Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the panel discussion entitled “Von Bruchkanten und Wunden” at the Babylon Cinema, Berlin; part of the series of readings and talks organised to mark the 50th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am glad to see so many people here at the Babylon cinema, as we near the end of the anniversary year commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel. But we’re not just looking back on our relations, we are also showcasing their diversity with dozens of events in Israel and Germany. We’ve staged exhibitions, concerts, sports events, youth exchanges, academic conferences and much more besides. The year began with a concert in the Berlin Philharmonic, which was as impressive as it was moving. It was played on the “Violins of Hope”, instruments that once belonged to Jews who were sent to concentration camps and killed. Over the past decades these instruments have been collected and lovingly restored by Israeli violin‑maker Amnon Weinstein. It was a wonderful concert, accompanied by harrowing texts read by Uli Matthes.
This series of talks also began in January. Today’s discussion is the third event in the series. In January we met with Edgar Reitz and Meir Shalev to discuss “Zweierlei Heimaten”, two homelands. This was followed in May by “Zersprengtes zusammenfügen”, mending what was shattered, with the Nobel laureate for literature Svetlana Alexievich, Dani Gal and Ursula Krechel.
And now we have “Von Bruchkanten und Wunden”, of fracture lines and wounds. That’s the title we chose for today’s event.
It is not only a fitting description of the current diplomatic challenges on the world stage. A world in which experience of conflict and violence has become shockingly everyday for far too many people.
It is also a central issue for our two societies – in Germany and in Israel. Especially this year, when we are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations. When we bring to mind what a wonderful, dense network of human relationships now binds us together – 70 years after the atrocities of the Nazi era.
This “Zivilisationsbruch”, as it was called by Dan Diner, this betrayal of all civilised values, is an inextricable part of Israeli-German history. It has left “Bruchkanten”, fracture lines, which we are still trying to come to grips with.
Auschwitz survivor Eva Fahibi once put it thus:
“The wound never heals. With each memory the wound reopens.”
It was many years before post‑war German society was able to appreciate this.
In Israel, too, many hoped that the wounds people had brought with them from Europe would heal as a new society was established in Israel. But such processes are complex and difficult. Scars remain. The past cannot be forgotten.
In your award-winning film “Waltz with Bashir”, you show us in your own special way how an Israeli soldier regains control of his soul by painfully examining his memories.
The wound does not heal. It is reopened with each memory. This insight has a relevance today that goes beyond German-Israeli relations.
More than 60 million people have been forced to leave their homes worldwide – more than at any time since the end of World War II. Many of them are fleeing the civil war in Syria and the homicidal hordes of a self‑proclaimed Islamic State, or the collapse of state order in places such as Libya.
Many of the refugees bear wounds – on their bodies and their souls – marks of war, violence and suffering. They bring home to us the fractures and rifts created by war and violence.
The refugees bring with them dreams of a better society. And the trauma of flight and violence. Foreign policy must not shy away from addressing these fears and hopes, even if diagnostic equipment is not among the traditional tools of diplomacy. But culture, and cultural relations and education policy, can help comprehend conflicts at a deeper level, and identify the traces they leave behind in people’s lives.
I still remember well our meeting in 2006 during my first term of office, how we sat together and discussed ideas. Then as now I hold you in high esteem as an artist, as an adviser. In your book, “The Dark Ship,” you showed how the decision to flee one’s home matures slowly, with difficulty, and what terrible things happen before it is finally taken.
Precisely because our world seems to be getting more and more violent – and that includes the latest escalation in Jerusalem and the West Bank – we want today to look at what war and conflicts do to people and societies.
And what can we as a society do to counter them? Can we draw lessons from our past and our treatment of the wounds of the Shoah?
And last but not least, how can we make sure that here in Germany, in the heart of Europe, xenophobia and anti‑Semitism do not become socially acceptable again?
I am delighted to be able to discuss these important issues today with you – Esther Dischereit, Sherko Fatah, Ari Folman and Andres Veiel. In your works, you have all explored social fracture lines and wounds, conflict and violence. And you have succeeded in describing things that are frequently impalpable and making them slightly more tangible. You thereby help us understand other people’s traumas and dreams better. That alone won’t solve any of the major crises we are facing today. But it is a first step – an indispensable step.
That is why talking to artists and writers is so important to me. And that is why I attach such great importance to this German-Israeli series of readings and talks curated by Katharina Narbutovic, which we are continuing tonight.
And I am thrilled that we are are doing so in the presence of the great Ernst Lubitsch – even if he isn’t here in person. The Jewish director left Berlin in the 1920s for the US, but now occupies a place of honour in the third row of this auditorium.
Ernst Lubitsch embodies the Babylon’s tradition as an art‑house cinema and a venue above all for Jewish moviemakers and artists of all kinds. That’s also why the German-Israeli series of readings is taking place here.
I very much hope that we will this evening be able to make a small contribution to that which truly binds us, Germans and Israelis.
On this note, it’s great to see you all here. A very warm welcome to you all!