Remarks by German Consul General David Gill – Commemoration of the 84th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

Park East Synagogue, New York City
Shabbat November 12, 2022

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

My dear friend Rabbi Schneier,

Dear members and friends of the Park East Synagogue,

I am truly grateful that you invited me to speak to you this morning. It is incredibly meaningful for me to commemorate Kristallnacht in a synagogue filled with life, community and inspiration.

As the representative of the free and democratic Germany, I feel honored and at the same time humbled whenever I meet people who witnessed these times, when I meet Holocaust survivors. I feel honored and humbled because they graciously show their willingness to reconcile, they express their trust in my and often their home country as it exists today. And I am grateful to hear their life-stories of suffering and loss but also of resilience and incredible achievements, powerful new beginnings – about their compassion for the common good and their commitment to connect people and nations in order to build a peaceful world.

It is their experience and that of every single life affected by the unspeakable crimes of the Nazi regime which underline every-time we hear it, our  responsibility that: We will and shall never forget. 

This morning we remember “Kristallnacht”, November 9, 84 years ago, when synagogues in Germany were burned to the ground. Jews from all classes and professions were imprisoned in the aftermath, were put into concentration camps and lost their jobs and businesses and some even their lives. Kristallnacht’s burnings and beatings, the persecution of defenceless and innocent people in the public eye sent a shockwave throughout the world. It was the forerunner of the so-called Final Solution, the Shoah, of Auschwitz, the most horrific atrocity and therefore the symbol for the Shoah. 

When we remember the Holocaust, we do it in order to ensure that such heinous crimes, such outrageous deviations from our core values can never happen again. Therefore, a culture of remembrance is indispensable in our times. In other words: we, our children, and our children’s children must never forget! It is our responsibility to keep the memories alive. We owe it to the victims to remember the horrors of National Socialism. And we owe it to future generations as well.

I will talk about what Germany is doing to ensure that the knowledge about the Holocaust is preserved and is an integral part of the fight against antisemitism. But before that I want to tell you about – or remind those of you, who have heard it before of – a wonderful development that has occurred over the last three decades in Germany – a revitalization of Jewish life in our society. 

When I, as a young student of theology, moved to East Berlin in the summer of 1988, I lived in the borough of Mitte, in a neighborhood which used to be a Jewish quarter. Two blocks from my apartment, there was the beautiful Neue Synagoge (New Synagogue), or at least what was left of it. A very small congregation still existed but it was more of a museum and memorial for the Kristallnacht. That has changed dramatically in an unexpected and wonderful way, like the city of Berlin changed so vividly from a divided city and a symbol of the cold war to an open and colorful, international and diverse place. Today this synagogue, built on and within the ruins left from Kristallnacht, is a meeting place for hundreds of Jews who came to make their lives in the German capital and meet at this very place. 

In the last three decades, more than 200,000 people have come to Germany as Jewish immigrants, mostly from the former Soviet Union. Jews from all over the world settled in numerous cities of Germany, many of them young Israelis who moved to Berlin, because they enjoy the creative atmosphere and the cultural energy and opportunities there. 

More than 100 synagogues are dispersed throughout the country, beautiful new architectural gems or renovated originals, in one case a 300 years old church was transformed into a synagogue. Jewish kindergartens and schools have emerged in the larger cities, Rabbis are trained and ordained in Germany, and new community centers and houses of worship have been built in many German towns. The German government on all levels is committed to supporting the Jewish communities, including safeguarding their places of worship and community. A contract between the federal government and the umbrella organization of the Jewish congregations, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, guarantees an annual financial support of several million Euros. 

This renaissance of Jewish life, culture, visibility and – yes – trust in my home country, is, by no means, something that we take for granted. But we are also proud that Jews have again placed confidence in Germany. Jewish life belongs in our country and will forever be part of our culture. The Federal President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier called this rebirth of Jewish life once “ein unermessliches Glück für unser Land”, “an immeasurable fortune for our country”. 

And we want to reach out further, for instance to young Jews with German family roots or not, to offer them an independent, own and inside view of our country.  One example for this is the most successful exchange programs “Germany close up”, which gives 250 Jewish North American students and young professionals the opportunity to experience contemporary Germany firsthand annually. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The immeasurable fortune, as president Steinmeier called it, is an obligation for my country as well, to be clear, in the fight against antisemitism. Yes, antisemitism and the exclusion of minorities in general are by no means a matter of past history. They are still spreading in our societies today – in Germany, in Europe but also here in the US. 

The German government is aware of the problem of rising anti-Semitism and of the threat, this development means for society. And I can assure you that the political leaders of my country – with the exception of some of the representatives of the right wing AfD – stand up unanimously against racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and extremism. We will make sure that the curricula in schools and universities, training programs for professionals in the private and public sector, a wide variety of places of remembrance and Holocaust-education will address these issues and raise awareness for this important fight. 

