Three years ago, the historian Saul Friedländer gave a speech to the German Bundestag on Holocaust Remembrance Day – and to this day his words resonate in my mind.
In the speech, he recounted how his family fled across Europe from the Nazis. At some point, his parents considered the journey too dangerous for their son who was then only nine years old. They decided to hide him in a boarding school – alone. Describing the moment they separated, Friedländer thought back to his mother and father: “What were they feeling when they saw their little boy fighting to stay with them – and then being taken away […]?”
At this point, many in the chamber, including myself, had tears in their eyes. I was thinking of my own daughters, six and ten years old. How would I have felt as a mother leaving them behind like that?
The truth is: For someone like me, born in 1980 and living in today’s Germany, this question is beyond imagination. I cannot claim to understand the horror and the pain experienced by Friedländer’s parents – or by himself or by so many other victim of the Holocaust.
Friedländer’s speech therefore made one thing clear to me: If we want to keep the memory of the Shoah alive in the future, we have to adapt to a new era: An era in which most people lack the experience or connections to the past to imagine how it was to live through Nazism, the Second World War and the Holocaust.
At the same time, this task is crucial. We have to make sure that we never forget. We owe this to six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust – and all others targeted by the Nazis. We have a moral obligation to remember them and their lives.
But we also must not forget in order to safeguard the future of European democracy and of our European peace project. After 1945, our liberal democracies and European integration were created in response to the Second World War and the Holocaust. Their existence is tied to the awareness of our dark past. I quote: “If in years to come we are to remember why it seemed so important to build a certain sort of Europe out of the crematoria of Auschwitz, only history can help us”, end of quote. This the historian Tony Judt wrote.
That is particularly true for Germany. “Never again” is the principle on which we rebuilt our country in the post-war decades. And this principle remains at the heart of our national identity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
For these reasons, the new German Government is firmly committed to preserving the memory of the Holocaust – today and in the future. We will shoulder our responsibilities – and we will keep facing our past.
This is why we are continuing our Holocaust remembrance work: We are supporting new Holocaust museums, for example in Amsterdam and Thessaloniki. We are bringing young people from different countries together at Holocaust memorial sites. And we are supporting a project with the Turkish Community in Germany researching Turkish victims of the Shoah.
We are also stepping up the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust distortion – both at home and abroad. Today, Germany is once more home to 200,000 Jews – and the Jewish community is an integral part of our society. But things are far from perfect: The publicist Marina Weisband has described Jewish life in Germany as “ambivalent, full of community and solidarity, full of fear and frustration”.
As German Foreign Minister, I am ashamed by the rise of antisemitism in my country: Terrorist attacks on synagogues, hate speech, Jews wearing the Kippa being harassed on the streets of Berlin and people carrying yellow stars with the word “unvaccinated” at demonstrations – all of this is unbearable. We are responding to such acts with the full force of the law. And in the coming years, we will be spending one billion euro on fighting antisemitism and group-related hatred – with projects ranging from police training to social media campaigns.
This action at home goes hand in hand with our international efforts: In the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, we will continue working through the Global Task Force against Holocaust Distortion. And at the United Nations, Israel and Germany tabled a Resolution on Holocaust Denial and Distortion which the General Assembly adopted a few days ago.
We need partners like you who are doing remarkable work to support Jews around the world.
Joint initiatives testify to our close friendship with Israel. For the new German Government, the security of Israel is and will remain inherent to our reason of state. We speak out against unfounded criticism and hate against Israel. We support the normalisation agreements between Israel and Arab states – just as we advocate cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. We believe that a negotiated two-state solution provides the best prospect for both sides to live peacefully side by side.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In his speech to the German Bundestag, Saul Friedländer expressed hope that the Germany which emerged in the decades after 1945 would “continue fighting for tolerance and inclusivity, for humanity and freedom, in short, for true democracy”.
Let me assure you: We will do our best to live up to this expectation. We know that peace, freedom and democracy in Europe have historical roots that we must preserve. We are aware of our moral duty to remember all those murdered in the Shoah.
Together, we can fill the pledge “Never again!” with life, both today and in the future – ensuring that mothers and fathers will never again face the cruel fate of Saul Friedländer’s parents: having to leave a child behind to save his life.