December 20th, 2007

Address by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on receiving the Award

Mr Spiegel,
Mr Federal President,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Amos Oz,

I feel greatly honoured by the award today of the Leo Baeck Prize, a prize named after one of German Jewry's most outstanding representatives both as a Rabbi and a scholar. I of course never had the opportunity to meet Leo Baeck myself, but he must have been a man of impressive intellect and extraordinary human qualities.

Leo Baeck was Jewish and he was German. During World War I he served for four years as rabbi to the troops on the eastern and western fronts. He thus had intimate knowledge of war, its cruelty and its senselessness. He experienced at first hand the Weimar Republic, the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists and their subsequent seizure of power.

Hitler meant anti-Semitism, a racist, murderous brand of anti-Semitism right from the start. Leo Baeck witnessed and suffered what followed: nearly all German and European Jews were deprived of their rights, humiliated, expropriated, deported and finally murdered - six million Jewish people, women, men and children. In the systematic campaign of genocide the Third Reich waged against European Jewry no one was spared and no quarter was given.

On several occasions Leo Baeck could have fled the horrors of the Shoah, but he chose to remain in Adolf Hitler's Germany. It was his duty, he believed, to stay and stand by his persecuted Jewish brethren. He was a man of tremendous courage and with a profound sense of responsibility. For his fellow Jews in National Socialist Germany he became the "Judaeorum Defensor Nobilissimus", to quote historian Selma Stern-Täubler's posthumous citation. Leo Baeck survived Theresienstadt, forced labour and brutal abuse and was liberated from the camp 60 years ago.

Clearly therefore for me to receive today, almost exactly 60 years after the end of National Socialism, on the very day the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin is to be inaugurated, a prize that bears Leo Baeck's name carries with it a very special obligation. An obligation to uphold those values for which Leo Baeck risked everything - that spirit of tolerance and respect for our common humanity that enables people from different backgrounds and cultures, with different beliefs and religious affiliations to live in peace together. Obviously that requires us first and foremost and above all to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism in all its guises. To eliminate this threat, this affront to human dignity determined action is once again - or should I say still? - sorely needed. And of course the same goes for our commitment to Israel and its right to exist, our concern for the safety of its citizens.

On such a special anniversary calls of "Never again!" come easily to our lips, but the true test of their worth is the reality of daily life. To what extent do Jewish people and Jewish communities feel secure, feel at home indeed in today's democratic Germany? Or do they perhaps feel isolated? Does society as a whole really care about the current incipient revival of anti-Semitism? Has government, has society come up with any purposeful response? And how serious are we about our concern for Israel and its right to a secure future?

These are all questions discussed in Jewish communities up and down the country and which are put to me time and again by Jewish friends. Recent polls in Germany indicating that anti-Semitic attitudes and hostility to Israel are on the rise are highly worrying and should spur us into taking resolute and concrete action. I see the prize I have been awarded today as a personal and a political obligation to do exactly that.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In the days leading up to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Europe and certainly Germany, too, from National Socialism and its vile rule of terror we read a great deal about the horrors of the Second World War and Adolf Hitler's tyrannical oppressive regime. The impression given by a good deal of what has been said and written recently is that just about everyone was first and foremost a victim and hardly anyone was a perpetrator.

The danger is, however, that dwelling on this suffering may lead us to blur cause and effect and also the absolutely essential distinction between perpetrators and victims. Without such a clear distinction, what purports to be historical truth, however well-attested, becomes a lie. At the end of this war which cost 60 million lives we may rightly point out that there was un-speakable grief, suffering and devastation everywhere, but it would be utterly wrong to place those responsible for inflicting this catastrophe on humanity and those who condoned their conduct on the same footing as those who were the victims of these crimes.

It was Adolf Hitler's Third Reich that planned and waged the Second World War as a war of racial extermination, a sheer monstrous crime perpetrated against all the nations of Europe but particularly against Poland and the Soviet Union. It was Germans, top civil servants, who at the notorious Wannsee Conference here in Berlin in January 1942 planned the Shoah, who systematically organized and carried out the cold-blooded genocide of German and European Jewry. Had the Third Reich not been totally defeated in 1945, with all the devastation that entailed, the infamous machinery of genocide in Auschwitz and elsewhere would not have been stopped and destroyed and Europe would not have been liberated from the nightmare of National Socialism. That is the simple truth, the whole truth and for a German the bitter truth.

