Nazi Ideology Was Something that People Supported at the Time
Nazi Ideology Was Something that People Supported at the Time
« For the enemies of democracy and tolerance there can be
no tolerance... » said Chancellor Gerhard Schröder when he spoke at a
ceremony organized by the International Auschwitz Committee in remembrance of
the liberation of the concentration camp sixty years ago. Schröder noted that it
is the duty of all democrats to provide a strong response to neo-Nazi incitement
and recurrent attempts on their part to play down the importance of the crimes
perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Speech by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, given at
the 'Deutsches Theater' in Berlin on Tuesday, January 25, 2005. Source:
Bundeskanzler Amt, Berlin.
Bundespresse Amt Photo Andrea Bienert
Survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the International Auschwitz Committee
for the invitation to speak to you here today.
In my estimation an invitation of this kind is still not
something that can be taken for granted. It would be fitting for us Germans to
remain silent in the face of what was the greatest crime in the history of
mankind. Words by government leaders are inadequate when confronted with the
absolute immorality and senselessness of the murder of millions.
We look for rational understanding of something that is
beyond human comprehension. We seek definitive answers, but in vain.
What is left is the testimony of those few who survived and
What is left are the remains of the sites of these murders
and the historical record.
What is left also is the certainty that these extermination
camps were a manifestation of absolute evil.
Evil is not a political or scientific category. But, after
Auschwitz, who could doubt that it exists, and that it manifested itself in the
hate-driven genocide carried out by the Nazi regime? However, noting this fact
does not permit us to circumvent our responsibility by blaming everything on a
demonic Hitler. The evil manifested in the Nazi ideology was not without its
precursors. There was a tradition behind the rise of this brutal ideology and
the accompanying loss of moral inhibition. Above all, it needs to be said that
the Nazi ideology was something that people supported at the time and that they
took part in putting into effect.
Now, sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red
Army, I stand before you as the representative of a democratic Germany. I
express my shame for the deaths of those who were murdered and for the fact that
you, the survivors, were forced to go through the hell of a concentration camp.
Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Maidanek, and
Auschwitz-Birkenau are names that will forever be associated with the history of
the victims as well as with German and European history. We know that.
We bear this burden with sadness, but also with a serious
sense of responsibility.
Millions of men, women, and children were gassed, starved, or
shot by German SS troops and their helpers.
Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, POWs, and
resistance fighters from across Europe were exterminated with cold industrial
perfection or were enslaved and worked to death.
Never before had there been a worse breakdown of thousands of
years of European culture and civilization. After the war it took some time
before the full extent of this breakdown was realized. We are aware of it, but I
doubt that we will ever be able to understand it. The past cannot be "overcome".
It is the past. But its traces and, above all, the lessons to be learned from it
extend to the present.
There will never be anything that can make up for the horror,
the torment, and the agony that took place in the concentration camps. It is
only possible to provide the families of those who died and the survivors a
certain amount of compensation.
Germany has faced this responsibility for a long period of
time now with its government policies and court decisions, supported by a sense
of justice on the part of the people.
The young men and women in the photo we see here were freed
in the summer of 1945. Most survivors went in different directions after their
liberation: to Israel, to North and South America, to neighboring European
countries, or back to their countries of origin.
However, some of them stayed in or returned to Germany, the
country where the so-called 'final solution' originated.
It was an extraordinarily difficult decision for them, and
often enough it was not a voluntary decision, but rather the result of total
desperation. However, hope did return to their disrupted lives, and many did
remain in Germany, and we are grateful for that.
Today the Jewish community in Germany is the third-largest in
Europe. It is full of vitality and growing rapidly. New synagogues are being
built. The Jewish community is and will remain an irreplaceable part of our
society and culture. Its brilliant as well as painful history will continue to
be both an obligation and a promise for the future.
We will use the powers of government to protect it against
the anti-Semitism of those who refuse to learn the lessons of the past. There is
no denying that anti-Semitism continues to exist. It is the task of society as a
whole to fight it. It must never again become possible for anti-Semites to
attack and cause injury to Jewish citizens in our country or any other country
and in doing so bring disgrace upon our nation.
Right-wing extremists, with their spray-painted slogans, have
the special attention of our law enforcement and justice authorities. But the
process of dealing politically with neo-Nazis and former Nazis is something we
all need to do together.
It is the duty of all democrats to provide a strong response
to neo-Nazi incitement and recurrent attempts on their part to play down the
importance of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime. For the enemies of
democracy and tolerance there can be no tolerance.
The survivors of Auschwitz have called upon us to be
vigilant, not to look away, and not to pretend we don't hear things. They have
called upon us to acknowledge human rights violations and to do something about
them. They are being heard, particularly by young people, for instance by those
who are looking at the Auschwitz memorial today with their own eyes. They are
speaking with former prisoners. They are helping to maintain and preserve the
memorial. They will also help to inform future generations of the crimes
committed by the Nazi regime.
The vast majority of the Germans living today bear no guilt
for the Holocaust. But they do bear a special responsibility. Remembrance of the
war and the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime has become part of our
living constitution. For some this is a difficult burden to bear.
Nonetheless this remembrance is part of our national identity.
Remembrance of the Nazi era and its crimes is a moral obligation. We owe it to
the victims, we owe it to the survivors and their families, and we owe it to
It is true, the temptation to forget is very great. But we
will not succumb to this temptation.
The Holocaust memorial in the center of Berlin cannot restore
the lives or the dignity of the victims. It can perhaps serve survivors and
their descendents as a symbol of their suffering. It serves us all as a reminder
of the past.
We know one thing for sure. There would be no freedom, no
human dignity, and no justice if we were to forget what happened when freedom,
justice, and human dignity were desecrated by government power. Exemplary
efforts are being undertaken in many German schools, in companies, in labor
unions, and in the churches. Germany is facing up to its past.
From the Shoa and Nazi terror a certainty has arisen for us
all that can best be expressed by the words "never again". We want to preserve
this certainty. All Germans, but also all Europeans, and the entire
international community need to continue to learn to live together with respect,
humanity, and in peace.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime
of Genocide was a direct effect of the Holocaust on international law. It
requires people of different cultural, religious, and racial origins to respect
and protect life and human dignity throughout the world. You in the
International Auschwitz Committee support this with the exemplary work you are
doing in the interest of all people.
Together with you I bow my head before the victims of the
death camps. Even if one day the names of the victims should fade in the memory
of mankind, their fate will not be forgotten. They will remain in the heart of