There is no way one can fully understand or comprehend the Holocaust, this worst crime in the history of humanity. How could people do something like this to other people? How could people get to a point where so many of them allowed such a crime to occur?
When I visited Bergen-Belsen as a pupil, I was deeply moved. What I felt that day would remain with me forever – as would the questions. When I began taking an interest in politics, one question became ever more important, namely: How can we learn from history? How can we prevent such a crime from happening again?
We have a historical responsibility to address the Holocaust. And I think this responsibility is greater than ever today. I am horrified to see how hatred and antisemitism are again on the rise in Europa and in Germany.
If today Jews continue to be persecuted, then this clearly demonstrates how important it is to do an even better job of teaching the lessons of history and to pass these on to the next Generation.
And that is precisely what “Young people remember” aims to do. I am so glad to speak at this kick-off event today and be witness that our idea has become a Programme.
Through this programme, young people get the opportunity to visit memorials and places of remembrance, where they can engage in discussions and learn together.
And they do so across borders. Because, even though in Europe we share the experience of the horrors of the First and Second World War, each country has its own culture of remembrance.
And the more distant these events become, the fewer survivors there are to answer our questions, the more important are personal exchanges on these issues. It is the only way that mutual understanding can grow and deepen.
In addition to visits to memorials, the “Young people remember” programme includes financial support for many hands-on projects: These also draw attention to lesser-known places of remembrance and groups of victims. They also use new formats, such as graphic novels.
With the federal programme “Young People Remember International”, we want to make places of remembrance into even better present-day places of learning, in and beyond Europe.
Memorials should become international places for immersive experiences and exchange, where we can gain an even fuller understanding of what a great accomplishment and gift our present peaceful co-existence in Europe is.
Europe as we know it today can simply not be taken for granted.
It is up to all of us to defend these accomplishments. By standing up for what we believe in. By taking a strong stand against nationalist tendencies.
By actively defending tolerance and understanding, and not accepting insults or threats directed at minorities, those of other persuasions or faiths, or with other sexual orientations. By opposing all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia from the outset.
This is the task that history has imposed upon us. And I believe that no history book or classroom-based lesson can teach this as clearly as the experiences one has when visiting a memorial or place of remembrance, or when doing a group Project.
I am pleased that together with the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” we were able to select a wide range of projects. And I hope that, by engaging with one another in many different ways – both in person and virtual – new bridges can be built between young people in Europe and beyond.
I want to thank all partners and everyone involved in this effort. It was quite some work putting together the programme “Young people remember”. But the hard work has paid off.
The project being presented here today that was developed by IBB Dortmund and the History Workshop Minsk about the Malyj Trostenez memorial is a good example.
Malyj Trostenez was one of the main Nazi extermination camps. Countless Jews were deported to this site near Minsk in Belarus between November 1941 and October 1942. Many of the deportees were murdered immediately upon arrival. In Western Europe, the history of this mass extermination camp has until the present day remained mostly unknown. So young people will now join forces with experts and historians from Germany, Austria and Belarus in an effort to change that.
I am happy that “Young people remember” will help close such gaps in our collective knowledge. History and remembrance may remain open to a variety of interpretations and conclusions. But no one can escape the facts. More than 6 million Jews were murdered. The Holocaust cannot – and must never – be relativised.
I wish all those involved in the Malyj Trostenez project, and all of the participants in the other projects, every success in this important effort.
By working on coming to grips with the past, you are building our future.
Thank you very much for your commitment!
The video of the kick-off event can be watched at @stiftungevz on YouTube.
My speech can be found at 5:30.