But this is not just a task for politicians. Equally important is the clear voice of civil society, of the arts and the religious communities, of culture and even sports. Especially in times like these, when right-wing extremist pressure is more noticeable globally, we have to ensure that we take a courageous and decisive stand against all forms of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and against those who advocate hatred in our societies. 

Institutionally the fight against antisemitism was intensified in Germany too. About four years ago, Dr. Felix Klein was appointed as the first Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism. By now all German states have installed similar commissioners. 

The rise of antisemitism is something that we unfortunately have to observe in many parts of the world. Therefore, it is ever more important that we stand together. Therefore Germany is a very active member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which is committed to strengthening, advancing, and promoting Holocaust education, remembrance, and research worldwide.

We work together in this important endeavor also as German-American partners. Last year our country’s foreign ministers pledged to take an active stand against Holocaust denial and trivialization, against rising antisemitism and conspiracy theories. How we educate future generations and how we can keep a meaningful remembrance is a central focus of this dialogue as well as Holocaust education during the training of civil servants and military personnel, among others. Together we want to face today’s challenges, including those in which hatred results in social strife and demonization or persecution of those perceived as “the other.”

We are and will be a reliable partner and friend of Israel, on many  levels. The presidents as well as Chancellor and PM meet and talk regularly, we have strong economic relations and a broad variety of cooperation in science and research. We have a long tradition of intensive youth exchanges and ties between the the civil societies of our countries. And more than 100 sister city affiliations exist between Germany and Israel.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year Germany and descendants of European Jews all over the world celebrated an amazing anniversary. It was in the year of 321, 1700 years ago, that Emperor Constantine the Great granted Jews of Cologne the right to hold public office. His edict, which subsequently extended this right to the Jews in all provincial towns of the empire, is the oldest document which references Jewish life in Europe north of the Alps. 

What an incredible story of more than one and a half millennia we can tell. It is an exciting and powerful story of Jewish influence and involvement in the arts and sciences, philosophy and religion, politics and economy. There were periods of great success in Jewish entrepreneurship as well as German-Jewish patriotism, resilience and vibrant Jewish life. Countless names stand for German-Jewish creativity and ingenuity, like Zedekias, who, in the 9th century, served as personal physician to the Roman Emperor Charles I or his colleague, Paul Ehrlich, who centuries later won the Nobel prize for his scientific achievements. Many German-Jewish Nobel Laureates followed him, including, of course, Albert Einstein. Caroline Herschel, a 19th century astronomer, was the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist. The entrepreneur Emil Rathenau was crucial to use electricity on an industrial scale and his son, the liberal lawmaker Walther Rathenau, served as German Foreign Minister during the Weimar Republic. Indeed, Germany was gifted with German-Jewish artists, philosophers, politicians, and inventors as well as with hundreds of thousands of non-famous fellow citizens who, through their lives and participation, shaped Germany in a unique way. 

But it is also true that the German-Jewish history was throughout the centuries a very dark one. Jews were scapegoated and the focus of conspiracy theories, they were threatened by pogroms and persecution, culminating in one of humanity’s lowest points: the Holocaust. 

Therefore, the rich and long German and European Jewish history is also an obligation to continuously assure the trust of Jewish citizens and communities – a responsibility for which society as a whole is called upon to uphold. And Constantine’s edict can serve as a reminder to initiate cultural, political, and interreligious debates within our societies on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Thank you for your attention. Shabbat Shalom! 

United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony – Theme: 75 years after Auschwitz – Holocaust Education and Remembrance for Global Justice

27 January 2020

United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony – Theme: 75 years after Auschwitz – Holocaust Education and Remembrance for Global Justice

2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the ending of the Second World War, and the ending of the Holocaust. 2020 also marks the establishment of the United Nations, formed in response to atrocity crimes of the Holocaust and the Second World War, with the aim of building a world that is just and peaceful. Acknowledging the milestone year, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme has chosen as the theme for Holocaust education and remembrance in 2020, “75 years after Auschwitz – Holocaust Education and Remembrance for Global Justice”. The theme reflects the continued importance, 75 years after the Holocaust, of collective action against antisemitism and other forms of bias to ensure respect for the dignity and human rights of all people everywhere.

The ceremony, taking place 75 years to the day of the liberation by the Soviet forces of Auschwitz Birkenau Nazi German concentration and extermination camp (1940-1945), will be hosted by Ms. Melissa Fleming, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications. Invited speakers include the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the President of the seventy-fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Permanent Representatives of Germany, Israel and the United States to the United Nations, Mr. Castro Wedamba, Chief of Office, Office on Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, and Holocaust survivors, Mr. Shraga Milstein and Ms. Irene Shashar. Judge Theodor Meron, who served as the President of the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, will deliver the keynote speech. Cantor Shulem Lemmer will recite the memorial prayers. Mr. Itzhak Perlman will deliver a musical contribution.

