Message from Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the occasion of the central commemorative event marking the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Sachsenhausen concentration camp
“I never thought I would live so long.” Those were the words of Leon Schwarzbaum on his 100th birthday on 20 February this year.
When the National Socialists deported him and his family to Auschwitz in 1943, he was 22 years old. His relatives were murdered there – every one of them.
He survived Auschwitz – and after that Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.
Today, Leon Schwarzbaum, like Mr Reichmuth, whom we will hear later, is one of the few former inmates of this concentration camp Sachsenhausen who are still alive.
He is one of more than 200,000 people who were imprisoned, humiliated and tortured here between 1936 and 1945.
People from more than 40 nations – Germans, French, Poles, Russians. They included political prisoners, Jews, Roma, homosexuals and soldiers of opposing armies.
Many of them died in Sachsenhausen, at the hand of German perpetrators.
In the autumn of 1941, the SS murdered more than 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war here.
Hunger and disease, forced labour and abuse claimed the lives of thousands more camp prisoners.
And many others died during the death marches following the clearance of the camp in April 1945.
Today, on the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp, we commemorate all these victims. We bow our heads before them. And we bow in shame for our crimes, crimes committed against them.
Remembrance of the National Socialist atrocities remains crucial for our country.
But on its own, it is not enough. Remembrance is not an end in itself. The goal of remembrance is to help us draw the right conclusions today.
And today, in Germany in the year 2021, antisemitism still exists, and Jews are spat upon on German streets.
I still wonder, even now: how could the Holocaust happen? Some people were actively involved. Almost all others turned a blind eye.
When Jews are spat upon today, when we witness antisemitism on the streets and look the other way, it is not only those who practise antisemitism who have learned nothing from our past. Those who look the other way have likewise learned nothing from the past.
And that is why we need to remember on days like today and in places like this.
And as a country, as Germany, we need to act in the face of antisemitism, racism, intolerance and conspiracy theories, such as those we are seeing here once again right now.
That is why Germany, also mindful of the responsibility placed on it by its past, recently launched a Global Task Force against Holocaust Denial and Distortion during its chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Politics needs to deliver in the here and now. To this end, since January the Alliance has been issuing recommendations on how politicians and decision-makers could deal with distortion of the facts of the Holocaust. Not only in Germany but across the globe. For the words always come first – and they are then followed by deeds.
Germany is moreover the first country in the world to have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antigypsyism at the end of March. We encourage other states and civil society organisations to do likewise – and thereby to take a decisive stand against hatred and hate speech against Roma, whom we are also commemorating here.
And the Federal Government is working to further facilitate the naturalisation of victims of National Socialism and their descendants. The fact that we actually have to work on making it easier is indeed rather grotesque. We are in the process of adapting the Nationality Act to this end. Already, each year our missions abroad all over the world naturalise numerous people, Jews, who were deprived of their German citizenship between 1933 and 1945 simply because of their faith.
And we do not realise what an undeserved gift it is that these people want to regain their German nationality.
For many it is even a heartfelt wish, as colleagues at missions abroad throughout the world have told me. Something that they perceive as a form of late justice – to have their citizenship reinstated.
Their faith in the Germany of today should move us deeply – like that of Leon Schwarzbaum, who now lives in Berlin and who talks about his experiences and the Holocaust in lectures and films.
The faith of the survivors in the good in our country – this faith gives us an obligation to strengthen, reinforce and defend this goodness.
Nothing, nothing at all, can be taken for granted in this day and age. We all need to do something to tackle exclusion, hostility and hatred.
And to uphold a Germany and a Europe in which we live in peace, freedom and democracy today – and want to continue to do so in the future.
Thank you very much.