‘I Wish I Could Say We Germans Have Understood the Holocaust,’ President Steinmeier Confesses in 75th Anniversary Commemoration Address
Germany’s president confessed in a major speech on Wednesday that he was unconvinced his country had grasped the lessons of the Holocaust.
Speaking at a session of the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp, Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that “the evil spirits of the past are now appearing in new guise.”
Among those attending the Bundestag event was visiting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Acknowledging Rivlin’s presence in the audience, Steinmeier remarked, “I wish I could say today with conviction, especially in front of our guest from Israel: We Germans have understood.”
He went on: “But how can I say this when hatred and agitation are spreading, when the poison of nationalism is seeping into debates again — even in our country?”
Steinmeier then turned to the steep rise in antisemitic outrages in Germany over the last year.
“How can I say this when wearing the kippah becomes a personal risk, or when Jews put their menorah aside when the electricity meter reader comes?” an emotional Steinmeier remarked. “How can I say this when a right-wing terrorist in Halle on Yom Kippur murders two people and the heavy wooden door of the synagogue alone prevents a massacre of Jewish men, women and children?!!”
As with Steinmeier, Rivlin emphasized the significance of the past as a guide to the present, highlighting the threat posed to Israel by Iran.
“The Iranians have the aspiration to destroy the existence of the State of Israel, our destruction is for them a political and strategic objective,” Rivlin told the German parliamentarians.
On the subject of persistent antisemitism in Germany, meanwhile, Rivlin was equally direct.
“Germany must not fail here,” he said.
In that regard, Rivlin declared, “I stand here to tell you that the State of Israel and Germany are true partners.”