Mr Demnig and the STOLPERSTEIN initiative team,
Participants in the Federal Foreign Office STOLPERSTEIN initiative, Mir Haschemi,
And especially, esteemed relatives of our former colleagues,
I would like to express my sincere thanks that so many of you have come to Berlin today. Here, at the location of the Foreign Office from 1870 to 1945, your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, your relatives suffered great injustice.
Your relatives were persecuted by the National Socialists and dismissed from the foreign service. “On account of their faith, origin, descent, political beliefs, sexual orientation or worldview”, as stated on the inscription on the STOLPERSCHWELLE (stumbling step) that artist Gunter Demnig will lay in a few moments. Together with the STOLPERSTEINE that will soon be unveiled – one plaque for each member of staff who was dismissed – the STOLPERSCHWELLE is a reminder of the fates of 56 members of the Foreign Office.
The STOLPERSCHWELLE and the STOLPERSTEINE also stand on behalf of other members of the foreign service about whom no information can be found in our archives, as well as for the many family members who were likewise victims of injustice.
The STOLPERSTEINE stand as a decentralised memorial to all those who were persecuted or murdered by the Nazis. They serve to help raise the visibility of the individuals and the culture of injustice of the totalitarian Nazi regime – in order that we remember.
As the Foreign Office marked its 150th anniversary in a year that was also the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, a volunteer group of employees at the Federal Foreign Office set about also to commemorate those fellow Foreign Office staff members who had been persecuted by the Nazis. Fifty-six names and the fates behind them were compiled using documents from the Federal Foreign Office’s Political Archive. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who were involved in this task, particularly Ms von Boeselager and her team in the Political Archive.
Remembering is something we cannot do often enough.
The STOLPERSTEIN initiative is an outstanding means of doing so. It began more than 25 years ago. The Federal Foreign Office has already cooperated with the initiative in many countries. The work that artist Gunter Demnig began many years ago is now the largest decentralised memorial for victims of the Nazi regime.
Most of us have probably often “stumbled” upon the memorial plaques and have then stopped for a moment and reflected on the fates of the people inscribed on them.
Even though the small brass plaques cannot convey what these people had to endure, they are a symbol that confronts us in our everyday lives and compels us to remember. For those who do not live here in Germany or who have not been here for a long time, the sad reality is that on a walk – regardless of which district of Berlin you are in – you will come across, indeed stumble upon these plaques.
When we bow down to read what has been inscribed on these plaques, it is as if we are bowing down in honour of the people they represent. We thereby show them the respect they were robbed of in life.
The STOLPERSTEINE serve multiple purposes: they honour, pay tribute and serve as a reminder. They honour every single individual’s memory; at the same time, his or her fate does not remain private. It becomes a part of our everyday life, part of our collective memory and of our culture of remembrance. It helps remind us that we must remain vigilant regarding certain developments – for example, the rise of antisemitism and racism.
The Federal Foreign Office staff magazine recently wrote: “The entire spectrum ranging from approval and opportunism to passivity and indifference could be found at the Foreign Office of that period. However cosmopolitan their outlook, that did not stop Germany’s diplomats loyally serving the dictatorship and aiding and abetting or even instigating its crimes.”
The Federal Republic of Germany learned its lessons from the inconceivable and unspeakable crimes of Nazi Germany, first and foremost by anchoring the first sentence of Article one in our Basic Law: –“Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”
Commitment to human rights throughout the world is a cornerstone of Germany’s foreign policy.
National Socialism was the darkest chapter in the 150-year history of the Foreign Office. A period which we as a ministry needed many years to come to terms with, with our history, with continuity of staff, with persecution and its consequences, with breaks with the past.
Today, we actively work to promote diversity. Differing world views, religious affiliation and political orientation have long been represented at the Federal Foreign Office. I am delighted that a group from Diplomats of Color has been involved in organising this event today. The group Rainbow brings together the Federal Foreign Office’s LGBTQIA members and their partners. These initiatives play an important role in making the Federal Foreign Office a modern and open-minded public authority in lively exchange with the society it represents abroad.
The STOLPERSTEINE are meant to remind us how precious our freedom is, and how valuable it is that we can be together in our diversity. And that, following the example of the former staff members we are commemorating today, we should work every single day to preserve this precious good.
Countess Bernstorff, please take the floor.