This speech was perhaps the hardest that Frank-Walter Steinmeier ever had to deliver. As the first Federal President, he spoke at the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Jad Vashem. The occasion is the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation. A great performance where every word counts.
Steinmeier has met this responsibility. With a bow from the imperishable German responsibility for the Holocaust to the current situation in Germany to international developments, the Federal President comprehensively covered anti-Semitism despite the speaking time limited to eight minutes.
Correct and important that Steinmeier remembered the six million dead and connected this monstrous crime with names and fates. But it is also important that he personalized the Holocaust on the part of the perpetrators as well. "The perpetrators were people. They were German. The killers, the guards, the helpers, the followers: They were German," he said. A clear wording that underlines the collective guilt of the Germans. And that opposes the narrative that a large, but at the same time diffuse, de-individualized state machine for mass murder.
A German present that stunned
But Steinmeier would have jumped too short if he had left it there. Instead, an admission that a "never again!" Today it is no longer a matter of course: "I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history forever," said Steinmeier. But that could not be done if hatred and agitation spread.
It was another key sentence of the speech, because Steinmeier unfortunately has enough evidence, so it is now dangerous again in Germany to wear a kippa in public. In schools, Jewish children may be marginalized because of their beliefs. And even the utmost, deadly violence, is no longer out of the question: When Halle attacked, which Steinmeier also mentioned, only a sturdy door prevented a suspected right-wing terrorist Yom Kippur from killing numerous Jews.
The development is dramatic. But instead of an outcry, one can observe a threatening discrepancy in Germany in particular: between the same political statements that anti-Semitism must be combated in Germany with commitment - and an indifferent, even negative attitude in significant parts of society, which can probably be explained by the fact that according to surveys every fourth German thinks anti-Semitic.
Steinmeier also had an explanation for this phenomenon in his speech. "Yes, we Germans remember," he said. "But sometimes it seems to me that we understand the past better than the present."
This thoughtful tone is appropriate to reality. At the same time, he reveals a perfectly understandable helplessness against the fact that 75 years after the liberation from Auschwitz, anti-Semitism is spreading again in Germany. German responsibility does not pass, said Steinmeier bravely in Jad Vashem. "We want to do justice to you. You should measure us against her." Unfortunately, it won't be easy.