Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Shimon Peres Prize award ceremony
On 5 December 1941, Henriette Arndt wrote a postcard to her best friend Lotti in Hamburg from the Litzmannstadt ghetto.
“Do you look up at the stars every night and think of me? To this day I have done that every evening.”
We have already heard about these postcards in the German Bundestag, as some of my colleagues there will remember. And they left us speechless for a moment.
The fact that this sentence, the content of this postcard, now lives on and is reaching young people on the internet via an entirely different platform is something quite special.
I don’t know how my colleagues in the Bundestag felt back then, but we are all continually thinking about how we can preserve this remembrance of what happened. Not just the remembrance of numbers and figures, but the remembrance of people who could be our children. How can we carry this forward together?
Henriette’s postcard never reached her friend Lotti. Half a year later, in May 1942, Henriette was murdered by the Nazis. But her memory lives on today. It lives on because dedicated people are bringing Henriette’s story to where young people, young men and women spend time and can learn about her life first-hand: on their phones – via TikTok.
The short video that spotlights Henriette’s fate is one of many moving pieces developed as part of the project Creating Holocaust Awareness on TikTok. My heartfelt thanks go to the prizewinners for their work!
It is one of the two projects that we are honouring today. The previous speakers already made it clear that this prize and these projects stand for what makes shared work, particularly yours, Tamara Or, so special and what the Shimon Peres Prize stands for: passion and dedication, innovative thinking, hard work, as well as laughter, having fun together, love for life.
This prize stands for remembrance – and for believing in the good in this world. For celebrating life together. Here this evening and on every other day of the year.
We Germans can be thankful that we have been celebrating this love for life together for years now with this prize.
But today we are celebrating this love for life not just between two countries, Germany and Israel, but also with a third country: the United Arab Emirates. This makes it clear how everything keeps evolving, how the future is open for new ideas and how, amid the realities of the twenty-first century, we are not just consolidating but deepening our friendship.
I believe this is what makes our friendship so strong. Looking ahead while remaining conscious of the most terrible chapter of our past, Germany’s culpability for the crime against humanity that was the Shoah, the murder of Europe’s Jews, for a suffering so vast that I have no words to capture it.
The fact that Israel reached out its hand to us after these crimes, that fills me too, generations later, with humility and gratitude, as Germany’s Foreign Minister, but also as a human and a mother.
When I think of this quote from the postcard that Henriette wrote to her friend Lotti, then I also think: How would I have felt back then as a mother who stood with her daughters and looked up at the starry sky each night?
And so, in light of this story and our special responsibility, one thing is crucially important to me. Today cannot simply be about lauding and celebrating our friendship with Israel.
No, what is also important to us today is for this valuable friendship, our most precious asset, to continue to evolve, to become stronger, to face up to new challenges, displaying foresight, including in the social sphere. And for this to happen not in the abstract but in tangible ways, in everyday life, in the workplace and in sports clubs.
What is also important is what we do not say when we do not stand up. And what power we develop when one person stands up and many follow.
This, for me, is also what the Shimon Peres Prize stands for. This is what tonight’s wonderful prizewinners stand for. Standing up, confronting hatred and hate speech and, at the same time, saying: Our love for life, our shared efforts are so much stronger.
This prize is also special because it deliberately honours young people. Because Shimon Peres always very deliberately sought contact with young people and thus made it clear that it is not just the past that matters, not just the present, but above all creating the future. And, to do so, having the courage to take new paths.
Just as with this project, Creating Holocaust Awareness on TikTok. When you proposed it, I don’t know if everyone was immediately enthused by the idea of choosing this of all platforms. But saying, we will do this, even at the risk of failure – that is the energy that is needed to build the future.
That is what you stand for, Omer Kolton, Henning Flaskamp and the many volunteers for the Holocaust Awareness project. You said, we’ll do it. We’ll bring remembrance of the Shoah to social media.
Because at a time when fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are still with us, when our societies are changing and we need new forms of remembrance for new generations, at this time it is vital for young people to carry the voices of remembrance forward. Using the digital tools of the twenty-first century.
You are deliberately doing that on a social network that is often loud, that focuses a great deal on music, sport and lifestyle.
And the internet is sadly also a place where things are not only loud but often get ugly. Where hatred and hostility spread and, indeed, unbearable antisemitism, too. And that is why it is quite right to go where young people are. To take a stand and confront hatred and hate speech. You are confronting this hatred with the strongest response: facts and empathy.
Simply reminding people of numbers will not convince anyone. But making it clear that that could be us, we could be Henriette and Lotti, if we do not look after our society and our democracy – that is what makes your work so special.
You and the many volunteers for your project are bringing remembrance of the darkest chapters of our past to where it belongs: to the heart of our lives, the heart of our society. Because it is part of our German identity. And because the Holocaust is increasingly being called into question worldwide. That, too, is the reality that you are confronting.
And so I would like to say, thank you for your work!
Strengthening our friendship, our future, in very tangible ways – that is also what the second prizewinners are doing, the Bavaria Israel Partnership Accelerator (BIPA).
I am delighted that this approach was selected. Because it is important for not just representatives of national governments but also regional stakeholders to meet. It is precisely them that we need for future-looking projects. BIPA brings together young students and experts from Israel, Germany – Bavaria – and the United Arab Emirates to look for solutions to the pressing issues, particularly ecological issues, of our time.
