Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the presentation of the final report of the German-Italian Commission of Historians in Rome

19.12.2012 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Minister, Giulio,
Professor Gabriele,
Professor Schieder,
Members of the Commission of Historians,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A year before his death, the great Italian writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi wrote about the horrors of National Socialist crimes:

“We cannot understand it; but we can and must understand, whence it was born, and be alert. If understanding is impossible, knowing is necessary, because what happened can return, human consciences can be seduced and darkened again: even our consciences.”

Levi’s words spell out an important message. It was his legacy that was also behind the decision taken by Germany and Italy to appoint a Commission of Historians to help us confront and examine our shared history in the period 1943-45.

There are open wounds from this era which provide a breeding ground for stubborn stereotypes in the way we perceive one another. These are stereotypes which have no place in the otherwise deep and dense relations between Germany and Italy.

After three years of intensive work, the Commission has now presented results which give cause for both contemplation and action. I say this particularly with a view to the fate of the military internees.

I would like to thank you, Professor Gabriele and Professor Schieder, the members of the Commission and all who have worked on the report, for your wonderful dedication. Thanks also go to Villa Vigoni for actively supporting your work.

The Commission has laid the foundation stone for more work needed to come to terms with our past. It teaches us to look carefully and to differentiate. Yet there can be absolutely no doubt:

Crimes which are completely unjustifiable where committed in the name of Germany in Italy and against Italians in the years 1943-45. Historical differentiation does not play these down in any way.

The case before the International Court of Justice – which provided legal security in the important question of state immunity in its judgement of 3 February – did not ever pursue the goal of questioning the responsibility of Germany for these crimes. There must be a strict separation of legal questions from historic responsibility.

The victims of the military internment in the period 1943-45 deserve the full recognition of their difficult fate. Their often painful fate has too long lingered outside the shaft of light cast by the process of confronting the past.

The German Government deeply regrets the wrongdoings suffered by the military internees. We bow our heads before the victims. We fully recognize that due tribute must be paid to their fate. The knowledge of what happened to them is to be passed on to future generations.

Germany and Italy intend to create a place of remembrance for the military internees.

We will look very carefully at the Commission’s recommendations here and, working with the victims’ associations, make this place of remembrance a reality.

Secondly, in the coming year, we want to promote further research work. Thirdly, we want to support projects run by the victims’ associations and communities aiming to keep the memories alive for future generations. And, fourthly, we want to lend more active support to the associations and communities when they try to intensify their contacts to Germany.

The aim of these concrete steps is to create and strengthen a shared culture of remembrance.

Alongside these recommendations for specific steps, the report also once more makes plain that Europe is the historical and political answer to the darkest chapter in Germany’s history. Europe is the peaceful answer to centuries of fraternal wars on our continent.

We succeeded in overcoming the principle of confrontation in Europe and replacing it with the principle of cooperation.

Some complain about how difficult it is to cooperate. But the work of the German-Italian Commission of Historians shows once more in all clarity: it is much more difficult and much more painful to deal with the consequences of confrontation and to heal the wounds than it is to engage in cooperation.

If Europe had given us nothing more than decades of peace on our continent, it would still have been worth it.

Thank you.

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