President of the Czech Republic, President of Bulgaria, dear colleagues, chairmen and presidents of the parliaments present here, dear President Kantor, dear colleague Edelstein, ladies and gentlemen,
My collaborators have prepared a wonderful speech for me, but I am not going to give that speech. I’m too deeply moved by the music, but also by the performance as a whole, by the pictures we saw.
As for me, as a high-ranking representative of the Federal Republic of Germany, I have the honour and the privilege to chair the multinational, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural, unique parliament of the European Union.
I am deeply moved as a representative with that privilege to speak on behalf of the representatives of the 508 million European citizens who belong today to the European Union. I’m a German, let’s be honest, and seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Terezienstadt and the other extermination camps, this is historically a miracle and a gift, a precious gift for us all.
And therefore I am not going to give that speech, a speech that outlined many commitments. However, as my advisers have suggested, I do want to focus on a few of them here.
First of all, a commitment to the survivors who are here. I want to address you, the last witnesses of the horror we just saw. You can be assured that there will always be people fighting for your legacy, so that this can never happen again. This is our primary duty today, and we give you our guarantee.
I want to add another element to this: please permit me to tell two stories. During my time as President of the European Parliament, I have had the privilege to meet a Jewish man who lived with his family in Berlin before the War. As he told me, he and his family were booted out of the country in 1938 – in my constituency, Aachen. He was ten. The family were lucky: they could leave. But just his parents, his brothers and sisters, not the rest of the family. Only he and his immediate family could escape. Yet, at Aachen station, the SS stopped the train and forced them to open their suitcases, took their last precious possessions out of them, and then they kicked them out of the country. Ten years old…
But 28 years later that man, Justice Gabriel Bach, became the Deputy State Prosecutor of Israel. He brought the man (amongst others) who organized that crime, but who was also in a key position to organize the extermination, Adolf Eichmann, to justice. For me, this is evidence enough that justice exists in the world. That a ten-year-old boy from a Jewish family booted out of Germany could put that criminal in jail is proof that justice can still prevail.
The other story. I had the privilege of participating in the Commemoration of the Liberation of the Warsaw Ghetto, and met one of the survivors, Simcha Rotem, today living in Israel. One of the last heroes of the Warsaw ghetto resistance, he recounted in his speech a story I will never forget. He said, ‘I escaped, through a tunnel, and at the end of the tunnel stood a Polish couple. They saw me, and for a second I thought, “What’s going to happen now?”’ And this couple, apparently Catholic, took him home with them, and hid him in their apartment, and so he survived. And Simcha Rotem, survivor, and hero of that incredible movement of resistance against the SS, raised in Warsaw two years ago the following question. He said, ‘I have often asked myself whether I would have been as courageous as that couple was.’ This was a wonderful moment for all of us. The man we all admired had raised the key question: are we so courageous? And that’s my conclusion of the day, for all of us: we here, in this prestigious room, the high-ranking representatives of our parliaments, of our societies, of our parties, of our countries… the question we have to raise is not whether we are courageous enough to address such an audience as this – that’s easy. It is the question the President of the Czech Republic wisely asked: are we courageous when we really need to be? Don’t have any illusions about this, any of you here now in this room. If these Nazi gangs had power today, we would all end up in a concentration camp. That’s for sure. Because we here are representing tolerance, mutual respect, freedom of speech, the fight against anti-Semitism, respect for other nations, religions and beliefs, and respect for the non-believers, the freedom of the press, and freedom of research in universities. This is what an open-minded society is representing, and we are its representatives. What we represent is the opposite of any criminal ideology.
Don’t harbour any illusions. You would be a target, all of you, all of us. Like, for example, the former French Prime Minister Leon Blum, who was all those years in Buchenwald, as the famous writer Hogas N. Blum described in his books.
What does it all mean? It means that we are strong, we have power, we have influence, and this obliges us, with this power, with our possibilities, with our strength, with the force we have in daily life, to stand up every second when evil rears its head and to say ‘Not on our watch’. This is our duty, not so much through ceremony and pronouncements, but through action. Every day in our parliaments, in our daily life, on the streets. Wherever anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and whatever fascist manifestation arises and appears, we must stand up and say ‘Not on our watch’. This is the best way to give an example to our children and their children.
Thank you very much for the ceremony!