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,
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,
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.