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Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of foremost, I would like to thank the City of Copenhagen and the Danish Jewish Museum for inviting the German Embassy to take an active part in this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It means a lot to us – last not least to the Ambassador himself, who would have very much liked to be here tonight. – He sends his warmest greetings.
When our late Federal President Roman Herzog in the mid-90s took the initiative to make the day, the concentration camp of Auschwitz was liberated, a national “Remembrance Day for the Victims of National Socialism”, he was not concerned about the state of German democracy.
On the contrary. As a former president of our constitutional court, he was proud of the institutional lessons learned from the past.
According to him, our post-war constitution provided powerful legal safeguards against any kind of relapse into totalitarianism or racism, pointing in particular to the very first article of our Basic Law: “Human dignity shall be inviolable”.
That very plain, yet fundamental phrase seems to echo young Anne Frank’s desperate hope, noted in her famous diary in 1944: “One day, this terrible war will be over. The time will come, when we'll be people again and not just Jews."
As we know, she was among the six million people who did not live to see that day. Until today, this number goes beyond anything the human mind can grasp.
For many ordinary Germans, the realization that the holocaust had been “a fate dealt to people by people”, to paraphrase Polish writer Zofia Nałkowska, had probably been the hardest truth of all to face.
Accordingly, what Roman Herzog was concerned about was the individual. The individual, who could not simply be “immunized” once and for all by legal norms. Or, as his predecessor Richard von Weizsäcker, had put it: “From our own history we learn what man is capable of. We have learned as human beings, and as human beings we remain in danger.”
It is precisely therefore, that to this day there is broad consensus in Germany that remembrance must never end.
Not to create a feeling of guilt among those who by definition do not bear any guilt, but to keep alive that sense of special responsibility for the future that will be ours forever.
Richard von Weizsäcker, in his unforgotten speech 40 years after World War II, called on his compatriots to change perspective, stating that the 8th of May 1945 was a day of liberation from inhumanity and tyranny for them as well. At the same time, however, he warned: “Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.”
The challenges we face today underline just how timeless this argument is.
Our general elections last September resulted, as the New York Times summed it up, not only in a “victory for Angela Merkel, but also for populism”. For the first time, a far right populist party has entered into our “Bundestag”. This leaves us deeply worried.
In her appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, the German Chancellor warned that right-wing populism was “a poison for society”, potentially leading to a resurgence of nationalism and protectionism and thereby challenging the multilateral and cooperative world order which had been established as a lesson from two world wars.
And yes, there still is antisemitism in Germany. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spelled this out clearly long before pro-Palestinian protesters burned Israeli flags in the heart of Berlin last December.
He called on us never to get used to synagogues needing police protection, never to allow racist or hate speech becoming acceptable again, be it in political discourse or in private conversation.
He called on us to be vigilant, more vigilant than ever.
Yet, history can also be a source of hope and strength.
The remarkable rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943 which Bent Melchior recalled in such a moving way this evening (and which for good reason was called a “light in the darkness of the Holocaust”) tells us that even in the darkest hour, we can choose humanity over inhumanity.
For better or for worse – our history will always be relevant for our present. This is why the Holocaust Remembrance Day still is important today and will remain so tomorrow.