Thursday, December, 13th, University of Miami commencement speaker Rabbi Arthur Schneier

Watsco Center
Thursday
December 13, 2019

 

 

 

 

In the afternoon graduate degree ceremony for doctoral and master’s students, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor who founded the Appeal of Conscience Foundation to promote tolerance, religious freedom, and human rights around the world, told the 560 graduates to “never give up, have faith, and do not be deterred by obstacles and hardship that may come your way.”

“Search beyond your immediate comfort zone of your particular field or your monetary desires,” said Schneier, who was presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. “With wisdom and heart, make a commitment of carrying the torch of freedom forward for peace and unity in diversity. It is your turn to give back—just as I gave back to the blessed United States.”

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE MIAMI UNIVERSITY ARTICLE 


 

 

 

 

 

CLICK HERE to read
Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s commencement speech.

Photos courtesy of the University of Miami.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier statement on New York Times anti-Semitism editorial.

Dear Members,

I call your attention to a New York Times editorial (link below) addressing growing concerns of anti-Semitism here in the United States and across Europe.

The New York Times editorial is another wake up call that portrays the widespread cancer of anti-Semitism in Europe and is an alert to American leaders of conscience to counter this hatred also metastasized in the United States. 

AM YISRAEL CHAI – it depends on every one of us.

31 October 2018

António Guterres Remarks at Interfaith Gathering: “United Against Hate”

Dear friends, all protocol observed,

I am here to express horror and solidarity. Horror in relation to the most abject act of anti-Semitism that has happened in the history of the United [States]. Something that makes us feel totally horrified but solidarity – solidarity with the victims, solidarity with the family, solidarity with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and worldwide, and solidarity also with the people of Pittsburgh and the people of the United States of America who overwhelmingly reject this horrendous act.

Since I became Secretary-General, I have been raising my voice against what I believe is the rise of anti-Semitism in many of our societies and namely my part in the world in Europe but also unfortunately, here also in North America. It is not only anti-Semitism that we are witnessing rising. We see other forms of anti-religious hatred be it against Muslims. We have seen Christians and Yazidis being persecuted in the Middle East. We have seen so many situations where migrants and refugees become the scapegoat of the problems of societies. We see xenophobia and racism developing in many parts of the world. But it is true that anti-Semitism is the oldest and [most] permanent form of hatred against a people in the history of humankind. Jews are discriminated and persecuted for the simple reason that they are Jews.

With the climate of persecution and discrimination in the Roman empire, with everything that happened in the Middle Ages, I will never forget the history of my country, the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages and then culminating with the most stupid crime of Portuguese history, the expulsion of the Jews in the beginning of the 16th century. Criminal because of the suffering endured by the Jewish people, stupid because it had a very negative perspective in the prosperity of my own country. Then, as centuries went on with different manifestations in different parts of the world with more violence and more subtle, culminating in the horror of the Nazi Holocaust.

I must say, that probably with some naïve approach, that I always felt the Holocaust had been so horrible that rejection of what happened would be so universal that it would really make us feel so angry – with that total abjection, that anti-Semitism would tend to disappear in modern societies. It was with a certain amount of surprise that I have seen that progressively anti-Semitism is again on the rise. It’s on the rise especially in the developed world in ways that I find particularly intolerable.

Jews being again persecuted or discriminated or attacked for the simple reason that they are who they are. We see it in the internet, in hate speech, we see it in the way cemeteries are desecrated.  We now see it in this horrendous attack on a synagogue.

I believe it is important not only to denounce, not only to condemn these acts as any other act of xenophobia or racism, but it’s necessary to try to understand why this is happening.

Indeed, if one looks at our societies, we see seeds of division. We see people worried, afraid, insecure. Some because they were left behind by technological progress. Some because they don’t understand the movement of people and they don’t understand the richness of diversity.  Some because they are the victims of the negative impacts of globalization.

I believe that it is important to recognize that diversity is a richness not a threat.  Diversity will not necessarily be spontaneously harmonious. To make diversity harmonious we need to have a strong investment in the social cohesion of societies. In making sure that not only people tolerate each other, I know the rabbi and I dislike the word tolerance because the question is not that we tolerate each other, it’s that we respect each other and that we love each other.

This requires a huge investment in the social cohesion of our societies. So, I believe there is an enormous responsibility for leaders. Leaders of international organizations like mine. Political leaders, leaders of religious communities, leaders in civil society. Leaders to be able to address the root causes that are undermining the cohesion of our societies and that are creating conditions for these forms of hatred to become more and more frequent and more and more negative in the way they are expressed.

