German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday that his nation had not fully learned the lessons of the Holocaust, as Jew-hatred was still growing.
In an emotional speech at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Steinmeier reiterated that his country assumes full responsibility for the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.
“The industrial mass murder of six million Jews, the worst crime in humanity, was committed by my country. The terrible war, which cost over 50 million lives, originated in my country,” Germany’s head of state acknowledged.
“The Eternal Flame at Yad Vashem does not go out. Germany’s responsibility does not expire. We want to live up to our responsibility. By this, you should measure us,” he said. “Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I stand here as the president of Germany, laden with guilt.”
Steinmeier, 64, was addressing some 50 world leaders participating in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, which convened in the Israeli capital to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
He began and ended his speech by reciting, in Hebrew, the Jewish “Shehehiyanu” blessing said at memorable occasions.
“Blessed be the Lord for enabling me to be here at this day,” he added in English.
Steinmeier expressed concern over continued anti-Semitism, noting a pattern of attacks on Jews in Germany, highlighting a shooting in October on a synagogue in the German city of Halle.
“I wish I could say that we Germans have learnt from history once and for all. But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading,” he said.
“I cannot say that when Jewish children are spat on in the schoolyard. I cannot say that when crude anti-Semitism is cloaked in supposed criticism of Israeli policy. I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur.”
The situation in today’s Germany is of course not the same as that of the Nazi era, Steinmeier went on. “The words are not the same. The perpetrators are not the same.
“But it is the same evil,” he asserted. “And there remains only one answer: Never again! Nie wieder! That is why there cannot be an end to remembrance.”
A responsibility toward preserving the memory of the Holocaust was an integral part of postwar Germany from the very beginning, the president said. “But it tests us here and now. This Germany will only live up to itself if it lives up to its historical responsibility.”
Steinmeier vowed to combat anti-Semitism, as well as “the poison that is nationalism.” He promised to protect Jewish life in Germany and to stand with the State of Israel.
“Here at Yad Vashem, I renew this promise before the eyes of the world. And I know that I am not alone. Today we join together to say: No to anti-Semitism! No to hatred!” he declared.
Steinmeier also expressed gratitude toward the State of Israel and Jews around the globe for not shunning Germany after the Holocaust.
“My heart is filled with gratitude for the hands of the survivors stretched out to us, for the new trust given to us by people in Israel and across the world, for Jewish life flourishing in Germany,” he said. “My soul is moved by the spirit of reconciliation, this spirit which opened up a new and peaceful path for Germany and Israel; for Germany, Europe and the countries of the world.”
Speaking before Steinmeier, French President Emmanuel Macron praised world leaders for coming together to remember the Holocaust.
“Can one have even imagined this happening nowadays? For us to be so united in remembrance?” he said in his speech. “This is not just history that one can read this way or another. No, there is truth and history with evidence. Let us not be confused between these things.”
The French leader said: “After all that has passed, anti-Semitism and the scourge of anti-Semitism has returned, and with it, xenophobia and intolerance have also raised their ugly heads.”
In the face of modern anti-Semitism, he said, “We will not allow ourselves to stand by in silence because we promise to remember and to take steps. Remember, never forget.”
Beside Steinmeier and Macron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Vice President Mike Pence and Britain’s Prince Charles addressed the commemoration.