Your projects make it clear that the climate crisis is one of the greatest threats to our future. In part because it further exacerbates regional conflicts.
One of your projects looks at sustainable technical solutions for modern beekeeping, using beehive cameras. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to detect intruders to the beehives and automatically block them from entering.
This makes it clear that what brings us together is, after all, the practical things in life. Bees have no nationality and know no borders. They don’t notice whether they are suddenly in Bavaria or whether they have flown as far as a neighbouring state.
These projects make it clear that the important thing is new, creative ideas and out‑of‑the‑box thinking.
This also applies to future-oriented projects that focus on software solutions for even more effective early detection of diseases in one of our most important ecosystems, the forest, to help preserve the resources we need to live.
And the students working on the project Climate Neutrality in Regensburg are getting all city employees personally involved. Their vision is an app that staff will use to calculate their carbon footprint and compete with one another.
I am pleased that these projects are so relevant to everyday life. At the Federal Foreign Office, too, we aim to be climate-neutral by 2025 – I want to take your ideas back with me so that perhaps in the future every one of our staff will be able to use an app like this one.
I am mentioning so many technical projects because the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Mariam Almheiri, who is here with us today, joined me this morning in opening a conference on Climate and Security and specifically on the issue of how we can ensure that the climate crisis does not further exacerbate crises and wars.
We know all of the facts and all of the figures. We know why we have to get on track for 1.5 degrees. We also know how significant the climate crisis is as a driving force in crises and wars. But projects do not always reach the places where they belong – the countries that are hardest hit.
And that is why the research, the apps and the creative thinking that you as prizewinners have produced are not just a small-scale project but a contribution to very tangible policymaking.
And in that spirit I am delighted that students from the United Arab Emirates are participating for the first time today.
Mariam Almheiri, I am very grateful that we were able to attend the conference together this morning and that you are here this evening – to make it clear how we can achieve stronger political cooperation, too, through concrete action.
And as you mentioned, Professor Walden, if someone had told us a few years ago that young people from Israel and the United Arab Emirates would work together on highly specialised apps, I think many people would have thought we were crazy.
But today this is a reality. Today it is a wonderful success as part of the normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. And I believe that is what makes this moment feel so special.
At the Federal Foreign Office we will therefore continue to support and expand trilateral initiatives such as this between Germany, Israel and Israel’s Arab neighbours. In very tangible ways – with projects on the environment, climate action, water, that tangibly improve people’s lives.
This summer we invited young men and women from Israel and Bahrain to come to Berlin and meet with young Germans. It was an intensive week for everyone, focusing again on concrete solutions for the major issues of our time – such as alternative urban planning.
For me, these new forms of exchange are a beacon of hope, the hope that it is possible to reach a mutual understanding in the Middle East. They show that everyone benefits from this cooperation.
And I firmly believe that dialogue and negotiations are also the right answer to the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. This is why we stand by a negotiated two-state solution.
This is why it is so important for us to continually make it clear that, if Israel wants to remain a Jewish and democratic state, if Israelis and Palestinians want to live together in peace and security, then courageous steps are needed, concrete projects, as well as political prospects, so that violence does not prevail.
Those of you who have come here from Israel know that better than we do. This year, you have once again gained painful first-hand experience – with the worst wave of terror in years taking place this spring. Rockets were once again fired at Israel from Gaza – and dozens of civilians died during operations in the West Bank.
And this is why it was so important when the Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid recently said at the UN General Assembly that he continues to believe in the two-state solution and the political process. The belief that we can really change something, however hard it might be, gives us shared courage.
And I am delighted that, a few days ago – not least thanks to the efforts of the Federal Republic of Germany – we finally held a joint meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council after a hiatus of ten years. This, too, is an expression and a symbol of our belief that we can create change together.
These solutions require courage. They require the backbone to make corrections when we realise that we have gone in the wrong direction. They require tenacity and they require connections and community among young people.
Shimon Peres reminded us time and again how important young people’s contribution is for peace and mutual understanding. He never stopped believing that, out of a dark past, a shared future can be shaped.
And so it is good timing that we today learned that a political agreement has been reached concerning the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. This is an achievement that people have worked years for.
Dear Peres family, you can see that your father continues to inspire us today. You can see how this prize and the work of the German-Israel Future Forum are together creating new possibilities – through people such as Dr Or, who are making it clear that their lives are dedicated to these joint efforts.
The German-Israeli Youth Office, which Israel and Germany are now working hard to set up, will also foster closer connections between young people from our two countries – and here I would like to thank Ambassador Prosor for his hard work!
Because as important as innovation is, as your projects for new technologies, for apps, for social media and for artificial intelligence are, we also know that all the artificial intelligence and all the apps in the world cannot make us forget how important it is to spend time together in person. How important it is to know that I do not just have virtual friends, but I can get together with friends in person.
Just as Henriette and Lotti wanted to and sadly were never able to. “Do you look up at the stars every night and think of me?” These words from Henriette Arndt never reached her friend Lotti.
But perhaps this act of looking up at the stars – not just tonight, but whenever things are difficult, whenever we doubt whether cooperation and reconciliation will achieve anything – can be an incentive for us.
To make us aware of where we come from. But above all to remind us that we bear responsibility for the future. That we must have the courage, together – just like this year’s prizewinners – to move forward.
And so I am very thankful that you are helping us to look up at the stars together tonight.