Acceptance Speech by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer upon Receiving the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal (March 9, 2003)

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer reflects on the history and present status of Christian-Jewish relations in Germany. Text of his acceptance speech on receiving the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal, March 2003.



Acceptance Speech upon Receiving the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal (March 9, 2003)


by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer


Thank you, dear Mr Spiegel, for the words you have just spoken. For me, it is a very   great honour to receive the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal today. The famous individuals who have   been awarded the Medal in the past, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Eugen Kogon, Yehudi   Menuhin, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Lea Rabin, Federal   President Johannes Rau as well as Richard von Weizsäcker,   give this distinction a special significance. However, I also consider today"s ceremony to   be a very special event precisely because the Medal is named after and commemorates two   outstanding German intellectuals of the Jewish faith.


Ladies and gentlemen,
  We are living in a time in which we are again faced with the ominous situation in which a   confrontation looms that could take on the worst possible form, i.e. that of a war between   cultures and religions. The criminal acts of terrorism of 11 September 2001 have focussed   our attention on this looming confrontation, as have the almost daily reports of terror and   violence taking place in Israel and the Palestinian territories. In view of the present-day   threat of a new religious war that would be fought with terrorist means, and also in view of   the danger of the Islamist totalitarianism of an Osama bin Laden and other groups, the idea   of interreligious cooperation is taking on a new dimension that is ominous but at the same   time also gives rise to hope.


The crises since 11 September 2001 lend significance to the idea of Christian-Jewish   cooperation in both a highly paradigmatic and a current political sense. This idea is   founded upon dialogue and is therefore by its very nature anti-totalitarian. It is founded   upon mutual understanding and knowledge not only of one"s own, but also of the other"s, the   counterpart"s, religion and culture. Through dialogue and understanding, it respects   differences of belief and tradition, and for precisely that reason utterly rejects violence,   injustice and suppression in the name of the One God.


Both as individuals and in their work, Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig symbolize this   great idea of religious dialogue and tolerance in the pre-war period in Germany. Buber   himself had to experience in a terrible way how this idea of Christian-Jewish cooperation -   that is, Jewish and Christian culture in Germany existing side by side - failed when the   Nazis" seizure of power gave rise to their mass-murderous anti-Semitism.


Judaism, Christianity and Islam - these great world religions are monotheistic, they   believe in there being only one God. And their belief is founded upon His Word, upon the   Holy Scriptures. Judaism is the oldest of these three monotheistic Scripture-based   religions. Judaism and Christianity have the Old and New Testament, the Old and New   Scriptures. Buber and Rosenzweig devoted their scholarly lives to the Scriptures, to   understanding them and interpreting them ever anew. They were aware of the special nature of   relations between Judaism and Christianity in German culture. The murderous anti-Semitism of   the Nazis was also aware of this - with horrifying consequences.


In his tragedy Almansor, Heinrich Heine already remarked that "Where one   burns books, one will - in the end - burn people", even though in so saying he had the   horrors of the Spanish Reconquista in mind and not the deadly anti-Semitism of the Nazis. In   1933, it was certainly not a coincidence that the National Socialist barbarism began with   the burning of books. The trail of blood Hitler and the Nazis" anti-Semitism left began with   the disgraceful Nuremberg race laws and led, via the pogroms of 9 and 10 November 1938, to   the Shoah, the genocide perpetrated against German and European Jews.


All this occurred in Germany, at the hands of Germans. This all occurred at the centre of   Europe, in plain public view. And this all occurred only a few years after Buber and   Rosenzweig had published their ideas on what the New and Old Testament had in common.


After 1945, the idea of Christian-Jewish cooperation required a completely new beginning.   No connection to earlier efforts could be made, for the murderous destruction of the Nazis   had had an all too thorough effect. With only a few exceptions - survivors from the ghettos,   camps and the underground, as well as returning Jewish emigrants - German Jews had been   either forced into emigration or murdered. With them, Germany"s vibrant and rich culture   which before 1933 was simply inconceivable without its Jewish roots and the Jewish   contribution had vanished.


Nevertheless! An adamant "Nevertheless" ushered in this new beginning of Jewish   life in Germany! For the murderers, Nazis and anti-Semites must not be allowed to remain   victorious, even in the wake of their total defeat. For that is exactly what would have   happened if, after the catastrophe, Jewish life would have completely disappeared from   Germany after 1945. This is precisely what motivated a man like Heinz Galinski, a Jew, a   German, a Berliner and a survivor of the hell of Auschwitz, to reestablish the Jewish   Community of Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany. As painful as it was at   first for the few survivors, those who returned from exile and their families, the new   beginning of Jewish life in Germany constituted a victory over National Socialist   anti-Semitism.


To this very day, the answer to the question of how secure and, yes, maybe also how much   at home German Jews and their Communities feel in Germany, is and remains the decisive   answer as to how strong and stable our democracy is.


