Arthur S. Obermayer Speech for
German Jewish History Award Ceremony

January 23, 2008

It is an honor for me to be here today with such a distinguished group for this very important occasion. First I want to recognize Walter Momper, President of the Berlin Parliament, under whose leadership this event is taking place, and Reinhard Führer, the former President, who initiated this co-sponsorship. Later you will be hearing from Sara Bloomfield, the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. These two women, each in her own realm, are the world leaders in addressing German Jewish issues.

I would particularly like to thank several other people who have made major contributions to this evening's event. Lothar Funke and Barbara Lech of the Parliament's Protokoll office, who have organized this event and the reception which will follow; Betty Solbjor, our U.S. Coordinator, who has made all of the other arrangements; Michael Levitin, who has prepared all the profiles in the booklet, and Heike Kähler, who provided the German translation in the booklet. A special thanks is due to my wife, Judith Obermayer who has been my advisor and supporter for the past 44 years.

The awardees each year are selected by a jury of seven prominent individuals who have a keen understanding and awareness of what non-Jewish Germans have done to preserve the Jewish memory. Six of the jury members are with us today. In addition to Mr. Momper and myself, we have in the audience [ask to stand up when I call their names] Sara Nachama from Berlin, Werner Loval from Jerusalem, Ernst Cramer from Berlin and Karen Franklin from New York. They spent countless hours evaluating the many excellent nominations we received, and Karen Franklin also evaluated all of the documentary material that was submitted. Every year, we are surprised to learn about so many additional individuals who have done exceptional work and who had never come to our attention before. There has been great diversity in awardees in geographical location, the nature of their contributions, their personal characteristics, their age, and what motivated them to devote so much of their time to these efforts.

Profiles of each of tonight's awardees are provided in the booklet that each of you received. Each of them has done remarkable things. You will see and hear from them shortly

Because most awardees will not accept payment for their work, this event provides nominators with the opportunity to recognize outstanding contributions made by the winners. We have with us here today 15 nominators and their families, who have come here mostly from overseas specifically to honor recipients. As I call their names, I would like them to stand up. Please hold your applause until the end.

  • Gerhard Buck was nominated by John Lowens of Long Island, NY. For the past decade John has done an outstanding job as moderator of the German Jewish Genealogy discussion group on the internet. They are cosponsors of this event.
  • Johanna Rau is represented here by Randee & Michael Kelley of Las Vegas, NV, Judith Halberstadt from Israel, and Morton & Joan David from Ardsley, NY
  • Helmut Urbschat & Manfred Kluge and their Mendel Grundmann Society are being represented here by Susan & Leonard Alterman of Jacksonville, FL
  • Here on behalf of Charlotte Mayenberger are George Arnstein, Hans Hirsch & his daughter, Cantor Naomi Hirsch all from Washington, DC. It is a special honor to have the Hirsch's here. Hans Hirsch's father, Dr. Otto Hirsch was the chairman of the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden, or the National Organization of German Jewry, from 1933 to 1941. He was responsible for enabling the emigration of tens of thousands of German Jews. In 1941 he died in the Mauthausen concentration camp.
  • Fritz Reuter is being honored by the presence of Mr. & Mrs. Eric Mayer of New York City, Marga Dieter of Brookline, MA, Stella Schindler-Siegreich of Worms, Germany and the Buergermeister of Worms, Michael Kissel. Another person who is honoring Dr. Reuter with a letter because she is obviously too busy on other matters to be here is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Bill and Hillary first got to know Fritz Reuter when they visited Worms when Bill was governor of Arkansas. The letter reads:

    Dear Dr. Reuter,

    It is a great pleasure to congratulate you on being awarded the prestigious "Obermayer German Jewish History Award" at the plenary chamber of the Bundestag.

    It is fitting that you are being honored for your life-long work as a historian, archivist and writer to preserve Jewish history. You have tirelessly dedicated your work to the study of Jewish life in Worms and the German Republic.

    Your contributions are vast in its scope and immeasurable in its enrichment of German culture. I commend you for your steadfast commitment and meticulous attention in writing outstanding scholarly works that document Jewish history and its rich heritage and rebirth in the German Federal Republic. Your incredible achievements shed light on the Jewish community's important contributions to German life and help foster an appreciation and understanding for future generations.

    Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition! It is wonderful that you are being honored for your instrumental and significant efforts to preserve Jewish history.

    With best wishes, I am

    Sincerely yours,
    Hillary Rodham Clinton
    United States Senator

The idea for these awards arose ten years ago when my wife and I took a genealogical trip through Germany. All four of my grandparents were born in Germany and came to the U.S. in the 19th century. In every community visited, we found marvelous, caring individuals who had voluntarily devoted significant parts of their lives to uncovering and preserving their local Jewish history. When I returned to the United States after that genealogical trip, I mentioned my experience to many other Jews of German descent. Almost all of us had had similar experiences throughout your country. I felt that such dedicated individuals deserved appropriate recognition and initiated these awards in the year 2000

These awards have three principal objectives. I am gratified to recognize that all of them have been reached, far beyond my expectations. The first is to honor Germans who had done such extraordinary work on a volunteer basis to preserve the Jewish history and heritage of their own local communities. This is the immediate purpose of this evening's event.

The second is to have their good works recognized by their families, their communities, and their country. I am pleased to see the family members and friends here tonight. We hope there will be good media coverage of this event, not only in Berlin but also in your local communities.

The third is to demonstrate to Jews throughout the world that Germany today is very, very different from the Germany of Hitler's era. Most Germans, even those that are not active in preserving their Jewish history, have taken difficult and painful steps to recognize and respond constructively to their country's horrible past. Holocaust books, lectures and movies are more widely seen here than in any other nation, and Holocaust education is part of the curriculum for every student. Unfortunately, the foreign news media focuses on the isolated neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic activities in Germany and not on the 99+% of positive responses to Jewish issues It is an area of high sensitivity and legitimate concern. It is high time that the world appreciate Germans for the values they have today.

A lot has gone on in Germany since my four grandparents left here. At that time, they left primarily because they saw America as the land of opportunity. Then, Germans were considered among the most cultured, highly educated, enlightened and well disciplined people in the world, but it only took one charismatic but unprincipled leader to get his followers to take his country down a horrible path from which they are still trying to recover emotionally after more than 60 years. But Germany learned its lesson and frequently sets an example for the rest of the world. They recognize the danger signs and avoid the actions that can lead to military adventurism, a totalitarian government and the abrogation of the fundamental rights of people everywhere. Although Germany still has its problems, most Germans today show a tolerance for others and a respect for foreigners that is too often absent in the U.S. It is a new Germany, but for many Americans and Jews in particular, the prejudice remains. They have difficulty getting beyond the past with the horrors of the Holocaust. They do not realize what Germany has learned from its history. Germans truly live by it when they say "never again".