Foreign policy that recognizes historical responsibility
The German Government recognizes 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 New Synagogue in Berlin
© picture-alliance/Arco Images
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 organizations 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 the relationship 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
© picture alliance / dpa
During the 2011 consultations in Israel, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Israeli opposite number, Avigdor Liberman, agreed a number of measures to further cement relations, focusing particularly on culture and youth exchange.
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. An outline of German-Israeli exchange is available here.
Relations with Jewish organizations
The Federal Foreign Office underscored the importance of its relations with Jewish organizations by creating the position of a Special Representative in 2006. The current incumbent is Victoria Zimmermann von Siefart, and the focus of her work is threefold. Firstly, she acts as the point of contact for Jewish organizations which primarily operate in foreign policy areas. Secondly, she works with foreign organizations on issues of Holocaust remembrance. Thirdly, she promotes measures to combat anti-Semitism everywhere. Particular emphasis is placed on working with the younger generation.
Jewish organizations are engaged in committed work worldwide, both directly and as intermediaries. This makes them crucial contacts and project partners for German foreign policy concerns. The intensive dialogue maintained covers such areas as cultural heritage and the culture of remembrance, human rights, youth exchange, the Middle East peace process and nuclear non-proliferation, to name but a few.
Close contact to Jewish-American associations
Especially Jewish-American organizations’ interest in Germany has increased appreciably in recent years. This is in part explained by the recognition being accorded to Germany for its close relationship with Israel and its sense of responsibility with respect to the Holocaust and the Nazi regime.
A full house at the AJC
There are a large number of contacts in place at the highest levels. In early May 2012, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave a speech at the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum in Washington. He used it to thank the Committee for the trust and friendship it had extended towards Germany throughout the previous decades.
The Foreign Minister also gave the speech honouring German artist Anselm Kiefer on his receipt of the Leo Baeck Medal at the New York Leo Baeck Institute in 2011.
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 organizations 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.
More than 900 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. An estimated 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 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.
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 Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
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.
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, the German mission in New York and the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith International organized a joint event which included contributions from survivors of the Shoah as well as second- and third-generation relatives of those who suffered.
Marking the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made the following statement in 2012:
"The anniversary today of the liberation of the National Socialist extermination camp at Auschwitz reminds us all of the unparalleled terrors of the Holocaust. It reminds us to do everything possible to ensure that such a crime can never be repeated."
Germany also provides funding for numerous Holocaust remembrance projects. The 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 dies out, 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 Foreign Office is providing 100,000 euros.
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
Signing the agreement
© picture-alliance / dpa
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.
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).
Last updated 06.02.2013