Chancellor Angela Merkel: LBI Archives “An important starting point for shaping our common future”

Chancellor Angela Merkel accepts the Leo Baeck Medal

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany accepted the Leo Baeck Medal in New York on September 21, 2010.  In her acceptance speech, she called the honor an “incentive and obligation to remain constant in my commitment to building a harmonious relationship with the Jewish community,” and lauded the Leo Baeck Institute for its work preserving the history of German-Jewry.  She also spoke about Iran and the Middle East peace process.

Full Text of Speech by Chancellor Angela Merkel upon Receiving the Leo Baeck Medal on September 21, 2010

Mr. President, Mr Blum
Ms. Kahn Strauss,
Professor Blumenthal,
Members of the Board and friends of the Leo Baeck Institute,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you so much, Professor Blumenthal, for the laudatio, which touched me deeply. To receive the Leo Baeck Medal is a profoundly moving experience for me and for that I give you my heartfelt thanks.

Professor Blumenthal, it was particularly touching to listen to you today because your own life story mirrors the many stories of German Jews. The Leo Baeck Institute keeps them alive by retelling them over and over again. You spent your childhood in Oranienburg and Berlin. Your father was taken off to Buchenwald concentration camp. – Last year President Obama visited the Buchenwald Memorial and I had the privilege of accompanying him. – But your family managed to flee to Shanghai in 1939. From there they emigrated to the United States of America, where they built a new life – indeed, a most successful new life. You have rendered America great service as presidential adviser, secretary of the treasury and as an entrepreneur.

But what is especially significant for us – I say this as Federal Chancellor of Germany – is that you have never forgotten your country of birth, your original home. Now, since 1997 you have been performing tremendous work as Director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin. For the time, energy and passion you bring to your work there, and for the bond you keep alive with Germany, I would like to extend to you my deepest gratitude.

My thanks go also to you, President Blum, and the whole Board of the Leo Baeck Institute. I would also like to thank you, Ms. Kahn Strauss. Over the past sixteen years you have, as Executive Director, had a profound influence on the work of the Leo Baeck Institute – through your expertise, your experience, your many initiatives and also – anyone who has met you will testify to this – your warmth as a human being.

That is why it is an exceptional honor and privilege for me to receive the Leo Baeck Medal. I regard it as both incentive and obligation to remain constant in my commitment to building a harmonious relationship with the Jewish community. First and foremost that means making a stand against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism – regrettably, it has to be said, we experience the necessity for this over and over again.

The survivors of the Shoah, with their admonitions, are powerful reminders – and rightfully so – of the need to nip first signs of these in the bud. Their persistent voice against forgetting, their exhortations to peaceful coexistence are unparalleled in their potency. The work of an institution like the Leo Baeck Institute is an extension of this mission. You have taken up the noble task of passing on to present and future generations the roots, traditions and individual stories that have woven the tapestry of Jewish life in Germany.

The rich narrative of Jewish life in Germany experienced a bitter hiatus during the darkest chapter of German history. The systematic murder of six million Jews was, and remains, incomprehensible. There are no words that come anywhere near to describing something which ultimately defies description. We are rendered speechless in the face of the victims. The betrayal of civilization which was the Shoah is a constant reminder to us that we have the duty each and every day to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and tolerance. This is our enduring responsibility toward humanity.

The seeds of reconciliation and understanding can only be sown by confronting and keeping ever-present the immeasurable suffering and loss of the past. This is another reason why I am enormously grateful to the Leo Baeck Institute for its commitment to this work. The archives it has created provide an important starting point for shaping our common future. The Institute also forms a bridge between Germany and the United States by tracing the lives of Jews who emigrated from Germany.

It fills me with great joy and gratitude to be able to tell you that Germany today is home once again to one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. Who would have thought it possible, after the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, that we in Germany would again witness a flourishing of Jewish life in our country?
For this we also owe a debt of gratitude to courageous pioneers like Leo Baeck. He was the embodiment of tolerance and mutual respect between people regardless of their background. His unfaltering attitude of fairness and understanding was, and remains both an example and benchmark to us all. I believe this is absolutely the kind of touchstone and commitment to understanding and peace that we need for our time.

For instance, the beginning of this month saw the start of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians in Washington for the first time in almost two years. I spoke today with President Abbas in the United Nations building and on Friday with the Israeli Prime Minister over the telephone. I believe we are all staking our hopes on these talks – of progress on the road to a two-state solution. However, we also know how difficult and complicated that process will be. Therefore both sides must constantly be enjoined to show a willingness to seek agreement and compromise. We are aware of the difficulties inherent in following this path. However, in spite of all the setbacks we have already experienced, I believe we must make use of this opportunity. Germany is, together with its partners in the European Union and of course the United States, ready to do all it possibly can to contribute to the peace process.

Of course, when we now talk of our aspirations for peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, then the issue of Iran’s nuclear program inevitably has to be addressed. There continues to be considerable doubt as to Iran’s real intentions, and so the responsibility lies with Iran to dispel the serious doubts of the international community as to the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program. So far this has not happened.

I therefore regard it as a great achievement that the United Nations Security Council succeeded in adopting a resolution supported by a broad majority of countries. Iran must recognize that it should accept the invitation by the E3+3 to cooperate thoroughly with the international community and return to the negotiating table, because the alternative is to risk further isolation and the rigorous imposition of sanctions. One of our requirements is that Iran should recognize the existence of the State of Israel and its right to security. As far as Germany is concerned, neither of these will ever be open to negotiation.

Ladies and gentlemen, international issues can only be solved at international level. At the same time it is good for Germany to know that it has in the United States a dependable ally, a close partner and a true friend. In a few days – Professor Blumenthal has already made reference to this – we Germans will be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of our refound unity. I too, naturally, still have vivid memories of that day twenty years ago. We shall not forget that the way to reunification would not have been possible without the resolute and trusting support of our friends in the United States.

The Leo Baeck Institute has firmly established itself within this friendship as a bridge-builder, not only between past and future but between our two nations. The privilege of having this honor bestowed upon me today now permits me to feel a deep personal bond with you. This fills me with pride and pleasure. Moreover, it will spur me on to engage even more vigorously in the search for solutions to all the pressing political problems of today – solutions that call for the example of Leo Baeck as their benchmark.

Thank you very much.

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