We need to make sure that there is a massive investment in education. We need to make sure there are safety nets allowing those that are the ones left behind by technical progress or globalization not to feel desperate in relation to the future.

We need to provide hope for our youth that sometimes also feel that there is not a clear perspective for the way to develop their lives in our societies. We need to make a huge investment in bringing people together, in making people feel that at the same time their very identity is respected but that they belong to the community as a whole.

Let’s be clear. We also need to be very firm in speaking up and combatting these new forms that are not only anti-semitism, I even see the roots of neo-Nazism growing. I was amazed a few months ago when, when in a demonstration, there were people shouting, “blood and soil.” Now for many common citizens, some of these expressions that are used have no special meaning.  They look like not so adequate forms of expression of patriotism. But now more and more words, more and more concepts, more and more ideas that we see on the internet, in many demonstrations in the expression of people, are deeply rooted in Nazi thinking. They have a special meaning in the Nazi ideology.

This is something we need to be very attentive in our societies because one of the logics of extremist organizations is to, in a subtle way, try to penetrate the mainstream and make some of their idiot ideas being accepted as a new normal in our societies.

We have to condemn. We have to speak up. We have to be very firm in denouncing horrendous acts like the one in Pittsburgh, but we need to assume our responsibilities as leaders to prevent these things from happening and to address the root causes that help them to develop.

Allow me a personal note. In what I read about the criminal that has done these horrendous acts, there is a reference that he was particularly shocked by the action of a humanitarian organization – HIAS – the Hebrew [Immigrant] Aid [Society].

I want to give you a testimony. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I worked with HIAS for many years. It is the most fantastic humanitarian organization I have ever met. They are the true expression of humanitarianism, but also humanism and solidarity. What they have done, what apparently this man was accusing them to do was to bring to the United States people in search of protection and to allow them to have a better life. I was particularly shocked that this organization that is the symbol of everything I considered good in the world being used as a pretext to justify this horrendous act.

Allow me to end, because I think HIAS is the true expression of that sentence, with a sentence of Leviticus. The sentence is “when strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you and you shall love them as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

May the wisdom of these words of Leviticus help us all understand the need to be very firm fighting anti-Semitism, fighting xenophobia, fighting racism, islamophobia and other forms of hatred in our societies.

I pray our common God to keep us united in the fight against hatred, because if you are united … [applause]

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Mayor de Blasio and local leaders speak out to condemn Saturday’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier Statement at Press Conference in NYC Aftermath of Shooting at Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday, October 27, 2018, 7:00pm

This is a very tragic day not only for the Jewish Community of Pittsburgh but for the United States, but particularly for me a Holocaust survivor. I never thought after the Nazi tyranny ended coming to this land of freedom, I would see anti-Semitism not only in Europe but even in our own country. So, Mayor your presence here, you’ve been here on happy occasions where we’ve welcomed the Chief Rabbi of France; your presence here is really reassuring the Jewish Community and Chief Moynihan, Borough President, Senator, you are reassuring the Jewish Community in New York that we are safe because any attack on a House of Worship is really going for the jugular of a faith community. If you want to attack a church, a mosque, a temple or synagogue those hate mongers are ready to kill regardless of who you are. So thank you for the protection, your commitment, safety and we are particularly proud of our neighbor. We are very fortunate that we have a 19th Precinct – not every Synagogue is so fortunate but again we cannot thank you enough. I am off to Pittsburgh to show our solidarity with an interfaith Appeal of Conscience Foundation delegation and I know all New Yorkers stand with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh as we pray for the freedom we’ve enjoyed in the blessed land; God Bless America and God Bless our great City and State of New York. Thank you all for joining us.

I would like to quote to you a German Poet, Heinrich Heine in the 19th Century he wrote “those who burn books will burn human beings” and I changed that statement. Those who burn synagogues, and we are going to remember on November 9th Kristallnacht, I was there in Vienna when my synagogue burned and those who burned synagogues burned my and pokfamily in Auschwitz. So thank you Mayor and all elected officials, and the Police Department. In Vienna, I stood by when my synagogue was burning and the police and fire officials did not worry about saving the synagogue – they were worried about the neighboring buildings. So God Bless all of the men and women of the Police, FBI and State Troopers.

And I have a plea, yes we’re in safe hands under your leadership but synagogues, churches, temples and mosques also have to take security measures. We’re spending a fortune of money to protect our children, our congregations so there’s an allocation by Homeland Security, by the State of New York and I turn to you. I think it would be very important because of the time we are living in, to increase that financial support both on the Federal, the State and City governments so that churches and houses of worship will be able to carry jointly with law of enforcement the threat by the hate mongers. Thank you and God Bless you all.