Address by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the “Risiera di San Sabba” memorial site, Trieste, 18 November 2008

18.11.2008 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Many events and memorial sites bear witness to Nazi Germany's betrayal of civilization.

But nothing more clearly embodies Germany's shame than the system of concentration and death camps.

Primo Levi, an Italian Jew, and himself a tragic Auschwitz survivor, described these camps as being “this side of good and evil”, since people were humiliated, tortured and killed there by other people in a way which could neither be compared nor even previously imagined.

Sixty-five years ago, following the fall of Mussolini and Italy's declaration of war on Nazi Germany, “La Risiera di San Sabba” became another of those places this side of good and evil, a rice mill which was turned into a “death factory”.

It became a prisoner of war camp where hostages, partisans and other political prisoners were detained and tortured. A collection and transit camp for Jews before they were deported to the death camps and for Italian military internees prior to their transport to forced labour and, in all too many cases, death.

Between 3000 and 5000 people were murdered where we are standing now – people from Trieste and the Friuli region, Slovenes and Croats, Jews, political prisoners and military internees. We commemorate all of them today.

The terrible crimes committed here in Germany's name form part of our shared history, and the bitter remembrance of those crimes is what unites us.

This remembrance makes it our lasting and joint responsibility to work towards a peaceful future in a united Europe.

This remembrance must not blot out any chapter in our common past, and particularly not the most painful ones.

This is why today I am especially recalling the suffering of the approximately 600,000 Italian military internees, the awful, often murderous, conditions under which they were transported, their detention, without food, in the cold, and their subjection to forced labour. I recall the great number of interned soldiers who were murdered or who died as a result of internment.

We offer our heartfelt sympathy to the victims and their families. We owe them and their fate commemoration and confrontation, not silence and suppression!

That is why Minister Frattini and I will, next year, invite historians from both our countries to a joint conference at the Villa Vigoni, the German-Italian encounter centre, to discuss openly and in detail Germany's and Italy's wartime past and the fate of the Italian military internees.

Germany and Italy share the painful experience of a totalitarian regime. By facing these historical events together we can create a common culture of remembrance geared to a better and shared future.

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