Foreign policy that recognizes historical responsibility

The German Government recognises Germany’s historical responsibility for the Holocaust, which forms the basis of a special relationship with and duty towards the State of Israel and Jews all over the world. We must keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and have it always in mind as we shape the future.

The German Government works to promote Jewish life in Germany and beyond. In recent decades, Germany has seen a gratifying renaissance of Jewish life. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz has identified Germany’s Jewish communities as the most dynamic in the world. There are also more and more young Jewish men and women coming to Germany from Israel, the US and other parts of the globe – to visit as tourists, to study or to live and work here. Maintaining close contacts with Jewish organisations throughout the world is an important part of German foreign policy.

Germany’s special relationship with Israel

Germany conducts its foreign policy in full awareness of its historical responsibility, which is of fundamental importance to relations between Germany and Israel. The special nature of German-Israeli relations has found expression since 2008 in the two countries’ regular intergovernmental consultations. The first of these to be held in Germany took place in 2010, and 2013 saw the two Governments meet in Berlin once again.

The fourth German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations in Berlin

The fourth German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations in Berlin
© picture alliance / dpa

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The fourth German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations in Berlin

The fourth German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations in Berlin

The fourth German-Israeli intergovernmental consultations in Berlin

The multiplicity of close German-Israeli relations does not stop there. In science, research and technology, cooperation is wide-ranging. There are close contacts in place linking the rich cultural scenes of Germany and Israel, and large numbers of towns, communities and educational establishments are connected by exchange programmes and partnerships.

More on German-Israeli relations

Relations with Jewish organizations

The Federal Foreign Office underscored the importance of its relations with Jewish organisations by creating the position of a Special Representative in 2006. The Special Representative’s work has three focuses: First of all, she is the contact point for Jewish organisations, especially those active in the foreign policy sphere. Secondly, she works with foreign organisations on issues relating to Holocaust remembrance. Thirdly, she promotes measures to combat anti-Semitism everywhere. Particular emphasis is placed on working with the younger generation.

Jewish organisations are engaged in committed work worldwide, both directly and as intermediaries. This makes them crucial contacts and project partners for German foreign policy concerns. There is intensive exchange in many areas: the preservation of cultural heritage and the culture of remembrance, human rights, youth exchange, the Middle East peace process, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the process of transition in the Arab world are just some of them.

Close contact to Jewish-American associations

Especially Jewish-American organisations’ interest in Germany has increased appreciably in recent years. There are a large number of contacts in place at the highest levels. This is in part explained by the recognition being accorded to Germany for its close relations with Israel and its sense of responsibility with respect to the Holocaust and the Nazi regime.

The dialogue between Germany and America’s Jewish population also has significance at the transatlantic level. It is a forward-looking dialogue which not only involves organisations and governmental as well as parliamentary representatives; it also encompasses numerous German and American private individuals. Their interest in Germany, particularly in the Germany of today, makes them vital bridge-builders in transatlantic relations.

Youth exchange programmes

Young Jews from Israel, the US and other countries are also showing greater interest in Germany. They come to Germany, whether privately or through exchange programmes, to gain first-hand impressions not only of how Germany relates to the Shoah but also of what Germany is like in the here and now and what form Jewish life takes in Germany today.

At the Federal Foreign Office

At the Federal Foreign Office
© AA

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At the Federal Foreign Office

At the Federal Foreign Office

At the Federal Foreign Office

More than 1000 American Jews – students and young professionals – have visited Germany under the auspices of Germany Close Up – American Jews Meet Modern Germany since the programme was established in 2007. It is estimated that more than 90% of them had never previously been to Germany. Some of them are the first members of their families to have travelled to Germany since the Second World War. The two-week stay provides many of the young visitors with a very intense and largely positive experience of today’s Germany.

Regular alumni meetings are held in collaboration with the German missions in the United States. Germany Close Up is run on European Recovery Program funds as part of the German Government’s transatlantic activities.

More on Germany Close Up – American Jews meet Modern Germany

The Fourth Alumni Meeting in New york, December 2012

Safeguarding Holocaust remembrance

Germany considers it particularly important to preserve knowledge and memories of the Holocaust, and pass the lessons learned on to future generations.

That is why Germany is supporting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which is trying to raise capital assets to fund the long-term upkeep of the memorial to the former death camp at Auschwitz, Poland. Having pledged to provide 60 million euros, Germany is the largest contributor to the target amount of 120 million euros. The money is being paid in annual instalments between 2011 and 2015, half of it coming from the federal budget and half from the Länder.

The Federal Foreign Office also does dedicated work in various other international bodies. One example is the "Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research" (ITF), which has its permanent secretariat in Berlin. Germany is second only to Israel in the range of Holocaust education programmes it runs. It is therefore in a position to contribute significantly to the Holocaust Task Force’s work, as well as learning from exchange with the other member countries. Part of that work is focused on the question of how education can help prevent genocide.

