Anlässlich des Internationalen Holocaust-Gedenktages am 27. Januar 2019 empfing der israelische Präsident Reuven Rivlin die aktuelle Generation von ASF-Freiwilligen in Israel sowie die deutsche Botschafterin, Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer. Zu diesem Anlass hielten die Freiwilligen Annika und Daniela eine Rede, die Sie hier im Wortlaut nachlesen können (auf Englisch).
His Excellency, Mr. President Reuven Rivlin,
Honorable madam Ambassador of the state of Germany, Frau Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer,
Dear friends of Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedendinste – Ot Hakapara Vehashalom in Israel,
“We Germans started the Second World War and for this reason alone, more than others, became guilty of causing immeasurable suffering to humankind. Germans have in sinful revolt against the will of God exterminated millions of Jews. Those of us who survived and did not want this to happen did not do enough to prevent it”.
This quote, taken from Lothar Kreyssig appeals in 1958, was an acknowledgment of the Germans’ guilt for Nazi crimes. An appeal leading to the founding of Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedendienste, or in Hebrew אות הכפרה והשלום.
He understood that atonement can be gained only through an honest and painful confrontation with the past.
Kreyssig didn’t just ask to confront the past by learning and talking about it, he called for action. He was pleased that “the other nations, who suffered because of us, will allow us with our hands and with our means to do something good in their countries”.
In 1958 Germany, it was not a common voice. Most of the Germans preferred to leave the past behind and just wanted to continue with their life.
Confronting history, acknowledging responsibility and taking action is what Ot HaKapara Vehashalom stands for. Taking action towards atonement among the Israeli society was one of the aims of the newly established organization, but at the beginning the suspicion towards the Germans was too high, and it took us 4 years to find the first partner who was willing to accept German volunteers.
And so, in 1961, 4 years before the establishment of Diplomatic Relationships between Israel and Germany, the first group of volunteers arrived in Israel to work in Kibbutz Urim. First steps in the path of building bridges between People. This path was opened thanks to people like Yehuda Bacon, Marianne Karmon and Tamar Landau, sitting here among us today, who were willing to accept the reached hand - to tell the volunteers their story during the Nazi regime. But not only that, they also opened their hearts, listened to the volunteers, being interested in their motivations and actions.
For me, the meetings with the survivors are much more than talking with a Witness. It is about getting to know each other, it’s about the person, drinking coffee, talking about the daily live and becoming friends.
We volunteers are coming to Israel in order to get in touch with the people who live here. To get to know the Israeli reality in a better way. Together with the friendships we build with the survivors we visit, this aim is answered also thanks to “Jedidei Ot Hakapara Vehashalom BeIsrael”. The members of the Israeli friend circle, chaired by Ayala Lavi, who is sitting here with us, accompanies us throughout our volunteering year and they become a second family for many of us.
We work in different parts of the Israeli society, visiting survivors of the Shoah, helping to preserve and convey history like in Yad Vashem, we work with kids and people with special needs and we work with underprivileged groups in the society.
With those actions we are taking a stand against Nazi Ideologies, racism and Anti-Semitism. It gives us hope to know that since 1995 it is possible also for Israelis to come to Germany as Ot Hakapara volunteers and raise this voice together.
What Lothar Kreyssig demanded already 1958, has finally became majority view when the former German president, Richard von Weizsäcker, pointed out 1985 thet:
“lt is not a case of coming to terms with the past. That is not possible. It cannot be subsequently modified or made undone.
However, anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection. (…)
In our country, a new generation has grown up to assume political responsibility. Our young people are not responsible for what happened over forty years ago. But they are responsible for the historical consequences.”
Meanwhile 74 years have past, since Auschwitz was liberated. And I want to tell you what I understand as my generations responsibility:
Annika talked about the new friends we gain.
When I was sitting together with one of the women I visit she showed me her old photos, from her childhood years in Germany. One was a picture of her best friend.
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“Well you know the Germans took her and her family to Auschwitz…” she answered, and added, “But we were Germans too…”.
Nazi ideology deprived people from their identity, dignity, life.
Nowadays I wonder: Will Jews ever again can see Germany as their homeland?
How can we ensure that they will be able to live their life without any fear?
We volunteers, are becoming the witnesses of the last witnesses. It is our task to keep their memory alive. It is our task to prevent history from repeating itself.
Mr. President, inviting us volunteers to your house on the 27th of January, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration and Death camp, is a meaningful tribute for us. It shows that we – Young and old, German and Israelis - can remember together.
We, the volunteers, hope that our actions will reach as many people as possible. We hope that 74 years after the fall of the Nazi regime, we will increase our cooperation confronting the past, acting to create a better, more tolerate peaceful world.
For me/us as young volunteer/s of Ot Hakapara, atonement is an act of Tikun Olam.
ASF-Freiwillige in Israel arbeiten in Projekten der historisch-politischen Bildung, in der offenen Altenarbeit und Seniorenheimen, mit Menschen mit Behinderungen und sozial benachteiligten Menschen. Hier können Sie einen Überblick über die Projekte gewinnen.
Präsident Reuven Rivlin mit den ASF-Freiwilligen, dem Landesbeauftragten Guy Band und Ingrid Einat Lavie sowie Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer. Foto: Haim Zach (GPO)