OPINION: German remembrance culture will be kept alive

OPINION: German remembrance culture will be kept alive

Peter Wittig, German Ambassador to the UK, promises that Germans will remember and confront their past

Peter Wittig, German Ambassador to the UK
Peter Wittig, German Ambassador to the UK

Eighty years ago, night fell over Germany. On Wednesday, 9 November 1938, Nazi paramilitary troops and civilians unleashed a pogrom against Jewish citizens, unchecked and unchallenged by most of civil society.

Today, only a few remaining eyewitnesses can tell the next generations of what they experienced and saw. It is of the utmost importance that their accounts are not forgotten and, crucially, are passed on and remembered.

In Germany, politicians and civil society are rising to this challenge.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, among others, will take part in an act of remembrance in the German parliament, the Bundestag. Afterwards, the chancellor will attend a memorial service at a synagogue in Berlin.

Each year, German citizens light candles on the night of 9 November in places where deportations of Jews took place.

Together with the thousands of Stolpersteine, which bear the names of Jews outside properties from where they were deported, these solemn vigils serve as a reminder of my country’s past and the need to ensure it is never repeated.

This year, many commemorative events will be held across towns and cities in Germany, remembering their local history of November 1938. These range from exhibitions to vigils and memorial services and take place not only in the big cities but also in many smaller towns.

This culture of remembrance must be kept alive. It is very encouraging that students and young people also often play their part in this.

For over half a century, Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP), with a great number of young German volunteers, has been dedicated to working for reconciliation and peace by fighting racism, discrimination and social exclusion. These young people’s commitment is living testimony to the way civil society is striving to learn from the lessons of the past to work towards a better future.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the November pogroms and the beginning of the Kindertransport, the German Embassy in London is hosting the exhibition Finchleystrasse: German artists in exile in Great Britain and beyond 1933-45 in collaboration with Ben Uri Gallery London. The embassy has also for the first time organised a trip for rabbis from the UK to participate in the commemoration activities in Germany.

I promise that remembering and confronting our past will remain at the heart of Germany’s future. We will continue to strive to honour and uphold our democratic and liberal principles and values against all threats from within and from without. This is more important than ever.

Today, we see Jewish life in Germany beginning to flourish again. We have witnessed over the past couple of years with wonder and deep humility that more and more Jews want to explore Germany as a country, as a culture and a new home.

The Jewish community in Germany now counts around 100,000 members. This is a gift to Germany we will continue to cherish. With all our hearts we embrace the responsibility to protect this trust in our country.

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