The Foreign Office is furthermore represented on the Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation’s international Board of Trustees. The funding to set up the Foundation came in part from Germany’s federal budget, and it promotes projects run to help the victims of Nazism. Another of its core concerns is to ensure that Europe remembers the history of forced labour under the Nazis and to communicate victims’ experiences to a wider public.

From right to left: Sam Widawsky (survivor), Allan Jacobs (President of B’nai B’rith International), David Widawsky (second generation), Leora Klein (third generation) and Consul-General Busso von Alvensleben in New York

 Widawsky (second generation), Leora Klein (third generation) and Consul-General Busso von Alvensleben in New York

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From right to left: Sam Widawsky (survivor), Allan Jacobs (President of B’nai B’rith International), David Widawsky (second generation), Leora Klein (third generation) and Consul-General Busso von Alvensleben in New York

 Widawsky (second generation), Leora Klein (third generation) and Consul-General Busso von Alvensleben in New York

 Widawsky (second generation), Leora Klein (third generation) and Consul-General Busso von Alvensleben in New York

International Holocaust Day is marked on 27 January, the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz death camp; acts of remembrance are conducted around the world. In 2012, for example, the German mission in New York and the Jewish organisation B’nai B’rith International organised a joint event which included contributions from survivors of the Shoah as well as second and third generation relatives.

Germany also provides funding for numerous Holocaust remembrance projects. The Federal Foreign Office, for example, is providing a total of 2.5 million euros between 2009 and 2013 for the New Acquisitions Preservation Project to catalogue historical material at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York.

It is also sponsoring a project to save important documentary testaments to German-speaking Jewish culture in Israel. Various Jewish authors, academics and intellectuals from Germany who were forced into exile during the Nazi period found a new home in Israel. Many of them managed to take their German-language libraries, collections and manuscripts with them to their new homeland and gradually built up new collections there. As this first generation of immigrants passes away, many collections are being broken up and sometimes sold second hand. A joint pilot project organized by the German Literature Archive in Marbach and the Rosenzweig Minerva Research Centre at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is to take the first steps to save these important documents. The first phase of the project was launched on 1 October 2012. The Federal Foreign Office is providing 100,000 euros.

Click here to read an article written by the German Ambassador to Israel on 19 April, Israel’s remembrance day for the victims of the Holocaust.

Projects for Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union

Central and Eastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union are among the places where Germany provides assistance for Holocaust remembrance projects. In Warsaw, for instance, German support helped design the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. In 2012, the Federal Foreign Office sponsored an exhibition on the Lodz/Litzmannstadt Ghetto by the Berlin memorial foundation Topography of Terror, held in the UN headquarters in New York.

There is a pilot project underway which will run for several years supporting an initiative to preserve five sites of mass shootings in Ukraine. The long-term goal is to have the responsibility for the projects pass to the local communities. Another project is being run in collaboration with Yahad-In Unum to help gather eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust in several states of the former Soviet Union.

Support for Yad Vashem

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem plays a key role in efforts to ensure that the Holocaust is remembered and documented. The German Government has been supporting the Memorial’s work for a number of years. During a visit to the country in February 2012, Foreign Minister Westerwelle signed an Agreement with the Israeli Government which provides for Yad Vashem to receive financial support of 10 million euros for the 2012‑2021 period. The funds are to go towards its educational and archive services. The latter arm of Yad Vashem’s work covers such tasks as compiling documents on the Holocaust in the former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe, Germany and other parts of Europe. The documents are to be made available online to be accessed from around the world.

German-Israeli Agreement on funding for Yad Vashem, 1 Februar 2012 (PDF, 5 MB)

Yad Vashem

Compensation for injustices suffered under the Nazis

Another important subject in German-Jewish relations is compensation for injustices suffered under the Nazi regime. The German Government has always attached special priority to the process of providing moral and financial compensation. In 1952, for example, Germany signed the Luxembourg Agreement, pledging to legislate for the restitutions of assets and compensation for victims of the Holocaust. This atonement remains a key task for Germany even today. The 60th anniversary of the Luxembourg Agreement was marked on 15 November 2012. For more on compensation click here.

Combating anti-Semitism around the world

In the light of its history, Germany feels a special obligation to counter all anti-Semitic tendencies. The fight against anti-Semitism is therefore not only being waged on the domestic front but also has a place at the international level.

An essential element in effectively combating anti-Semitism is providing support in the early stages to social and political forces committed to social cohesion. The Federal Foreign Office therefore also sponsors projects in other countries which pursue that goal.

Germany is particularly active in that respect within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

Last updated 08.11.2013

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