Germany Commemorates the Victims of the Genocide Against European Jews
Germany Commemorates the Victims of the Genocide Against
Speeches at the United Nations
Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi Concentration
Camps. Address by Joschka Fischer, Minister of Foreign
Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany. New York, 24 January 2005.
Source: Auswärtiges Amt, Berlin..
The name of the Auschwitz extermination camp stands for the
Shoa, the ultimate crime against humanity in the 20th century.
On 24 January 1945, 60 years ago to the day, German SS henchmen in Auschwitz
were furiously trying to remove all traces of their millions of murders. Files
were burnt, gas chambers blown up, incinerators dismantled. Countless exhausted
prisoners were hounded together for a death march westward that many were not to
The Soviet troops who reached the camp on 27 January 1945 thwarted the Nazi
regime's attempt to conceal the Shoa, that unspeakable crime against humanity,
from the eyes of the world.
The liberation of Auschwitz was not a time of joy or triumph because it came too
late for almost all those who had been deported there. The Soviet soldiers found
just over 7,000 survivors. Only few were able to escape this hell on earth. The
relief on their liberation mingled with the sure knowledge of the dreadful fate
suffered by the countless who could no longer be saved.
Primo Levi, one of the survivors, described the unease of the soldiers when they
reached the scene of horror, "They did not greet us, nor did they smile; they
seemed oppressed not only by compassion but by a confused restraint which sealed
their lips and bound their eyes to the funereal scene."
The American and British troops advancing to Germany from the West were also
confronted with dreadful crimes in the concentration camps they liberated.
Samuel Pisar survived Majdanek, Auschwitz and Dachau, where he was freed by US
troops. He recently gave an account of his experiences in the Washington Post.
Millions had fallen victim to the monstrous mass murder planned in cold blood by
the Nazis. Jews first and foremost, but also Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, the
handicapped, prisoners of war, dissidents and many others from all across
In Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and other concentration and
extermination camps, it was at German command and at German hands that they were
barbarically tortured, brutally murdered through forced labour or pseudo-medical
experiments, executed and gassed.
Even today, 60 years after the cataclysm, it is difficult to find words for the
suffering, the pain and the humiliation of the victims. Today we pay humble
tribute to all victims of the National Socialist regime of terror and we bow our
heads in deep mourning.
Auschwitz was the most horrific expression of a system blinded by racial
insanity. Nazi Germany's racist ideology also led it to a heinous war of
annihilation against Poland, the Soviet Union and other countries which brought
untold suffering upon the people there.
Auschwitz will forever be engraved in the history of humanity as a symbol of
utter contempt for humanity and of genocide. Auschwitz also embodies the
horrendous Nazi plan to completely wipe out German and European Jewry with the
help of an industrialized extermi-nation apparatus. It cost six million Jews
their lives - men, women and children.
Elie Wiesel once described the murdering of children, this destruction of the
future, as the worst crime, "They were always the first to be taken and sent off
to death. If I were to begin reciting their names, the Moischeles, the Jankeles,
the Sodeles, here and now, I would have to stand here for months and years."
This barbaric crime will always be part of German history. For my country it
signifies the absolute moral abomination, a denial of all things civilized
without precedent or parallel. The new, democratic Germany has drawn its
conclusions. The historic and moral responsibility for Auschwitz has left an
indelible mark on us.
In 1949, the democratic Germany made the inviolability of human dignity the
linchpin of its Constitution. We read in Article 1 of the Basic Law, "Human
dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all
It is this responsibility for the Shoa that entails a particular obligation for
Germany towards the State of Israel. Former Federal President Johannes Rau asked
the Israeli Parliament for forgiveness for the untold suffering inflicted on
Jewry by German hands. He did so "for myself and my generation, for the sake of
our children and children's children, whose future I would like to see at the
side of the children of Israel".
For us, German-Israeli relations will always have a very special character. The
State of Israel's right to exist and the security of its citizens will forever
remain non-negotiable fixtures of German foreign policy. On this Israel can
This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of
diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. The fact that Israel sees us as
a reliable partner today is by no means to be taken for granted and fills us
with profound gratitude.
Our past makes it our duty to banish and combat all forms of anti-Semitism, but
also racism, xenophobia and intolerance.
Therefore we must not sit idly by while people are insulted, attacked or injured
because of their faith. We must not turn a blind eye while synagogues are
vandalized or defiled. And we must not remain silent in the face of pernicious
anti-Semitic propaganda. We have to counter the threat of anti-Semitism with the
utmost determination and the full force of the law.
After all, the answer to the question of whether Jewish citizens and their
communities feel safe and at home in our countries is a crucial indicator of the
state of our democracy. Espe-cially in my country, we must ask it every day anew
and give a positive response.
Confidence-building and reconciliation by moving together and cooperating
closely - that is also Europe's response to the horrors of the Shoa and the
Second World War. It is therefore particularly important for us that we have
since May 2004 been partners with our eastern neighbours and above all with
Poland in the European Union that is growing ever closer together.
It was 60 years ago, in the aftermath of the heinous crimes of National
Socialism, that the United Nations was founded. That is why we have come
together here today at United Nations headquarters to commemorate the victims of
the genocide against European Jewry perpetrated by the Nazis.
Not least due to the dreadful experience of the War and the Nazi tyranny, the
founding members of the United Nations placed the commitment to the fundamental
human rights and to the dignity and worth of the human person at the start of
the Preamble of the UN Charter. Preventing genocide, the resounding "never again",
is a central raison d'être of the United Nations.
Precisely because genocide never happens entirely without warning, we have to
work on combating its harbingers. We have to resolutely counter war, civil war
and the abuse of human rights, but also totalitarian thinking, hate propaganda
and the glorification of violence. This is our duty.
To do so, we need effective multilateral cooperation. The United Nations is
uniquely suited to and legitimized for genocide prevention. That is my firm
conviction. After all, no other organization has so much experience of conflict
prevention and the protection of human rights. Further strengthening the world
organization in this field is thus one of the priorities of German foreign
policy. Our history makes this incumbent upon us.
60 years after the liberation of the concentration camps, the community of
survivors is getting smaller by the day. No archive, film or history book can
portray their painful experiences as effectively as their personal account. We
who can listen to the survivors bear a responsibility to recount their story to
If we are to live together in peace and mutual respect, we must never forget the
barbarity of which humankind is capable. After all, as former Federal President
Richard von Weizsäcker put it in his speech on 8 May 1985, "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 very fact that the Shoa could happen in the 20th century at the heart of
Europe and at the hands of Germans has to be a constant reminder that an
enlightened, tolerant and open society is not to be taken for granted. We have
to work every day to ensure it remains vibrant. The memory of those who were
murdered and the pain of the survivors of the National Socialist extermination
camps commit us to this shared goal. We must aspire to it together.
Thank you very much.