Opening speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at the event marking the 10th anniversary of the OSCE Berlin Declaration

13.11.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Didier Burkhalter,
Michael Link,
Fellow members of the Bundestag,
Representatives of Jewish organisations,
Guests of the Federal Foreign Office,

Ten years ago, representatives of the OSCE states met here in Berlin – the city in which, more than 70 years ago, the worst crime against humanity, the Shoah, the annihilation of European Jews, was decided, planned and then executed.

They met here in Berlin in 2004 to state their shared commitment to combat anti-Semitism.

Today, all of you – representatives of the OSCE participating states, governments, parliaments and civil society – have again accepted our invitation to come to the German capital to look back ten years on at the Berlin Declaration adopted at that time and to discuss in the many fora where we stand. I’m delighted that so many of you are here today!

The Berlin Declaration ten years ago was a milestone in the international fight against anti-Semitism. In it, the states not only condemned anti-Semitism as a danger to democracy, human rights as well as security and cooperation in Europe. They also expressed their support for concrete operational steps against anti-Semitism at national and international level.

Today’s event, therefore, is not just about remembering but also taking stock.

Have we done enough to turn our words of ten years ago into deeds? That’s one of the key questions occupying us today.

For my own country, Germany, I’d like to give you an answer in two parts.

Firstly, I’m glad to be able to say to you: Jewish life is flourishing once more in Germany!

There are new synagogues, nurseries, schools, cultural institutions – despite all the wounds of history, Germany has become a new, open home for tens of thousands of Jewish people. But that’s not all:

Thousands of Jewish people, mostly young Israelis, live here in Berlin. They were attracted by this city’s creativity and are contributing to it themselves. The largest Jewish song and dance contest in Europe regularly takes place here in Germany. Next year, the largest Jewish sporting event in Europe is coming to Berlin: the European Makkabi Games with more than 2000 Jewish athletes. And you won’t believe it but today you can even get a decent bagel in Berlin ...

From all of these highlights of Jewish life, I’d like to pick out one which I found especially moving.

A few weeks ago I was in Wrocław, once a centre of Jewish life in Europe.

Charlotte Knobloch, on 1 September we went to Wrocław, 75 years to the day after Germany’s invasion of Poland unleashed the Second World War. That day 75 years later, I sat in the old White Stork Synagogue where I witnessed the first ordination of rabbis since the war – four young rabbis who were trained here in Berlin and Potsdam – at the Abraham Geiger College, whose rector, Walter Homolka, is here today.

That was a moment which touched everyone present and which I’ll never forget!

Yes, Jewish life is flourishing again in Germany and in Europe.

Given our history, that’s nothing less than a miracle and a blessing – a blessing in which many of you here today have played a role! Jewish life is back at the heart of our society – and that’s where it belongs! That’s a source of happiness, an enrichment for our society, whose true importance many in our own country haven’t yet realised.

And because that is so, ladies and gentlemen, friends, I want to be just as honest and just as forthright in the second part of my answer:

Anti-Semitism is a stab in the heart of our society! Anti-Semitism goes against our constitution, against our civilisation – against everything we believe in and everything we’ve learned!

Therefore, today is not just about the protection and the rights of a minority, rather it goes to the very heart of our society: ladies and gentlemen, there is no place – nor can we allow there to be a place – for anti-Semitism in our understanding of a free, democratic and tolerant Germany.

That’s why we in Germany have been active on many fronts during the ten years since the adoption of the Berlin Declaration. We’ve initiated public awareness programmes, integrated this issue into school lessons and youth work, promoted initiatives which tackle anti-Semitism and much more. Of course, we’ve also actively combated anti-Semitism with the means available to us under the rule of law and, above all, by fostering Jewish life.

A few weeks ago, I had the honour of presenting the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel in New York.

It was a lovely, dignified ceremony for this man whom we all admire.

However, he said something to me that day which made me stop and think, which indeed should make us all stop and think.

He said that if someone had told him in 1945 that he would still be fighting against anti-Semitism as an old man in 2014, he wouldn’t have believed it. But now the danger was there again.

We’re horrified by the spate of anti-Semitic hate-mongering and attacks which we’ve seen in many European cities during the last few months. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of latent anti-Semitic sentiment, which comes in the guise of criticism of Israel, has long been with us. However, what we experienced this summer reached a new scale: Jewish citizens were attacked and people shouted slogans expressing a level of hatred which beggared belief. Not only in Germany, but sadly also in our country, an open, brutal anti-Semitism has again reared its ugly head. It poses a danger to Jewish citizens in particular but also to the rest of us, to our values and to our civilisation, which is marked by humanitarianism and tolerance.

That is why I say very clearly that nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies the attacks we have seen in recent weeks. That’s why the zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism called for in the Berlin Declaration is so important now. I publicly reaffirmed this together with my French and Italian counterparts in Brussels this summer.

But, as I’ve already said: it was not just us politicians but society as a whole which stood up to repudiate anti-Semitism. In mid-September, thousands of people taking part in a large-scale demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate raised their voices and called out: anti-Semitism has no place here!

It’s not only at moments such as this one at the Brandenburg Gate that the commitment we so urgently need is demonstrated by a responsible civil society.

It was evident yesterday how many civil-society organisations are actively working to combat anti-Jewish sentiment. Yesterday, you got together in working groups to discuss and assess the current OSCE commitments from the Berlin Declaration of 2004 and to draw up recommendations for further action by the OSCE participating states. You’ll be presenting them this afternoon.

I want to say to you now that you are the ones who see what is going on every day in society and we should therefore do all we can to ensure that your ideas and proposals flow into our policies wherever possible.

I therefore wish you all not only a productive conference but hope you will come up with conclusions which help us in our fight against anti-Semitism and hatred of Jewish people. Thank you very much.

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