In a message to his fellow-Germans broadcast on American radio on 8 May 1945, Thomas Mann spoke of German guilt and shame in words that still reverberate today:
"The torture chamber into which Hitlerism made Germany has now had its thick walls broken down, revealing our iniquity to the eyes of the world. Commissions from far afield ... are presented with these .... scenes and report back home that this surpasses in horror anyone's wildest imaginings. "Our iniquity", my compatriots! For everything that is German, speaks German, writes German, has lived as a German is tarnished by the dishonour of what has been revealed. This was not the work of a mere handful of criminals, it was hundreds of thousands of a so-called German elite - men, young people, heartless women - who under the influence of insane doctrines took perverse pleasure in committing these evil deeds. ... Humanity recoils in horror. From Germany? Yes, from Germany." So said Thomas Mann sixty years ago.

There is certainly no comparison between Hitler's Third Reich and the democratic Germany of sixty years later. Yet links clearly exist, for we cannot deny our history and our national and moral responsibility for that history. Even sixty years later this history, our responsibility and our shame are still with us. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis laid waste to vast areas of Germany and Europe and enslaved and murdered millions of people. But their baleful designs went even further.

With the total liquidation of European and German Jewry they also wanted to irreversibly erase a quintessential part of European and German history, of mankind's intellectual history. Leo Baeck, it is reported, was saying already in 1933 that the thousand-year-old history of the Jews in Germany was at an end. But even today it seems many people have still not fully grasped the true import of this shattering conclusion for Germany, for its culture and identity as a nation both then and to this day.

For as Leo Baeck rightly foresaw, the end of that history meant that, in addition to all the indescribable suffering inflicted on our neighbours, National Socialism sought no less than Germany's self-destruction, self-destruction not just in a material and a political sense but also and above all in a moral and cultural sense.

Still today people talk of German-Jewish relations, a form of words I always shy away from. For a thousand years, after all, the Jews were part of Germany, its society, language and culture. This was particularly true after their emancipation from the ghettos in the wake of the French Revolution. Without all the great names in German Jewry - Mendelssohn, Heine, Börne, Marx, Einstein, Lise Meitner, Wittgenstein, Kafka, Rathenau, Buber, Adorno and many others - Germany's intellectual history simply cannot be written. The same goes for the arts, for science and industry.

The historian Fritz Stern, another German-Jewish refugee from brown-shirted barbarity, once remarked that, on the strength of Germany's dazzling reputation in science, the arts and industry between 1900 and 1933 - much of it due to the splendid work of Jewish Germans - the 20th century could have been the "German century". But all this was wiped out by the horrors of National Socialism and the Shoah.

The Nazis' campaign of persecution and murder against the German Jews was a campaign to marginalize part of the German nation, to rob their own compatriots of rights, dignity and property and finally to deport and murder them. In so doing the nation robbed itself of a vital part of its own being.

Today there is once again Jewish life in Germany and this is certainly one of the most important victories won over Hitler and National Socialism. Yet we sense there is something irreparably broken, a gap that can never be filled. And it is above all Germany itself that suffers to this day from that loss.

Right to this day all this self-assertive talk in Germany about a "Leitkultur", this urge to reassure ourselves as to our "normality" or the newfound popularity of "proud of Germany" slogans serve merely to underline how deeply insecure we feel as a nation. None of these confidence-boosting techniques really works, for our past and our enduring responsibility for that past simply do not allow it.

Particularly lately a feeling seems to be gaining ground among the German public - in some quarters anyway - that it is time, let us say, to take a fresh look at this past - for I do not want to use revisionism. I am amazed that some authors of my generation think they can solve their problems with their own country and its history, its trauma and yearning for "normality" by portraying the final hours of the perpetrators, large and small, by researching the lives of their fathers and grandfathers, by even alleging the existence of taboos concerning certain victims.