We cannot recall too often the utterly incomprehensible crime of the murder and expulsion   of German Jews by the Nazis. Not only because our country bears the moral and historical   responsibility for this crime against humanity, but also and in particular because it is our   own memory, our collective memory of ourselves and how we were permanently maimed by Hitler   and his crimes.


It was Germans - fellow countrymen - who were excluded, deprived of their rights,   humiliated, dispossessed, driven into exile and ultimately murdered by the German state and   the then majority. Martin Buber was one of these Germans. With the expulsion and murdering   of German Jews, Germany permanently destroyed an essential part of its cultural identity,   and this wound pains us to the present day.


It is true that German democracy looks back on more than five decades of impressive   accomplishments and sustained stability. Today, despite all its shortcomings that it must   put right, Germany is an open country, a democracy integrated into Europe, firmly based on   the rule of law and with a strong civil society. Having said that, what a wonderful country   our Germany would be, how much richer and more impressive had Albert Einstein and Martin   Buber been respected and able to carry on their research at German universities! If Alfred   Kerr and Leon Feuchtwanger had been able to continue writing in Berlin and Munich! If Ernst   Lubitsch, Fritz Lang or Joseph von Sternberg had not been forced to emigrate to America! If   all our many other Jewish compatriots, whether famous or not, and their children and   grandchildren had not been forced into exile or murdered!


I am keenly aware of this loss, both in and for Germany, particularly here in Berlin, the   former centre of Jewish life in Europe. Since the Enlightenment, the seeds for the city"s   intellectual and cultural heyday had been essentially sown, and this life had been to a   great extent shaped, by German Jews. For generations upon generations, names such as Moses   Mendelssohn, Rahel Varnhagen, Henriette Hertz and Max Liebermann were all but synonymous   with its intellectual and cultural diversity. Of course, we should also not forget my   beloved Frankfurt am Main, the city of Martin Buber.


However, also in recalling this memory we are staring into the abyss of our history.   Berlin is the city in which the Holocaust was planned, organized and ordered. It was the   centre of power for Hitler"s racist megalomania that methodically and ruthlessly   masterminded the murder of six million German and European Jews.


To this day, the central question of our history has not truly been answered - despite   many intelligent and in-depth analyses and books on the subject: How could it happen? Why?   And why did it happen here, in Germany? In our country?


Since the Enlightenment and at the latest since the French Revolution, there had been   reason to hope that the Jews of Europe would be accepted as a part of the population with   equal rights. The emancipation, achieved with no little effort, led to a broad assimilation   movement, especially in Germany. Following the French Revolution and the Revolutions of   1848, ghetto walls were torn down nearly everywhere. From then on, the Jews assumed an equal   role in public life and sought to be fully integrated into the nation-states that emerged   everywhere in Europe, of which they were citizens with all the attendant rights and   obligations.


Sixty years ago, this hope of equal treatment was brutally destroyed. Germany"s response   to the affection of its Jewish citizens, even their love - it is a strong expression, but   Ralph Giordano was right in using it in his moving speech last year to commemorate 9   November - was an unprecedented crime, the greatest genocide in Jewish history.


The founding of the State of Israel is not least an answer to the hatred vis-B-vis   the Jews and the genocide perpetrated by National Socialism. However, it is also the result   of a general European failure that dates back to the second half of the 19th century. The   Zionism of Theodor Herzl, the idea of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, that   is the Jewish national movement, was a reaction against the nascent and increasingly   dangerous anti-Semitism in the second half of the 19th century. This Jewish national   movement also sprang up due to the failure of the emancipation and integration of Jewish   minorities in many European nation-states.


Europe, and above all Germany, must face up to its own history. This means that we must   and will continue to always have a special relationship to the State of Israel, based on our   historical and moral responsibility. It means making a clear commitment to Israel"s right to   exist as a Jewish state, as well as to the right of the citizens of Israel to live in peace   and security without fear of terrorist acts.


This special relationship between Germany and Israel is a cornerstone of German foreign   policy and therefore independent of day-to-day politics. It calls for our solidarity,   especially in difficult times. Israel can rely on Germany as a partner. This holds true now   and in the future.


Israel"s right to exist is still being called into question. Terror and violence are   still rampant in the Middle East. During my many visits to the region, I have seen for   myself the horror and suffering that terrorism is causing in Israel. Terrorism and violence   must not be allowed to prevail - never. We must fight for genuine peace that will finally   secure for both peoples a peaceful coexistence in a stable region.


On both sides in this tragic conflict, innocent people are dying or being severely maimed   or injured. On both sides, families are afflicted with sorrow. Also, the humanitarian   situation in the Palestinian territories is causing me deep and growing concern.


