Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
Speech given by the Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the Opening Session of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust:
»On 27 January 1945, almost 55 years ago to the day, the soldiers of the Red Army liberated the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Or to be more precise, they liberated few more than 7,000 concentration camp victims, most of whom were seriously ill. 60,000 camp internees had in the previous days been forced by the SS to head west on the infamous “death marches”.
More than one million people were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz/Birkenau alone between March 1942 and November 1944.
Today Auschwitz is a horrific metaphor for the racist barbarity that was National Socialism, for the planned, cold-blooded murder of millions of human beings: primarily Jews, but also Romany people, homosexuals, disabled persons and prisoners of war. People who had been judged “unfit to live” by this vilest of criminal ideologies.
Auschwitz was not a natural disaster. Human beings, mainly Germans, had transformed this place step by step into a slaughterhouse ‑ into a place where civilization was simply reversed, a place of nameless, lasting terror.
For this reason we are not gathered here today solely to commemorate the victims. Our conference cannot restrict itself to making the solemn vow not to allow a repetition of such barbarity.
We must also now, more than half a century later, consider ways and means of remembrance.
We must support each other in the teaching of humanity and civil courage, so that normal people shall never again, in the name of some criminal ideology, turn normal places into grim factories of execution.
It is therefore good that this major international conference, with its prominent guests, is dedicated to this theme.
And I would like to thank Göran Persson for Sweden’s active role in the past years in dealing with the Holocaust and Holocaust education.
At a time when neo-Nazi groups are using the modern globe-encompassing means of communication to disseminate their inhumane ideas, we have to improve our international cooperation to fight their propaganda of hatred and their glorification of violence.
But in the face of the increasing readiness of these groups to stir up trouble in the streets, given their readiness to use violence, even murder, I am of the opinion that we need to step up our use of the police as well as our educational approach to the fight against racism and neo-Nazi ideology.
Like so many of my generation, almost as old as the Federal Republic of Germany, my political outlook too has been decisively shaped by the attempt to come to grips with the Holocaust, by the debate on the guilt and responsibility that stems from our past.
This very intense political discussion has since the mid-sixties certainly contributed to the stability of the democratic order and the fixing and acceptance of values in German society.
In spite of the public outcry that has from time to time attended certain controversies and opinions, these very debates have shown that it is not possible for anybody to close this chapter of German history once and for all. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of Germans do not want that.
Some decisions that politicians had to take are bearing fruit in these very days: this morning the Cabinet approved the draft law on the basis of which the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility, Future” for the former forced labourers will be established.
Tomorrow, on the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, we will in Berlin officially start the construction of the central memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, approved by the German Bundestag.
Practical politics cannot however be a substitute for the daily work of remembrance.
I call it “work”, for the bare fact of remembering such a dark moment in our history is always a fight between human memory against human pride.
Our top priority is still to prevent this memory from “fading away”. This we cannot do simply by informing people of the crimes and keeping the memory of the victims alive.
Again and again ‑ and I am thinking now of the discussion about Johann Georg Elser’s failed assassination attempt on Hitler ‑ contemporary controversies demonstrate that public reflection on the resistance against the Nazi dictatorship is far from over.
I am referring primarily to the civilian, non-organized resistance against Hitler.
It is important that our school children have a clear picture of how the Nazi regime of terror had a grip on the people. And we want the young people of our countries to come to terms with the horror of the Holocaust. In the Federal Republic this has long been a compulsory part of the school curriculum for all pupils.
But I think that it would also be useful for us to teach our children to the same extent about people such as the policeman Wilhelm Krützfeld or the priest Harald Poelchau. The former intervened against the SS forces on the night of the pogrom in 1938 ‑ simply by courageously applying the regulations. He later had to account for himself ‑ but no further action was taken against him.
The latter, under various pretexts, protected numerous people subjected to persecution from the Gestapo. People such as these did not perhaps carry out the “great deeds” of heroism.
But they showed us that elementary humane, civil behaviour was, at least within limits, possible even under the dictatorship when hate was so stirred up.
We should tell our children this as an incentive to remembrance, but also as a cause for pride. Nobody can and nobody wants to hold the German youth of today liable for the deeds for which they bear no responsibility.
But we should and must show them the terrible crimes of the past and name examples of how injustice can be resisted. For it is precisely these examples of resistance to terror and injustice that can serve as role models for the young people of today.
For this reason all those who have demonstrated their wish as citizens for freedom and tolerance, for example by holding candle-lit vigils on Germany’s streets, have my respect.
So too do all those people, mostly unknown, who do not look away when skinheads or extreme right-wingers verbally or indeed physically abuse foreigners or disabled people.
The fact that the Holocaust was possible in the middle of the so-called “civilized” world shows that we can never take for granted an enlightened, free and peaceful tolerant society. We have to fight for this freedom every year, every day.
We should shield ourselves from the false belief that belonging to a nation or culture, however advanced and civilized, can make us immune to human imperfection and temptation.
We must therefore repeatedly take a critical look at our past and present and teach ourselves to practise active tolerance, peaceful settlement of conflicts, respect for all people and their inviolable dignity.
An international policy which makes the defence of human rights and democracy, the rule of law and tolerance its highest priorities is of course part and parcel of such education.
It also must contain a joint obligation by our Governments to promote education that will preserve the memory of the Holocaust and which will combat hatred and contempt for humankind.
At the same time we must not however forget that such an education can only succeed if every individual actively works towards a tolerant, open and peaceful society.
With this in mind, may I wish those assembled here a constructive and successful conference.«
Speech given by the Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the Opening Session of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust on January 26th 2000; Translation