Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
Speech at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Ashgabat, 27 January 2020
Dear colleagues from the UN, the OSCE and the Embassy of the State of Israel,
Dear colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much for this opportunity to participate in the International Holocaust Remembrance Day! For me, as the Ambassador of Germany but also for me personally this day is very important.
One of the Soviet soldiers who, 75 years ago, participated in the liberation of the German Concentration Camp Auschwitz, Genri Koptev-Gomolov, was quoted as saying: „I could never understand how a human brain could come up with something like that.“ A few months later, when the Second World War had ended, the United Nations had been founded and the Nuremberg Tribunal had started its work, certainly no one believed that there would again be room for antisemitism, as the monstrosity of the nationalsocialist crimes against humanity was so obvious.
And yet, just a few years later, in Genri Nikolaevich’s own state a campaign was started against so-called cosmopolites. They were called „besrodnye cosmopolity“, but it was clear to everybody that this persecution was aimed at Jews.
It was in Germany, my home country where anti-Semitism turned into its most murderous form and led to monstrous crimes against humanity. Even the surrender in 1945, the Nuremberg Tribunal against the so called main criminals and the many facts that became known worldwide right after the war, did not root out anti-Semitism. Already in 1950, a few years before I was borne, Franz Boehm, a German Lawyer and Economist noted in an essay that after but a second of fear, anti-Semites came again out of their holes. People of my generation, shortly after the war, anyway believed for a long time, obviously far too long that anti-Semitism could no longer reemerge and would finally disappear. We simply could or would not believe what already Genri Koptev-Gomolov could not understand: how human beings could come up with something like that after all these monstrosities. And therefore we did not take the signs of reemergence of anti-Semitism sufficiently seriously.
But a few years ago, a political party has emerged in Germany, and is now even the biggest opposition force in our Federal Parliament, large parts of which have a clear tendency towards authoritarian and nazi views. Even in Holocaust Memorials like Buchenwald or Dachau an increasing number of cases is observed when visitors are expressing openly anti-Semitic views. And it does not rest with views: just on 9 October last year in the East German town of Halle only a very solid wooden door saved the lives of 51 persons celebrating Yom Kippur when an extremist tried to massacre them. I felt deeply ashamed to learn that even on this important holiday there was no police protection for the synagogue where they were worshipping.
In other countries anti-Semitism, intolerance and discrimination of „others“ are growing as well and becoming more violent. It is obvious that the increasing tendency to follow populists who pray authoritarian ideologies, discrimination and hate crimes coincides with growing anti-democratic sentiments. Authoritarian leaders have a need to discriminate and attack other groups because they need an enemy in order to legitimize their rule. That means in turn that democracy has to be strengthened, and defended. Where democracy is strong, anti-Semitism or the discrimination of others will never become state policy.
In the „Stammlager“ in Auschwitz you see a quote by American writer William Saroyan: If you do not want to know history and learn from it you will be condemned to repeat it„.
This implies to end putting pressure on the work of historians but let them do their job. Historians might argue about facts and their interpretation but they should not be forced by laws to disrespect the truth. It is not for governments to decide what people should believe and how they should look at history. Those countries which continue to critically discuss their own history including its darker pages give an example how important this is in order to strengthen civil society. However, the denial of the Holocaust should be seen in all countries as what it is: hate speech of the worst kind which has nothing to do with serious scientific work. And denials of the Holocaust should be treated accordingly.
It is telling that in some countries the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion„ are still used as evidence in court although it was proven already in 1921 that they are a mere anti-Semitic fake of the worst kind. Auschwitz became possible only because of a racist ideology which was based on fake news. And that means in turn that we always have to fight for the truth to be heard.
Just a few days ago the Heads of States and Governments who met in Yad Vashem committed themselves: “A world that remembers the Holocaust. A world without genocide.„
It is certainly not enough to remember the Holocaust on occasions like today’s one and to repeat more or less the same expressions of mourning, of remembrance and of admonition – although all this is also important. One has to find better ways to reach out to those who do not know about the Holocaust, for whom this is something deeply in the past. I can even understand to a certain degree those millennians who told me: “Yes, the Holocaust was a monstrous crime but I was not part of it and I don’t want to be blamed for that all the time.„ We have to find new ways to commemorate, and to address problems of discrimination and violent intolerance, in order to immunize coming generations. It is not about creating a feeling of guilt but of responsibility - responsibility to fight discrimination and intolerance, responsibility not to follow populists with “easy and cheap„ solutions for everything.
I had hoped that today we have with us students who might give us, from their perspective as a young generation and future specialist of international relations, some impulses how we can do better in fighting anti-Semitism and discriminatory practices.
Let me thank sincerely the organizers of this meeting and of the exhibition “The Spots of Light„.
Thank you for your attention.