-- Check against delivery --
Dear President Blum,
Dear Anselm Kiefer,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for your warm welcome. I am delighted and honoured to be here and to have the opportunity to speak to you today at this splendid Leo Baeck Gala. Your invitation is a sign of friendship, hope, and a great expression of your trust in our country.
Today we are honouring two eminent personalities both of whom have achieved world fame in their lifetimes. Both are artists, masters and virtuosos in their fields. One of them is literally an artist.
When Carol Kahn Strauss told me this summer that the Leo Baeck Institute would award Anselm Kiefer with the 2011 Leo Baeck Medal, I was thrilled. I have known Anselm Kiefer for many years. And I have admired his art even longer.
As some of you may know, art has been close to my heart for a long time. I collect art – although I should be careful to use such a big word with so many extraordinary art collectors in New York. I am fascinated by art not only for aesthetic reasons.
It is not for me to submit your oeuvre and your art to a critical evaluation. Others are called to do that. But I am deeply convinced that we do not merely enjoy art and culture. I believe we are also influenced by them politically. Anselm Kiefer's art certainly exerted political influence.
Art and culture reflect the state of a society; often they are at its vanguard, driving its development forward. Often art and culture bring up uncomfortable topics.
That applies to Anselm Kiefer in a unique way. Maybe there is no other German artist who deserves this very special prize more than Anselm Kiefer.
His art has never been pleasing; it continues to be difficult to digest. Anselm Kiefer was politically incorrect before we knew the term. Life is concrete and so is memory. It is alive with faces, and places, odours and objects. That’s why Anselm Kiefer has always also been a craftsman: In his work you find sand, broken glass, ashes, burned books or cotton dresses in all kinds of disturbing combinations.
Anselm Kiefer's world is neither virtual nor digital. It is real just as human suffering continues to be a reality.
Anselm Kiefer’s art is not made to be hidden. Just as you cannot hide the past, you cannot hide Kiefer’s art. In many of Kiefer's large scale paintings the weight of history can be felt physically.
Since the 1960s, Kiefer has dealt with Germany's history and culture, with World War Two and the Holocaust in a painful but sober and intensive dialogue with the past.
Germany as a country found hope in Anselm Kiefer’s work. Kiefer's preoccupation with German and Jewish culture and the Holocaust has helped us to better address our Nazi past.
It is partly because of Anselm Kiefer’s relentless dialogue with the past that Germany eventually found its way to an unambiguous confrontation with National Socialism.
We owe it not least to artists like Anselm Kiefer that Germany today is a respected member of the international community.
Anselm Kiefer, the master of remembrance, opened up appropriate forms of remembrance to all of us. No society, no people, can live without remembrance, for living without remembrance means living without identity and orientation. If we do not want to enter blindly into the future, we have to know who we are and where we come from.
Germany fully recognizes its historical responsibility for the Holocaust. And I believe this recognition has opened the door to a common future. Today, we are united in the responsibility for preserving the memory of the past.
I was very pleased to be able to visit the Leo Baeck Institute yesterday and to see for myself the great work that Carol and her colleagues are doing there in order to preserve the memory of the German-Jewish heritage.
It is very sad to see what we have lost. It is comforting, however, to know that dedicated men and women put all their energy into preserving what could be rescued. Let me thank President Bernard Blum and all the institute's board members for their invaluable contributions.
I am glad that we as the German Foreign Office have been able to support the Leo Baeck’s “New Acquisitions Preservation Project” with some 3,25 Million US-Dollars.
While we have a common responsibility for preserving the past, we also share a responsibility for a more humane future.
We Germans feel a special responsibility for the State of Israel and its people. Israel's right to exist is part of Germany's raison d'etre.
Germany and the State of Israel have had a very close relationship ever since Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer met here at the Waldorf-Astoria for the very first time on March 14, 1960, more than 50 years ago. We have built strong political and economic ties. We work together on science and on defense.
The German-Israeli relations are not limited to good contacts between the governments. Israel and Germany are bonded by a deep friendship between our peoples. We share the same fundamental values. These include democracy and the rule of law. And we share a similar understanding of the value of individual freedom. This is what binds us together.
I am happy to say that Jewish life in Germany is not only a memory but again living reality. Over the years, some 240,000 Jews, mostly from the former Soviet Union, have found a new home in Germany. The Jewish community in Germany is now larger and more vibrant than ever before since World War Two. We see this as a great expression of trust in our society.
Anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia must never be tolerated in Germany or anywhere else.
The recent series of murders of Turkish and Greek small businessmen in Germany by a group of rightwing terrorists is shocking, and we are ashamed of it.
We will do everything possible to fully investigate the crimes and bring to justice those who committed them. These terrible crimes are not only an admonition to our authorities and public agencies. They remind all of us to pay attention, not to look the other way. It is up to us to shape what kind of society we live in.
If Germany eventually evolved into a society that is securely anchored in the West, it is because of many friends who accompanied us over the years and helped us to find the right way.
I am honoured and very pleased that one of the most eminent of our friends is here tonight with us:
Dr. Henry Kissinger. I have known Henry Kissinger since the 1980's when I was introduced to him by the late Count Lambsdorff. Henry Kissinger had to leave Germany when he was 15 years old. He emigrated to the U.S., he later became National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, and the Presidential Medal of Honour in 1977.
Henry Kissinger never turned his back on Germany. From very early on, he thought that the partition of Germany was morally wrong. In 1990, he argued in favour of German unity.
Henry Kissinger has been an indispensable pillar of the transatlantic relationship for some 40 years now, (and we will honour him in a separate moment later tonight).
Henry (Mr. Secretary), thank you so much for your friendship and your advice.
I hope that the life-time award that you will receive tonight will be a motivation for many others to also contribute to further expanding the transatlantic relationship.
Today, we cannot take good transatlantic relations for granted. We need men and women who invest themselves personally. And we are grateful that Henry Kissinger continues to do his part even though he had all the reasons to never talk to any German again.
In her piece Vita Activa, the great German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt says that “being able to start over again is the essence of human existence”. It is true: The Holocaust remains the darkest hour in our history. But thanks to the contributions of men and women like Anselm Kiefer, we have found ways to engage our history and, in a sense, start over again.
In presenting the Leo Baeck Medal to you we recognize your unbelievable achievements as an artist. And we honour what you have done for German-Jewish relations and a more humane future.
Thank you very much.