Teaching Remembrance: for a Europe of Freedom and Rule of Law

05.11.2008 - Speech

-- Check against delivery --

Secretary General,


Dr Bartoszewski,

Mr Mayor,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It's always a great pleasure to welcome guests to one's home town. So I'm particularly delighted to welcome you this evening to Nuremberg, where I was born and bred.

The reason we're here is to explore together what it means to “teach remembrance”. We want to discuss what happened in Germany between 1933 and 1945 with school children in all Council of Europe countries. We want to inform them, give them the historical facts and background.

But more than that, we want them to take to heart the key lesson of those terrible times, a lesson still valid today: under no circumstances must anything like the Holocaust be allowed to happen ever again.

And there are two related messages I believe we must also get across to them. Firstly, we all need Europe!

Secondly, Europe needs each one of us!

Europe cannot live in peace and thrive without civil society ownership. It must be a project that we feel belongs to us all and truly serves our interests.

But this sense of ownership will surely never evolve if we see education – and history education, too – as merely the acquisition of textbook knowledge. As I see it, education means helping children to become responsible and public-spirited young people capable of thinking for themselves. And that requires a very different kind of approach. An approach that makes history meaningful to young people in very tangible ways. As we know, this is what modern museum education is all about. At the Information Centre of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, for example, visitors can follow the unfolding of the catastrophe through the life stories of named individuals.

Our aim is to give young people especially a real insight into what happened during the National Socialist rule of terror. Given the monstrous scale of the murders, it's all too easy to lose sight of the individual victim. And then the danger is that we lose our sense not only of how precious and unique every human life is, but also how precious and fragile human rights and the rule of law are and how important it is to defend them.

The German Government is committed to preserving the memory of the victims. That's why just a few days ago we handed over to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem a list giving details of 600,000 Jews resident in Germany in the years 1933 to 1945. Behind every name is the story of a life.

Why am I talking about this here in Nuremberg of all places? This city symbolizes as no other the perverted ideology of National Socialism. It was here that the Nazis staged their “Reich Party Rallies”. It was here that in 1935 the infamous race laws were drawn up.

But it was here, too, that the Nuremberg Trials were held. These were not only a milestone for international law and the legal culture we know today. They also marked the start of the process of uncovering the full truth of what happened during the years of Nazi tyranny.

In all kinds of ways therefore Nuremberg is a place where history was made. Here we can literally get a feel for history, even if some things will always be beyond our comprehension.

As a native son of this city I hope I may point out, however, that there's more to Nuremberg than this. Over the next couple of days I hope you'll have a chance to see for yourselves what a beautiful city this is and to sense its place in history.

Coming to grips with one's history is a highly complex process and one that clearly takes time. A process that – as I believe with my German background – is unlikely ever to be completed. Gatherings such as this are an important opportunity to share with each other our views and experiences in this connection. I hope and trust you will do exactly that!

Thank you very much!

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