Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the ceremony commemorating the 90th anniversary of Walther Rathenau’s death, Berlin, 24 June 2012
On Sunday, the 90th anniversary of Walter Rathenau’s death, Germany paid tribute to the country’s former Foreign Minister. On 24 June 1922 Rathenau was shot on his way to the Foreign Office. Through his association with the highly controversial Treaty of Versailles, he had become a hate figure for right-wing nationalists.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle was among those attending the ceremony at Oberschöneweide Cemetery commemorating the 90th anniversary of Walther Rathenau’s death.
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Ladies and gentlemen,
“An economically integrated Europe will be also a politically integrated Europe.”
This is of course a highly topical statement. Yet its author, Walther Rathenau, wrote it nearly a century ago.
We’re gathered here today to honour Walther Rathenau on the 90th anniversary of his death. For such an occasion this is a worthy venue. To all those who contributed so generously to the restoration of the Rathenau family mausoleum I offer heartfelt thanks. My special thanks go to the Hermann von Reemtsma Foundation, Land Berlin, the German Foundation for Monument Conservation and the Walther Rathenau Society. And I’m very pleased that the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Federal Foreign Office have also contributed on behalf of the Federal Government. It is thanks to such support that this has become a truly fitting place for reflection and remembrance.
Probably few figures of the late 19th and early 20th century were as many-sided and multidimensional as Walther Rathenau.
What he accomplished in the field of industry and engineering, as a writer, banker and indeed liberal politician, too, shows that he was a man of many talents. In whatever role he served, he was keenly aware that the world around him was in the grip of radical change. In his deep-seated contradictions and conflicts, Rathenau was – to cite Lothar Gall – “a figure who symbolized the ambivalences of an entire epoch”.
Walther Rathenau was both a pragmatist and a visionary. In times of crisis he saw also opportunities – opportunities for reform and progress that he was determined to grasp. As a dedicated and tireless negotiator, he remained undaunted even in the face of seemingly total intransigence.
Walther Rathenau stood for the reconciliation of interests and the art of diplomacy. For freedom and responsibility, the rejection of revanchism and radicalism.
He was deeply bitter about the Treaty of Versailles. Like many other Germans at the time, he felt it was unjust. But he also knew that Germany’s political and economic rehabilitation could be achieved only through negotiation.
He was profoundly committed to a rapprochement with the Western powers. At the same time he was fully behind the Treaty of Rapallo, assuming political responsibility for the entirely new chapter of German foreign policy that began in the aftermath of the First World War.
Walther Rathenau’s life and work exemplifies the experience of many educated and successful Jews in German society at the time. Despite his dedicated service to his country, Walther Rathenau encountered intense hostility and became a target for polemical and extremist attacks.
When he asked a journalist shortly before his death why he was so hated in certain circles, he was told: “The reason is simply that you’re Jewish and conducting a foreign policy that’s good for Germany. You’re the living proof that the anti-Semites’ theory about the Jews being bad for Germany is nonsense. That’s why they want you killed.” That grim prophecy was fulfilled on 24 June 1922, 90 years ago today.
Rathenau was murdered although – or perhaps precisely because – he had in the last months of his life become an important political figurehead for those Germans who supported the Weimar Republic. Perhaps the state funeral for Rathenau attended by hundreds of thousands of mourners was the moment when Weimar’s young democracy first found its true identity. In the words of historian Martin Sabrow, Rathenau had become a martyr for Germans across the whole party spectrum.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When we consider a figure like Rathenau, we perceive also the present in a sharper light. Today we see Rathenau as a convinced European who was far ahead of his time.
Already on the eve of the First World War he sensed that the European idea had to become the cornerstone of German policy. As an entrepreneur he knew what a boost to our prosperity a Europe of open borders would mean.
Both as an entrepreneur and a politician, Rathenau realized that the only enduring answer to the German question was Europe. Only Europe offered the prospect of a peaceful future for the continent in which the biggest country right at its heart would have its place in the concert of European nations. Despite Rathenau’s vision, Germany in fact unleashed two devastating world wars. That’s one of the greatest tragedies of our history.
Today Rathenau’s European legacy is part and parcel of German foreign policy. Europe is one of our fundamental foreign policy tenets – and that’s how it will remain. If Europe had given us no more than decades of peace on our continent, it would still have been worth every ounce of effort. Europe is the answer not only to the darkest chapter in our history. It’s also the answer our continent seeks to the challenges of globalization.
More Europe is our answer to the current crisis. More Europe was also the answer Walther Rathenau gave. He realized already a century ago that ever closer cooperation in the field of economic and financial policy would one day lead to a politically integrated Europe. Only a united Europe is a strong Europe.
It’s now up to us step by step to take the process of European integration forward. Rathenau’s legacy we view as a commitment and an encouragement to persevere in this endeavour.
Thank you for your attention.