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.
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".