Peace in the Middle East is of decisive importance to all of us, also and in particular   when it comes to our own security. I am convinced this crisis cannot be resolved by military   means, but only through a political compromise. Of course, this peace must be founded upon   security, otherwise it will never materialize.


Peace can only be achieved if people live together as good neighbours in mutual respect.   We must undertake every effort that guarantees the State of Israel and its people a life in   security and that at the same time creates a real prospect for the future of the   Palestinians. A permanent solution of the conflict requires two independent, democratic   states, living together as good neighbours and in shared security.


The international community must now do everything within its power to embark upon this   path of a two-state solution. The relevant suggestions have been put on the table in the   form of a road map for peace. This demands a special effort on the part of the US but also   of Europe. For this approach promises to have a positive effect on the entire Middle East   region. Without international assistance, however, there will be no real chance of achieving   progress or even a breakthrough in the Middle East conflict.


For all these reasons, I will continue to make every effort to prevent terror and   violence from prevailing, to ensure Israel"s lasting security and also that the suffering of   the Palestinians will be ended and that they will be able to realize their legitimate demand   for their own state, peacefully coexisting with Israel. Therefore I will continue working to   ensure that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is resumed.


I take a very personal interest in this issue, and it remains a central aspect of our   foreign policy. I also view the fact that you are today awarding me the Buber-Rosenzweig   Medal as a mandate to continue making every effort toward achieving this peace between   Israel and the Palestinians.


Ladies and gentlemen,
  After all, no one less than Martin Buber committed himself to impressing upon the world the   necessity of promoting understanding and peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Even   if today his vision of a confederate Israeli-Palestinian state appears very distant - he did   see the political necessities with great clarity.


Franz Rosenzweig died in 1929 at the age of 43. His early death spared him from   experiencing the terrible times in which Jewish intellectual life in Germany was   irrecoverably destroyed. Luckily, Martin Buber was able to flee to Israel in 1938. In   Jerusalem, however, he was forced to witness how the Nazis systematically exterminated the   Jewish population of Germany and other European states. He was forced to look on while a   millennium-old, essential pillar of German and European intellectual life was destroyed   within the space of a few years.


Against this background, it was an impressive gesture when Buber already in the early   fifties travelled to Germany. He was one of the first to differentiate between individual   guilt and collective responsibility. He convincingly made this point in his major speech   upon receiving the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Like no one else in this time, he   extended a hand of reconciliation to the new, democratic Germany. We should therefore not be   surprised by the fact that he was subjected to harsh criticism in Israel for this.


Looking at the life and work of Martin Buber makes us painfully aware that due to the   Holocaust we have lost our knowledge about the Jewish faith and its traditions in Germany.   What was a natural aspect of life in almost every German city and a part of literally every   child"s experience was abruptly snuffed out. Then, pupils walked by their cities" synagogues   on their way to school. I am afraid that today only very few pupils in our country know what   a synagogue is.


The fact that in recent years Jewish life has put down roots again in many major German   cities gives us cause for hope. Jewish communities are growing and Jewish stores,   restaurants and educational institutions are being opened. The Jews who have immigrated from   the former Soviet Union play an important role in this. I know that these developments   occasionally also pose problems to Jewish communities. And it would certainly be an illusion   to believe that the pre-war Jewish life in Germany could rise from the ashes again.


In this connection, let me say a few words on the commitment of the 79 Gesellschaften für   christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit in Deutschland   (Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation in Germany) and their 20,000 members and   friends. For decades, they have been doing volunteer work to promote understanding and   reconciliation. Through their work with Jewish communities, their contacts to emigrants all   over the world and their events, they have made a substantial contribution to creating an   image of Germany as a country characterized by openness, consideration, general concern and   historical responsibility. Their assistance was essential in founding and building up many   Jewish communities in eastern Germany after unification. Also, for many Jewish communities,   the Societies" support for the integration of new members from the former Soviet Union was   very welcome. To this day, they play a role that the state is not able to play, doing a   great deal to promote understanding between Christians and Jews. They are a very important   part of German civil society. For this reason, it is a special honour for me to receive this   Medal from the Societies" Coordinating Council.


In a letter Martin Buber wrote to Theodor Heuss in February 1963, he speaks of the origin   of the word Dank (thanks). He describes how, etymologically, the German verb danken   (to thank) is related to denken (to think). A person who expresses his thanks to   someone declares that he will remember or think of him fondly. The Hebrew word for Danken,   Hodoth, has a different root: its primary meaning is "to commit yourself to   something". In Buber"s words: "In thanking someone, a person commits himself to   the person he is thanking, he wants to henceforth be committed to that person. So to commit   yourself to a person in this way is to reaffirm that person"s existence."


That is how I wish to express my thanks for the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal: I will bear in   mind the mandate you have given me and commit myself to what this Medal signifies: dialogue,   reconciliation between Jews and Christians in Germany and the world and our solidarity and   friendship with the State of Israel."top