Address by the President of the Berlin Parliament,
Walter Momper,
at the presentation
of the Obermayer German Jewish History Awards
on January 23, 2008, at 6:00 p.m. in the Plenary Hall

In the name of the Berlin Parliament, I would like to welcome you most cordially to the presentation of the German Jewish History Awards by the Obermayer Foundation. Mr. Obermayer, you and your foundation are presenting this unique and singular award for the eighth time this year, and I am pleased that you have chosen Berlin and the Abgeordnetenhaus as the site for the presentation of this award again this year.

Berlin is both honoured and grateful that you have come to this very city, the place where - as we may never forget - the crimes of the National Socialists began.

Today's six prize winners are receiving this high accolade for outstanding contributions to the documentation of Jewish history and Jewish culture in Germany. The awards are presented every year in connection with Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th.

January 27th is a day of remembrance, and not only in Germany. All over the world, on this day, people are called upon to remember the unprecedented genocide to which six million Jews and many other victims of Nazi racial fanaticism fell prey. The Auschwitz concentration camp, which Soviet troops liberated on January 27, 1945, became the symbol of the Nazi machinery of extermination.

The Nazis denied Jews the right to live. The monstrous plan to systematically murder the Jewish population of Germany, indeed of Europe, was not framed by criminals released from jail or the likes. No, it was perfectly normal people, with perfectly normal professions, who became the perpetrators and implemented this plan with unparalleled inhumanity. The transports to Auschwitz came from all over Europe.

62 years after the almost total annihilation of German Judaism, we see vital Jewish communities all over Germany and especially in Berlin. Germany's Jewish community is now one of the largest in Europe.

I regard the fact that today so many Jews live in Germany and consider Germany to be their home as a very special sign of confidence.

The German people has learned from history and assumed responsibility for the past. We are aware that it is our duty to call to mind again and again the fact that the Holocaust as a European catastrophe was initiated here.

The memorial day on January 27th is an incentive for us to look for appropriate forms of remembrance each year. We have no need for time-worn rituals! The culture of remembrance must also be pursued in company with a critical confrontation with the present.

In Germany, also here in Berlin, right-wing extremism is being displayed more and more openly by a small group in our society. However, these disquieting incidents must not distract from the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population in Germany opposes racism and anti-Semitism.

The Parliament in Berlin has found its own way of remembering the Holocaust: Every year, we invite young people in Berlin to attend our youth project denk!mal. At a major event on January 28 at the Abgeordnetenhaus, and for a week following that date, the young people have an opportunity to demonstrate and exhibit the projects involving remembrance and lived tolerance they have developed in the past months.

I am proud of these young people. They grapple with the past, with much thought and a sense of responsibility, and they ferret out the current forms of anti-Semitism, fanaticism and racism. Countless youth initiatives in Berlin attempt to reconstruct the traces of Jewish life before 1945 and, in their own way, to preserve the memory of the Jewish culture and Jewish people.

75 years after Hitler's seizure of power, a many-faceted Jewish life again exists in Berlin. More than 25,000 Jews live in our city. These include the many immigrants from Eastern Europe. Of course, Jewish life in our city today cannot be compared with that of the Weimar Republic or the 19th century. But our city offers everything that is necessary for Jewish life: synagogue and school, kosher rolls, and Jewish theatre.

The Jewish community and Jews in Germany and in Berlin have again become a perfectly natural part of our society. That is a good feeling.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Obermayer, I am pleased that you have come to Berlin again and extend my congratulations to the prize winners of the Obermayer Foundation.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks not only to you and your foundation, however, but also to the jury and to the many people who made this event possible to begin with.