Dear Members of the European Parliament,
Dear Mr. Vice-President [Schinas],
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
On the 9th of October, in the German town of Halle, a gunman opened fire on a synagogue, where 51 Jews had gathered to celebrate the holiest day of the Jewish year. Unable to enter the yard, the attacker went on to shoot four people, two of whom were killed. Only the synagogue door prevented a greater loss of life.
The events of the 9th of October show the persistence and cruelty of antisemitism, even today. And even now, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, there are those who would deny what happened there. But the facts are as clear as they are monstrous.
At the complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1.1 million people, most of them European Jews, were murdered. Among the victims too were the Sinti and Roma of Europe, Polish political prisoners, resistance fighters, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, those with disabilities and many more from across the continent.
The inconceivable suffering of the people in Auschwitz, their hunger, disease, cold, their subjection to medical experiments and forced labour, and finally their deaths in gas chambers – these are all things almost beyond human comprehension. They are unspeakable, and yet we must speak of them.
Auschwitz stands for the systematic murder of six million German and European Jews there, and throughout Europe: the barbarism of the Shoa, the total abandonment of humanity. It fills us with shame.
Remembering these crimes, naming their perpetrators and honouring their victims is an eternal responsibility. It is non-negotiable, and inseparable from our country and identity. It means a responsibility towards the State of Israel today, for its existence and security, which surpasses day-to-day politics. It means the unwavering defence of freedom, of democracy, of rule of law and of human dignity, values both precious and fragile.
In Europe today, these values are under attack. We see racism, historical revisionism, increasing intolerance, growing hate crimes. We must acknowledge that the last few years have opened a new frontier along which we must defend these values.
Throughout Europe, extremists spread their hatred online, hatred which, as we know, has very real consequences in the offline world. It is deeply, painfully felt in Halle, but also in countless other threats, verbal and physical attacks on Jews.
Antisemitism is not just a crime against Jews. It is an expression of an antidemocratic world view, a threat to pluralism and to humanity. Now, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be clearer than ever: we will not tolerate antisemitism. Every person in Germany and in Europe must feel safe.
Protecting Jewish life and fighting antisemitism in Germany is a central priority of the German government. After the events in Halle, it is expanding prevention and education work, with a particular focus on racism, antisemitism and hate speech online. These efforts are overseen by the Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism, together with his counterparts at a State level. We are grateful for the support of both Jewish and Non-Jewish experts in this work.
Racism and antisemitism transcend borders, and we are committed to increasing international efforts, too. In March, we will take up the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. There, we will focus on strategies to respond to growing historical ignorance, distortion of facts and the trivialization of the Holocaust, online in particular.
Effective work relies on a common understanding of Antisemitism, which is why will also further promote the use of the IHRA’s working definition.
At a European level, strengthening cooperation against Antisemitism will be a priority during Germany’s upcoming Council Presidency. This includes following up on the recent Council Conclusions on Antisemitism at a conference in September and working closely with Vice-President Schinas and the European Commission Coordinator for combatting antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
75 years after the Holocaust, the Jewish community in Germany has 100.000 members. Rabbis are being ordained again, Jewish kindergartens and educational institutions founded, synagogues rebuilt. Jewish life is a part of our culture and our identity, as is our friendship with the state of Israel. They are a gift, and one for which we are truly grateful.
Our deep thanks are also owed to the many survivors who tell their stories to later generations. They have our heartfelt gratitude for their generosity in sharing the darkest moments of their lives, even at great cost to themselves.
I am deeply moved by the presence of Baron Julien Kleiner and Regina Sluszny, as well as my Israeli colleague Aharon Leshno-Yaar, whose family suffered particularly during the Holocaust.
Today, and every day, we remember.