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Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Violins of Hope concert on the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust

29.01.2015 - Speech

Sir Simon,
Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman,
Martin Hoffmann,
Zeruya Shalev,
Amnon Weinstein,
Distinguished guests,

Primo Levi once wrote that perfect unhappiness is just as unattainable as perfect happiness.

Having survived the hell that was Auschwitz, he knew what he was talking about. Auschwitz has become the epitome of inhumanity. Like no other, this place stands for the crimes against humanity of the Shoah, for the murder of millions of Europe’s Jews committed by Germans.

The instruments that you will hear tonight are witnesses to the Shoah.

“When my violins are on the stage, then six million people are standing behind them.”

That’s what you once said, Amnon Weinstein. They are instruments that belonged to Jewish musicians, who were driven from their homes or murdered by the Nazis. You, Amnon Weinstein, spent decades collecting the instruments and lovingly restored them. Each and every violin has a story to tell. A story of persecution, expulsion and death.

For instance, there the Drancy Violin, which was named after the infamous internment camp near Paris, from which tens of thousands of French Jews were taken in trains to extermination camps. A deportee threw his violin from the train and cried out to the people waiting on the platform: “Take my violin! It won’t survive long where I’m going.”

The violins play painful melodies of unimaginable tragedy.

But when Israeli and German musicians play the violins of the Shoah today, then they also resound with a message of hope and confidence – of the sort that Primo Levi might also have had in mind.

***

Seventy years ago today, the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz extermination camp. The hell of Auschwitz came to an end. And the world became a witness to unimaginable horror.

Yehuda Bacon,Margot Friedlander,Brigitte Ryba,Oljean Ingster,Eva Fahidi,

You are among the few people who survived the horrors of the Shoah. We are profoundly moved by your willingness to spend this day of hope in our midst. Your presence fills us with confidence and we are very glad to have you with us.

Ambassador Hadas-Handelsman, something else gives me hope this evening. This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.

The fact that Israel reached out to us after the hell that was Auschwitz was nothing short of a miracle for us Germans. This miracle has become reality. How it came to pass is a story for another occasion. If you take a look at the creative scene in Berlin or the music clubs of Tel Aviv, you will see just how close the connection between Germans and Israelis is, especially among the younger generation. We intend to celebrate this special and wonderful relationship between our two countries together this year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When you hear the Violins of Hope in a minute, then you will hear melodies of grief, hope and the unquenchable will to live. But please also hear their reminder: “Never again!”

This is our responsibility, a responsibility that we must pass on to the generations of our children and our children’s children: We must never again allow our Jewish fellow citizens to feel threatened in our country. And we must never again allow others to sow the seeds of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

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