Ladies and gentlemen,
“Eran tutti innocenti, poveri cuori umani. Dissen quei malviventi: ‚Voi siete partigiani!’ Vecchi e ragazzi, donne e bambini, barbaramente fecen morì.”
(Quotation from a well-known song from the region: “They were all innocent, the poor people. The criminals said, ‘You are partisans!’ And brutally murdered old and young, women and children.”
To this day, “Canzone del Padule” recounts the dreadful day in August 1944 when German soldiers killed 175 people here in Ponte Buggianese, in an act of senseless violence. Their victims were civilians – men, women and children. They were people fleeing from war, people looking for a safe haven.
Visitors to this beautiful part of Tuscany often come across memorial plaques, some large, some small, some with many names, some with just a few. Memory is engraved in stone in Padule. But that is not all. What happened has buried itself into the lives of many people.
And despite these terrible crimes, despite this darkest chapter of our common history, Germans who visit Padule experience something very special here. If you speak with people – even those who suffered through this dreadful event – you do not meet with rejection, let alone animosity, as a German, but rather with warmth and the desire to overcome this terrible past together.
I personally experienced something similar in Civitella last year, where Federica Mogherini and I stood side by side to commemorate the terrible massacre in the town. And I am experiencing the same thing here today in this village, side by side with Paolo Gentiloni. I find this very moving.
And it is not a matter of course. It is a testament to people’s goodness and magnanimity. It also shows that Italy and Germany have come a long way in the past seven decades. This path has created friendship and trust in a united Europe. I am profoundly grateful for this.
This mutual trust also marked the start of our path towards a culture of shared remembrance – something we did not have for many years. This site is also a symbol of a culture of shared remembrance.
The work on this project started during my first term in office, with the establishment of the German-Italian historians commission. We subsequently set up the Future Fund together, which provides concrete support to people in their work on reconciliation and exploring and coming to terms with the past.
So today is also an opportunity to thank you, Paolo, for your work in a spirit of trust on this joint goal. But above all, I would like to thank the municipalities and associations in Italy for accepting this gesture of reconciliation.
Similar centres to the one we are inaugurating here in Ponte Buggianese today are also being set up in other places in Italy and Germany. All of these sites could and can only grow because you, ladies and gentlemen, played an active role in their growth. Thank you very much for this!
Giorgio Napolitano once said: “Tra le pietre con cui abbiamo costruito questa Europa unita, c’è la pietra della memoria. Ne costituisce uno dei fondamenti, la pietra di una memoria che non può essere rimossa.”
(“Under the stones we used to build the united Europe lies the bedrock of memory. It forms one of the foundations – this bedrock of memory that cannot be removed.”)
It is true that shared memory makes us aware of how valuable Europe is. But it is equally true that this awareness must be redeveloped by each generation.
This is why it is particularly important to me that this centre will also be a place where young people from Germany and Italy will meet to shape their shared future in a united Europe in awareness of the past.
This may be more important than ever today. The refugee crisis is currently posing Europe with one of its greatest challenges – perhaps the greatest challenge it has ever faced. Thousands upon thousands of people are fleeing war and violence and searching for protection here in Europe. Italy experiences this off its coast in dramatic ways every day. And for us it is clear that no country in Europe can overcome this challenge on its own. The answer cannot be to take the approach of the 20th century, to withdraw to the nation state. Instead, the answer must be better and greater solidarity in Europe – a Europe that keeps its foundations of solidarity and humanity in mind.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Contacts between people are the bedrock of this strong Europe based on the principle of solidarity. Dialogue and getting to know each other create trust and common ground, which we need to meet the challenges facing us.
When I say that, I am mainly looking at you, my dear pupils!
Many of you have already experienced for yourselves that Europe is not an abstract notion, but rather a concrete opportunity. Whether you go on a school exchange, study for a year at a German university or do an internship in a neighbouring EU country, I encourage all of you to make the most of the opportunities that Europe offers you! In places like this one here in Ponte Buggianese, we become particularly aware of the tremendous value of what we have achieved in Europe in the past 70 years – peace, partnership and community. It is up to your generation not merely to preserve these achievements, but also to actively shape them. This is why I urge you to make the most of Europe. It is your future – our future!
Thank you very much.