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“Auschwitz must serve as a warning for the future” Poland

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas laying a wreath at the wall of death in the former German concentration camp Auschwitz I.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas laying a wreath at the wall of death in the former German concentration camp Auschwitz I., © Xander Heinl/photothek.de

20.08.2018 - Article

Heiko Maas visits Auschwitz-Birkenau and then meets the Polish Foreign Minister.

“I went into politics because of Auschwitz”, the German Foreign Minister stated during his inaugural speech in the Federal Foreign Office five months ago. Today he visited the former German concentration and extermination camp together with ten young diplomatic service trainees. During the visit he said:

This is where we Germans are reminded of what we did to millions of people. We need this place because our responsibility will never end. This is where one must decide to either lose faith in humankind or to find hope and the strength to stand up for the preservation of human dignity.

The Polish Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski guides Foreign Minister Heiko Maas through Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest extermination camp back then.
The Polish Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski guides Foreign Minister Heiko Maas through Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest extermination camp back then.© Xander Heinl/photothek.de

Poland is an irreplaceable friend

During the subsequent talks with his Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz in the Franciscan monastery in nearby Harmęże, Maas stressed that “Responsibility begins with remembrance. We take full responsibility for these unspeakable atrocities and all of the suffering that Nazi Germany unleashed on Poland.” Foreign Minister also emphasised Germany’s great interest in intensifying bilateral relations with its neighbour Poland. “We need Poland as an important member of the European Union”, the Minister said. Together with Jacek Czaputowicz, Maas visited the monastery’s lower church where they viewed an exhibition of works by Marian Kołodziej, the now deceased artist and concentration camp survivor. The exhibition addresses the horrendous experiences made in the concentration camp and is also a homage to Father Maximilian Kolbe, who sacrificed his life to save a fellow prisoner. 

Keeping alive the memory for young people 

Maas believes it is absolutely essential to keep alive the memory of the unspeakable atrocities committed, also for future generations. That is why ten young diplomatic service trainees travelled to Poland with the Minister. In the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oświęcim, they discussed joint efforts to come to grips with the history of Germany and Poland with the Foreign Minister as well as German apprentices and Polish vocational school students. “We have to keep alive the memory of the unspeakable atrocities committed, also for future generations”, said Maas. 

For the Foreign Minister, Auschwitz is a deep-seated motivation for his political work and this visit was a moving experience for him personally: “Auschwitz is a permanent reminder for me to stand up for the inviolable dignity of human beings throughout the world, both personally and politically.”

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