Speech by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the opening of the exhibition “Persecution and Investigation. The first generation of Holocaust research”

30.01.2019 - Speech

It is a great honour for me to be able to speak to you today.

Foreign Minister Maas asked me to represent him here. He would very much have liked to have been here with you this afternoon. At the moment he is in the Bundestag.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Six million European Jews. 500,000 Sinti and Roma.

More than 200,000 people with physical, mental and psychological disabilities. More than 5000 homosexual men. They were all victims of the greatest crime in history, the Shoah, and we are commemorating their lives over these days. I ask you to join me in a minute of silence.

Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The number of victims, and particularly the crimes perpetrated against humanity, are beyond imagination.

And the individual stories are hidden behind the statistics.

That was one ploy of the National Socialist criminals: to deprive the victims of their individuality. To rob them of their humanity, of their names. The murder of millions of Jews was designed to obliterate the characters they were.

We can be grateful to the early Holocaust researchers for ensuring that this did not succeed.

They gathered testimonies as the events took place, risking their lives.

They collected evidence of the crimes of National Socialism: authentic accounts of the human beings behind the statistics. Their background, their culture, their names.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The early Holocaust researchers were pioneers, working to prevent facts from being swept under the carpet.

And yet far too many National Socialist crimes went unpunished.

However, thanks to these pioneers, at least some of those responsible could be brought to trial. These researchers secured evidence and thus made prosecution possible.

They also worked to thwart the efforts of those involved to erase the traces of their monstrous crimes.

And there were many attempts to do so.

There was even a separate special commission which tried to hide the evidence of the mass murder of millions in Treblinka, Sobibór and Belzec. Bodies were exhumed and cremated and their bones then ground up.

The early Holocaust researchers also worked to bring these appalling deeds to light.

They conducted secret interviews with the few survivors who escaped during the uprisings in Treblinka and Sobibór.

They gathered material that was subsequently used to seek out those responsible and provided a starting point for the investigation of the crimes and the preservation of memories for the remaining family members.

This exhibition tells of these efforts to preserve memory, provide documentation and prosecute criminals.

I would particularly like to thank the House of the Wannsee Conference and the students of Touro College, who have created it in cooperation with the Wiener Library.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The exhibition tells of people such as Gerhard Riegner, who tried to shake the Allies awake by sending a telegram in the summer of 1942. It was received with scepticism and incredulity, and almost half a year passed before the killing was publicly condemned and spotlighted.

In spite of that, little was undertaken. It was mostly left to courageous individuals to hide Jews, even when the scale of the killing could no longer be in doubt.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Holocaust is unparalleled. We hold fast and we must continue to hold fast to the vow: Never again.

Today, Germany is actively involved in the efforts of the international community to prevent genocide.

• As a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2019/20, we intend to ensure that this task is ever present on the Security Council agenda.
• From our own historical experience we are particularly aware of the great importance of the criminal prosecution of genocide for future prevention.
• We are resolute proponents of the institution of the International Criminal Court, which we have supported constantly since its establishment.
• And in places where the International Criminal Court is unfortunately unable to act, we work to ensure that independent international mechanisms can help to investigate crimes and pave the way to make criminal prosecution possible at a later date.

I also see the exhibition in this context.

It should therefore also be shown in places where courts now sit to pass judgement on genocide and crimes against humanity.

At the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the United Nations in New York, the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the European Parliament. The OSCE in Vienna has also expressed concrete interest in hosting the exhibition.

This is important, because the exhibition also goes some way towards explaining how these crimes could be committed while the “world” sat back and turned a blind eye.

This, too, we need to remember when mass atrocities are perpetrated in the world today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The crimes of our ancestors give us a responsibility, a responsibility to remember, which we Germans will always have to shoulder. Yet this task of remembrance, and the vow of “Never again” which derives from it, is not something we can take for granted.

Each generation needs to engage anew with the question of remembrance. That poses a particular challenge, especially when those who could tell us what happened depart from us.

What can we do? What can my generation do? I asked myself this question when we were sitting in coalition negotiations just over a year ago.

The idea we first had then was officially launched yesterday by Foreign Minister Maas and Family Minister Giffey: the federal programme “Young people remember”.

With this we are making available additional funds to make our culture of remembrance accessible also for the next generation: for example for international youth meetings at memorial sites.

Likewise, we want to support new approaches such as the digitisation of the accounts of survivors.

For we will also remember in the future. Thanks not least to the early Holocaust researchers - both men and women, who receive particular recognition in the exhibition. They helped to preserve the individuality of each personal story behind the statistics.

Their dedication cannot be praised highly enough.

For we need to learn from the past, and to shape the future together.

Thank you very much.


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