Speech by President Martin Schulz at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in the European Parliament
Ladies and gentlemen,
Representatives of the Jewish Community in Europe,
Representatives of the Israeli government,
Representatives of the European parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I met with the representatives of the Jewish community in Europe some weeks ago, and when we discussed how to organise a commemoration of the holocaust in the year 2012, it was quite obvious that one date plays a major role; the 20th of January, because the 20th of January 1942 was the day of the so-called Wannsee Conference. 70 years ago, on the 20th of January, in Berlin, Reinhardt Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann and many high-ranking representatives from the ministries of the Hitler regime, decided the so-called 'Endlösung'; the 'final decision'. Difficult to pronounce it: 'End... Lösung'. This was nothing less than a decision by the government of a country to exterminate all Jewish people. We all know that they succeeded in killing 6 million. Men and women, children, old and young people, from all countries in Europe and in the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is an important ceremony in the European parliament. If you will allow me, it is normally not admissible that a representative of an institution speaks in such a moment about himself, but I ask for your understanding if I speak about me and my feelings. I am a German member of the European parliament. I am born after the Second World War. But as a German representative I feel that I have a very specific responsibility, because what happened, and what was decided at the so-called Wannsee Conference was decided in the name of the German people, and I am a representative of the German people. The German people of today are not guilty but responsible. Responsible to keep the memory and to never forget that what happened happened in the name of our nation. For me this means that whoever today is representing the German nation has one first duty: to take into account our responsibility to the Jews in the world today. And therefore, for every German, wherever he is acting, and especially when he has the honour and the privilege of being the president of a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious assembly of representatives for 500 million Europeans, he must never forget that this is an enormous privilege for a German, taking into account the responsibility of our country to chair today such an assembly. Therefore, I speak about myself: my first political goal, my first duty as a German representative is to express here in front of you - and I think I'm speaking on behalf of all German members of the European parliament, and of our national parliaments - never more.
Whatever is happening in the world today; anti-Semitism, action against the existence of the Jewish community, of the state of Israel or whatever, we are the first ones who have to defend our Jewish friends. Therefore I am happy to be here with you, and I a very happy and grateful that you accepted my proposal to invite Justice Bach to address us.
Justice Bach, ladies and gentlemen, told me - if you will allow me Justice Bach to tell this short story - that he was a 10 year old boy when leaving Germany in 1938 with his parents. He said to me "I was kicked-out of the country by an SS officer, who kicked and pushed me in the train where my parents were already, and I was kicked-out literally with the foot of an SS officer from Germany." He then became an attorney of the Israeli state who had the duty to organise and to prepare, and in the end to be the man, together with us, accusing Adolf Eichmann at his trial in Jerusalem 50 years ago. This is proof that justice exists in our world; that a 10 year old German boy, kicked out of the country by a Nazi criminal, in the end became a representative of a democratic country in a fair trial and accused this war criminal. I think how wonderful it is that Justice Bach can address us today. This is a signal that there is always hope and that it is never useless to fight and to believe that justice will always be victorious. Therefore I am grateful that you accepted my proposal to invite him, and you will see: this will be a great moment for all of us today.
Let me conclude - if you will forgive me - with a personal remark. The 20th of January plays a major role in my life. My father was born on the 20th of January, 1912. That means that the day of the Wannsee Conference was my father's 30th birthday. I don't know where he was, I presume in Russia as a member of the German army occupying the former Soviet Union, but I can say today, here in Brussels, in front of you, as a German and the son of a soldier of the army who had the day of the Wannsee Conference as his 30th anniversary, this is a signal. A signal that we are living - that I am living - in a better world and in a world where there is one duty that whatever we should do, whatever we can do, whatever we have as a heritage (I for example from my father), the holocaust was the deepest point, the worst moment in the history of mankind. What we must do today is a thing we did, as a heritage of all of us, a heritage of duty and of responsibility to avoid that my election some days before the 100th birthday of my father was not presided by a man in the European parliament who is a holocaust denier, that the European parliament took the consequence to modify the rules in a democratic parliament avoiding that a holocaust denier could preside over the election of the president of the European parliament. Such symbolic acts we need, wherever and whenever, people are on the scene who are not taking into account that the first duty of democracy in a civilised Europe is to avoid that a single step in the direction of this worst moment in the history of mankind, via anti-Semitism, is possible.
Therefore, thank you very much Justice Bach for being with us. Thank you very much that I have the privilege as the German representative to address you, and my guarantee to you, and I repeat, I am speaking on behalf of all the members from my country here in the European parliament: the holocaust is a permanent duty for all of us to protect human dignity with all our means. Thank you very much.