Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the opening ceremony of the Nuremberg Trials Memorial

22.11.2010 - Speech

-- Translation of advanced text --

Minister Lavrov,
Mr Dumas,
Prosecutor-General Grieve,
Ambassador Rapp,
Mr Ferencz,
Mayor Maly,
Minister of State Neumann,
Minister of Justice Merk,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The Second World War ended more than 65 years ago. Now is the time to ask questions of those who experienced this era first-hand. Whatever we neglect to ask today will remain forever unasked – and unanswered.

That’s why I am so especially pleased that Benjamin Ferencz will be speaking to us here today. Mr Ferencz, thank you for this.

The Nuremberg Trials were a response to the perversion of the law in National Socialist Germany. By passing the Enabling Act, the Nazis abolished democracy.

Discrimination against Jewish civil servants was called the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service.

When it enacted the Nuremberg race laws, Nazi Germany broke with the fundamental principle that all people are equal before the law. Jewish assets were stolen by the financial authorities on the basis of laws and ordinances.

The regime concealed terror and tyranny behind the mask of law and justice, and the consequence was endless suffering and the murder of millions.

In those days many wondered if those who had so blatantly trampled justice underfoot were themselves entitled to just treatment.

It is a great historic achievement that the Allies resisted the temptation to exact revenge. Revenge would have been the easiest path. But the Allies decided on the more difficult path. They charted new territory for law and for civilization by attempting to make inconceivable crimes the object of a trial. They sought and found answers to difficult political, moral and legal questions.

Who was to sit on the judges’ bench, only Allied judges or Germans too?

What law was to be applied? The trials raised questions about the criminal liability of individuals who had acted as organs of the state and the extent of the prohibition of retroactive penal legislation.

Because much was ventured here in Nuremberg – in political, legal and human terms – international law was able to progress and standards for future cases were established.

The Nuremberg Trials had no precedent, no guiding example to turn to. The Trials themselves blazed the trail for the development of international criminal law, a process which is still far from complete.

Ladies and gentlemen,


Article 1 of the German Basic Law proclaims, and I quote, “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.

The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.”

With these words the authors of the Basic Law drew a lesson for the Federal Republic from the darkest chapter of German history. The individual person is central to our constitutional order. The state must serve the individual and not the other way around. This holds true for Germany, for Europe and as a universal principle. Only the worldwide protection of human rights can prevent our world from coming undone.

It is also our history that has given rise to the German Government’s obligation to advocate for human rights both in Germany and around the world.

No verdict can undo the suffering of the victims. No courtroom sentence can bring the dead back to life.

But bringing the perpetrators to trial is nonetheless important, and not only for the direct victims of the crime. The impact of a judgement based on the rule of law reaches far beyond the trial itself.

The founding of the United Nations was the ambitious attempt to counter our tumultuous world with legal structures. We all know how incomplete this task remains, but the United Nations can only be as strong as its member states allow. Germany remains committed to the goal of strengthening the rule of law in international relations. The strength of international law is the measure of our actions in the United Nations, and also in the United Nations Security Council. This is a laborious process, and we move forward only in small steps, but there is no reason to let ourselves grow discouraged.

Sixty years after the Nuremberg Trials, international criminal justice is a permanent part of international law. 114 countries have accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. We will persevere in our efforts to increase this number. We will also work for the decisions of the International Criminal Court to be applied. Germany’s past has taught us how thin the veneer of our civilization is. Learning this lesson was and is our responsibility. It is no small victory that the International Criminal Court in The Hague now sends the message that political leaders must answer for their deeds – and especially for their wrongdoings.

Citizens of Europe can turn directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if the country in which they live impinges upon their rights. Similar legal protection beyond the borders of Europe is an ambitious but worthy goal, and is worth fighting for. Overcoming the law of the jungle, the rule of the strong, is one of the greatest achievements of our civilization. We must accomplish the same internationally.

We want to overcome the rule of the strong by strengthening the rule of law. Step by step, and in international politics too.

The confrontation with one’s own past is never complete, uncomfortable as this may be for some. The tremendous extent to which the past seeps into the present is demonstrated by the attention that the newest publication on the history of the Federal Foreign Office has recently garnered.

It is important for us to keep sight of the past. Whoever does not know the past cannot take from it any lessons for the future. It is not the duty of the young to enquire about the past, it is the duty of the older generation to take the initiative to speak about it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The city of Nuremberg has done a great deal to further a culture of remembrance. Mayor Maly, I’m quite pleased that the Nuremberg city council has applied for this room to be added to the World Heritage list.

Ladies and gentlemen,


It was only yesterday that the Foreign Ministers of Russia, France, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany sat together at a table at the NATO summit in Lisbon. This is not something to be taken for granted.

We come together not as victor and vanquished, and also not as East and West. We are partners, and for that we are eternally grateful to those among you who represent these countries, as it was by no means self-evident that you would respectfully accept Germany back into the peaceful international community after what it had done to the world in the first half of the twentieth century.

Ladies and gentlemen,

From Vancouver to Vladivostok, we are united today by the shared pursuit of security.

Our goal is a strategic partnership that serves the interests of all.

We are experiencing Europe in an era of which generations before us dreamed in vain. We live in a Europe of peace and prosperity. Safeguarding these conditions is our shared responsibility.

Europe too is a lesson from our history. The European model of cooperation is hard work. With its all-night negotiating sessions, it takes a great deal of energy. But redressing the consequences of confrontation would be much more difficult and much more dramatic. Let us appreciate the Europe we have. I say this here in this place as a lesson of history, and I say it expressly in light of certain current discussions. Those who only ask how much something costs sometimes lose sight of how much it’s worth.

Freedom, law and justice don’t come about of their own accord. They must be struggled for.

We cherish the memory of those who gave their lives for our freedom. We owe it to them to prevent war and genocide, both within and beyond Europe.

The Nuremberg Trials were a start. The Rome Statute was a good continuation. And the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague was not the end. Our shared responsibility remains: to stand up for peace, for freedom and for human rights.

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