Those who really want to know what we have lost, what makes us deep down, even today, as a nation so insecure will not find the answer in bunkers but in libraries, in archives, in the memories of the survivors in old people's homes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in New York and Chicago, in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, in Cape Town and Sydney. "Albert Einstein was born on 14 March in the year 1879 in Ulm, on a cold but sunny Friday, half an hour before the church bells chimed noon" - those are the opening words of a biography of the greatest German of the 20th century. Einstein was from Ulm; as a German Jew he, too, was forced to flee the Nazis and was never again to set foot in Germany. He never forgave his country.

Turning to my friend Amos Oz, I can imagine how remote, how far removed from your own reality such considerations must seem to an Israeli who day after day and for decades indeed has had to do with quite different problems. The founding of the State of Israel which you depicted so brilliantly in your latest novel came too late for six million European Jews. That was and is an appalling tragedy. It was out of the ashes of the Shoah that Israel was born - to provide a homeland for Jews the world over and to ensure that the Shoah would never happen again. Never Again! - anyone who fails to grasp this existential fact about Israel and the Jewish nation will never understand Israel and Israeli people and policy.

In 1948 Israel was only a few hours old when the assault of the Arab armies began in an attempt to ensure the fledgling Jewish state was wiped off the map. Since then Israel has had to defend its very existence time and time again - a situation that continues to this day. Israel is the only state whose existence is not accepted by its neighbours, which is why military strength is indispensable for Israel, a matter of survival. From the earliest days of its existence as a state, Israel had and still has had no "second option". Military inferiority will never be acceptable to Israel: it considers parity a threat to its existence and dominance therefore a sine qua non.

Germany's relations with Israel are grounded in our responsibility for the Shoah. Hence the cornerstone of these relations is our unswerving commitment to the State of Israel's right to exist and to the security of its citizens. That has been the case for all Governments of the Federal Republic. However, if this commitment is to be more than mere words, Germany must never forget the basic facts about Israel's situation and policy I referred to earlier, namely, that the country has no "second option". Israel can count on Germany as a reliable partner and friend.

Particularly today these basic facts need to be recounted time and again, for these are the arguments which reveal the images that are our daily fare as what they are - a distortion of reality. On the other hand, you of all people, Amos Oz, have time and again drawn attention to the suffering of the Palestinians. The attempts by Arab armies in 1948 and in 1967 to wipe Israel off the Middle East map ended for the Palestinians in a huge refugee tragedy. Only when - hopefully sooner than later - that difficult compromise can be struck over the division of the territory that for decades has been a bone of contention between the two nations - only when there are two democratic states living in peace side by side - will the conflict be ended. Only then will the region know the true peace we all sorely long for.

Ladies and gentlemen,
There is nothing my country yearns for more than "normality" and as long as that yearning persists, we are still clearly a very long way from any such thing. That is most certainly true of relations between Germany and Israel and the Jewish community. Only if we preserve the memory of the past will we be able to build a common future.

I am convinced, however, that Israel's still strong mistrust of Europe will gradually dissipate, once it realizes how important this united Europe is for its security and its future. And Europe for its part will realize that Israel is indispensable for its own security - Israel is, afar all, the only democracy in the Middle East, a country based on the rule of law, with a strong economy and a Western-style civil society that shares our own values. Europe and Israel have not only a common history but also key common interests, and that is a good and solid foundation for building a common future.

And perhaps one day we will once again see what Franz Rosenzweig described in moving words at the end of his wonderful book "The Star of Redemption": "But trust is a big word. It is the seed whence grow faith, hope, and love, and the fruit which ripens out of them. It is the very simplest and just for that the most difficult. It dares at every moment to say Truly to the truth. To walk humbly with thy God - the words are written over the gate, the gate which leads out of the mysterious-miraculous light of the divine sanctuary in which no man can remain alive. Whither, then, do the wings of the gate open? Thou knowest it not? INTO LIFE."

Until such time, until this trust between Jews and non-Jews in Germany is reestablished - if it ever can be - many years will pass. I firmly believe, however, that Leo Baeck would not have considered it presumptuous for us to aspire to build new trust and to devote our energies to this concrete challenge and mission.

Thank you very much.