Message of greeting by Minister of State Pieper at the opening of the exhibition “From the Inside to the Outside” at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin

11.11.2013 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

Dr Simon,
Dr Dirks,
and honoured guests of the Centrum Judaicum!

I am delighted to have the privilege of opening this special exhibition, on 11 November 2013, here in these premises. It is an exhibition about reports – yes, really just reports, just paper.

Exactly 75 years ago the synagogues across Berlin, including those in this area, were set on fire. Even two days after the so‑called Night of the Broken Glass, the smell of burning filled the air and the streets were indeed covered in broken glass and fragments of crystal.

The Jewish people of this country had already been experiencing discrimination, persecution, exclusion and harassment for five years. During these nights, anyone who had stayed was robbed, tortured, arrested, killed – as we know, the pogrom did not just take place in the night of 8 November. On 11 November synagogues and houses were still being destroyed. The acts of terror continued until 16 November.

Saul Friedländer adopted the image of “entrapment” – from 1933 – and “onslaught” on 9 November 1938 to describe the situation in which the Jewish population found itself. Then came the worst horror of all: extermination.

We must not and will not ever forget what happened during those days. We have a responsibility to ensure that the Shoah never recurs. Both the Federal Government and German civil society have an obligation to keep the memory alive, to pass it on to future generations and to ensure that Jewish citizens are able to feel secure and at home in Germany.

The fact that, 75 years after the pogroms and the Holocaust, vibrant Jewish life is blossoming in Germany, and specifically here in Berlin, is a blessing. This place, the synagogue and the Centrum Judaicum, also bears witness to this development!

Dear Dr Simon, this is largely thanks to you and your tireless commitment. You have consistently provided fresh ideas and always encouraged a new perspective on things, as indeed you did in the case of this exhibition!

You had the idea and laid the foundations for this exhibition.

At this time, when we remember the pogroms of November 1938, it focuses our attention on a very special historic source, diplomatic reports. I am very grateful that you approached the Federal Foreign Office, the natural partner for your idea, which was very happy to embrace your concept. Diplomatic reports are an important source of information for our professional day‑to‑day work and are a part of our job we take for granted. The diplomats at the Federal Foreign Office produce several hundred reports each day, composed in all corners of the world and sent to the Head Office in Berlin. We report on minor happenings, such as a meeting or a trip, but of course we also cover major events such as wars and unrest in the host country.

And in November 1938 our foreign colleagues had to witness first hand how their host country was transformed before their very eyes into a scene from hell for an entire section of the population. This is reflected in the reports, which are written form different angles, depending on the author.

The view of Germany through foreign eyes is not a new area of research. Even diplomatic reports on the November pogroms are not entirely new to historians. But what this exhibition does for the first time is to concentrate exclusively on the events of November 1938. Another innovation was the attempt to garner such reports from all over the world.

Through our joint project numerous reports previously unknown to the public have been rediscovered. I would like to draw particular attention to those from Russian, Polish and Czech archives. This exhibition allows the general public to see and to read for the first time how foreign diplomats perceived the events in Germany and the pogrom against Jewish fellow citizens.

Our thanks goes first and foremost to the archives of the foreign ministries of those countries which had representations in Germany in 1938 and who therefore reported “From the Inside to the Outside” and whose help we – the Federal Foreign Office and its missions abroad – requested.

By pooling our efforts in this way it was possible to compile an impressive range of reports and documents. The creation of this exhibition was a special form of international cooperation, a major project crossing borders and time zones which often proved to be a quite new experience for many of our staff at the missions abroad, involving making contact with the archive sections of their host country’s foreign ministry. I thank you, Excellencies, for your excellent cooperation and would ask you to pass on our heartfelt thanks to your head offices!

I would also like to thank Dr Christian Dirks, who quite literally made this exhibition. Without him, the exhibition would not be here. And he put together the material quickly, professionally and with deep insight. In a moment he will tell us himself in more detail what we are going to see.

However, this exhibition – through the accounts of foreign diplomats – is primarily a memorial to the victims of the Night of the Broken Glass and a reminder of this watershed moment on the path to barbarism.

I hope this remarkable exhibition will attract many visitors and considerable attention.

Thank you very much.

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