource Group against drug abuse in Risør and Friends of Sutukoba.

In 1992 she established the Foundation White Buses to Auschwitz. Neo-Nazism was on the rise in Norway. Helga wanted Norwegian youth to see the horrors that Nazism had led to and give them the belief that they could be involved in shaping a better world. Helga founded Travel for Peace in 1998. Nowadays around 20,000 Norwegian young people travel each year on fact-finding trips to Poland and Germany. We believe that this has contributed to the fact that neo-Nazism in Norway has become weaker over the past 15 years.