Address by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on the occasion of the Abraham Geiger College Rabbinic Ordination Ceremony in Wrocław
-- check against delivery --
Rabbi Jacob and Rabbi Homolka,
Secretary of State Huskowski,
Members of the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,
and above all, dear graduates,
Abraham Geiger was a reconciler between religions, nations and people. As he once wrote, he lived by the motto “through investigation of the particular to knowledge of the universal, through acquaintance with the past to understanding of the present, through reason to faith.”
Today we are commemorating the 140th anniversary of the death of this great Jewish scholar and founder of Europe’s first modern rabbinical seminary here in Wrocław. It is wonderful that we are marking this anniversary with an ordination ceremony for young rabbis from the college in Potsdam that has borne Abraham Geiger’s name since 1999.
At the same time, it is almost a wonder that, as Jews and Christians, as Germans and Poles, we are celebrating together in the renovated White Stork Synagogue. The renaissance of Jewish life in a united Europe, which we are celebrating today, remained inconceivable for a long time.
And yet, one of the most significant Jewish communities in Europe used to thrive here in Wrocław. The great social-democrat and progressive thinker Ferdinand Lassalle is buried here. Edith Stein left her mark here. The famous historian Fritz Stern grew up here.
In his memoirs, Fritz Stern describes one of his earliest childhood memories. It is the memory of a bomb detonating in his uncle’s room here in Wrocław. “I knew who was throwing bombs, the Nazis, although I probably did not yet know where babies came from,” he writes. That was in 1932, Fritz Stern was six years old.
Shortly afterwards, 75 years ago to the day, the Germans attacked the Westerplatte in Gdańsk, violating all principles of international law and triggering the Second World War. Here on Polish soil, Germans committed crimes against humanity on an immeasurable scale and inflicted untold suffering. There is hardly a Jewish family in Europe which did not suffer murder or displacement during the Shoah.
Would we not expect this to have meant the end of Jewish life in Germany and that the survivors would completely break off ties with our country? Would we not equally expect it to have caused a lasting estrangement of our neighbours in Poland?
This did not happen, thank goodness. Today we are celebrating the fact that Jewish life has once again burgeoned in Europe.
We are also celebrating that our Polish neighbours have summoned up new trust, from which a close friendship in the heart of Europe has blossomed. Today, we are shouldering the responsibility for a free and open Europe together.
I am thankful for this precious gift.
Graduates of the Abraham Geiger College, today it is you who I am particularly thankful to. You will have thought long and hard about whether you want to train as rabbis in Potsdam of all places. That you made this choice is a tremendous demonstration of trust in our country.
Charlotte Knobloch, you once explained this trust by saying that Germany had fundamentally changed – into an open society whose terrible past has taught it that democracy can only thrive where the values of tolerance, religious plurality and cultural diversity are put into practice in our daily lives.
Dear graduates, for us, your trust is at the same time a blessing and a responsibility. When you will go on to guide communities following your ordination, you are most cordially welcome. You will shape Jewish life, life which is an integral part of our shared European culture and identity.
We will not leave you to do so alone. We do not want Jewish communities to be sheltered minorities in need of protection, we want them to be part of everyday life at the heart of our society.
That is why I say very clearly: There is no place in this society for anti-Semitic hate-mongering or attacks on synagogues and people of Jewish faith. Nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies the pernicious anti-Semitic attacks we have seen in recent weeks.
It is thus all the more important that today we jointly make a point of celebrating Jewish life in the heart of Europe. With this in mind I hope that we will all celebrate the 5775th Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, in a spirit of reconciliation.