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On May 14, 2014, LBI President Dr. Ronald B. Sobel presented the Leo Baeck Medal to the Federal President of Germany, Joachim Gauck. It was the first time LBI awarded its highest honor in Berlin, at a dinner to mark the opening of an LBI New York office in the German capital.
“Leo Baeck and Berlin once belonged together and are posthumously growing together again,” said Federal President Gauck, who was clearly moved to be the first honoree to be presented with the medal in Germany. He called the Institute’s presence in Berlin a sign of the growing return of Jewish life to Germany. The new LBI office is not only a cultural and academic enrichment, Gauck said, but also an important symbol of the Jewish life that once so strongly enriched Germany.
“The Holocaust is an inherent and indispensable part of our memory, and that will remain so in the future,” the Federal President said. “But we also want to anchor the many other facets of German-Jewish history in the collective memory of the nation again. That’s why it is so important that the Leo Baeck Institute exists.”
With the generous support of the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, LBI New York was able to establish an office in Berlin in July 2013 to maintain and deepen relations with scholars, Jewish communities, government and corporate sponsors, and the wider public. Since 2001, researchers have had access to LBI archival collections at the Jewish Museum Berlin.
Dr. Sobel said that, like Leo Baeck, the German president had “dramatically and courageously demonstrated an unflagging commitment to individual human worth.”
“The ideas of freedom and democracy lie at the core of your humanness,” said Dr. Sobel, who also lauded Federal President Gauck’s role in the opposition movement that helped end the single-party dictatorship in East Germany and bring down the Berlin Wall.
Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, former German Ambassador to the United States and current Global Head of Government Relations for Allianz SE, said that Federal President Gauck was a natural choice for the first Leo Baeck Medal to be awarded in Germany. “Who else is so apt at powerfully conveying the importance of memories and the past to citizens in Germany and elsewhere, while at the same time, with his active commitment to freedom and responsibility, focusing on the future as a positive aspect?” asked Ischinger in remarks that were read by Ambassador Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, Germany’s Permanent Representative to the OECD in Paris.
“Mr. President, you have succeeded again and again in finding the right words, especially to describe the darkest chapters of German history,” wrote Ischinger, who was unable to attend the ceremony because he had been dispatched to Kiev to participate in talks aimed at resolving the crisis in the Ukraine.
Ambassador Ischinger and Allianz SE were the very gracious sponsors of the LBI dinner, which was held in the beautiful Allianz Forum at Pariser Platz, facing the Brandenburg Gate.