Members of the Board and CEOs
of Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace,
Dear guests visiting us from abroad,
Supporters of Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to the Federal Foreign Office, also on behalf of Federal Foreign Minister Maas. The Minister is travelling today. He has asked me to convey his best wishes to all of you, as well as his special appreciation for 60 years of commendable work by Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace.
I am honoured that so many inspiring people are here today. All of you have committed yourselves, in the face of unspeakable suffering, to reconciliation and forgiveness, and to ensuring that we never forget.
It should by no means be taken for granted that eyewitnesses such as you, who survived the horrors of National Socialism’s reign of terror, maintain close ties with Germany today. Rather, we are very fortunate that you have for many years been extending a hand of reconciliation to young Germans. We are fortunate that you allow the volunteers and other young people to gain glimpses into the darkest chapters of your lives, even though this brings back painful memories. We are fortunate that you have agreed to share your experience with others, so that younger generations can draw their own personal lessons.
Moreover, it is a privilege to have you with us today, here at the Federal Foreign Office. Although this is not where the respective historical events occurred, this institution reminds us of the heinous policies that were pursued by the National Socialist regime. The Reich Foreign Office was informed about the scale of these crimes from an early stage and was involved in the systematic extermination of the Jews of Europe. At the Federal Foreign Office, we must time and again confront this past.
The past spells out a warning and makes our duty clear. We must remain committed to protecting human rights around the world, and to fighting anti-Semitism and racism.
For these efforts, we rely strongly on our partners from civil society. I therefore want to express my deep appreciation to the Members of the Board and the CEOs, and I also do so for everyone who has helped shape the work of Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace over six decades.
You made possible encounters that when World War II ended were unthinkable.
You stood up for peace and reconciliation, often long before politicians had officially asked for forgiveness in many countries.
Your work is having an impact throughout Europe, in Israel and in the United States. In some countries, such as Belarus, you work in a very challenging environment.
Your association’s volunteers have for years been helping people who suffered, and continue to suffer, under the atrocities that were committed under National Socialism. You are an advocate for the socially disadvantaged and the marginalised. Volunteers take part in educational projects. Over the course of six decades, your network has grown to more than 10,000 volunteers.
That is why I am pleased that some of these former volunteers have joined us here today. Many thanks to you, and to everyone who has volunteered for the association. Through your service abroad, you not only widened your horizons, but also went a step further:
You took a hard look, as young people, at the most horrific chapter of German history. Especially today, when personal connections to Germany under National Socialism play an ever smaller role in family histories, volunteers show that the founding idea on which Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace was built in 1958 is as relevant today as ever. Then and now, young people were and are willing to take on responsibility, and to fight hatred and marginalisation.
Despite concerns about an increase in right-wing populism, racism and anti-Semitism, this gives reason to hope.
I believe I speak for us all when I express the hope that the volunteers’ efforts will have an impact in societies beyond the actual locations where they serve.
I’m now looking forward to stimulating discussions with you, the wonderful people who are here today, and I propose a toast to 60 years of Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace.
Thank you very much!