Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the ceremony to award the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit to Elie Wiesel

23.09.2014 - Speech

Foreign Minister Steinmeier awarded the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit to the American author, political activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

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Dear Ms. Wiesel,
Dear Elie Wiesel,
Excellencies, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen!

A very warm welcome to all of you.

Elie Wiesel, you have already received a great number of awards and honors in your life. To name only two of them: The Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992. Now who am I to honor you with another award?

Let me say it this way: This Grand Order of Merit is a humble gesture of my country to show gratitude for your lifetime achievements and your relentless efforts to keep the memory alive of the worst crime in all of history – the Shoah against the Jewish people. Your message of peace, atonement and human dignity has helped all of us learn for the future. With this Order of Merit, we want to honor the writer, the philanthropist, the historian, the professor – quite simply: the outstanding Mensch that you are.

When I prepared for this ceremony, my mind wandered back to your unforgettable visit to Buchenwald concentration camp with President Obama and Chancellor Merkel in June 2009. I will never forget the words you said – let me quote:

“Memories must bring people together rather than set them apart. Memories are not to sow anger in our hearts, but on the contrary, a sense of solidarity.”

What greatness to find such words in a place of such unspeakable terror!

Mr. Wiesel, we have taken your message into our hearts. Over the last decades, the remembrance of the Holocaust has brought Germany and Jews closer to each other.

We have come a very long way. Next year, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. Today, Israel is one of Germany’s closest allies and welcomes Germany’s role in the Middle East peace process. Germany’s commitment to the security of Israel remains one of the fundamental pillars of Germany's foreign and security policy.

And the relationship between our civil societies is even closer.

Jewish people from all over the world visit Germany, particularly Berlin, and feel welcome in a country which has reinvented itself after the darkest chapters of its history. And what’s more: Many Jews are feeling not only welcome, but they are feeling at home again in Germany.

In the Germany of today, Jewish life is blossoming again.
And this blossoming belongs at the heart of our society – it enriches us all!

Elie Wiesel, this new blossoming is no less than a blessing! It is a miracle of history, and an unparalleled achievement of reconciliation.
Your contribution, Elie Wiesel, to this reconciliation is unmeasurable.
Through your work, hundreds of thousands of people have developed the wish to find out more about the past, to travel to Auschwitz, or Buchenwald, to Berlin and to Israel, in order to learn from the past.

But then again, you never thought it’s enough to look back and keep the memory alive.
You always have your eyes set to the future: What’s next? Will future generations do better?

Many, many times over the years you have met young people – also in Germany – and you have inspired them to keep asking questions, and to continue the work of understanding that you have begun.
I remember your speech to the German Bundestag in January 2000 when you said:
I have trust in young Germans to build a better society. Your speech still sends a twofold message to the young people in my country: a message of hope and a message of responsibility!

And of course, there is lots of work still to be done! It pains me to see the most recent outbursts of anti-Semitism, especially during the latest conflict in Gaza. I was shocked and saddened by the outrageous anti-Semitic slogans, also on the streets of Europe.

But let me assure you: Our democracy stands up against it! 10 days ago, thousands of people followed the invitation of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and came together outside the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to raise their voice against anti-Semitism.

This rally sent a powerful message:
There is no place for anti-Semitism in Germany! Anti-Semitism goes against our constitution, against our civilization, against our democracy, against what we believe in –This is the lesson your work has taught us, Elie Wiesel, and we have understood!

So, dear Elie Wiesel: No words or gestures can express my country’s gratitude.
Please accept this Grand Order of Merit as a humble sign of our appreciation for your life and for your work!

Thank you very much.

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