mai 28, 2023

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Allocution du Président de l'Allemagne Fédérale à l'occasion du soulèvement du Ghetto de Varsovie

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
at the central commemorative event marking the
80th anniversary of the beginning of the uprising in the  Warsaw Ghetto
in Warsaw/Poland
on 19 April 2023



[“Farewell, my friends. Farewell, the Jewish people. Never again

allow such a catastrophe.”]

It is difficult to address you today, here where the Warsaw Ghetto

once was. And for this reason I don’t want to begin with my own words,

but rather have one of the heroines of the Ghetto speak, in the language

that was spoken by so many Jews here in Warsaw, in Poland, in Europe.

In the language that Germans wanted to eradicate. The painter Gela

Seksztajn left us this devastating will and testament before she was

deported to Treblinka with her little daughter Margalit.

It is so necessary, yet so difficult to come here as a German and

as Germany’s Federal President. The terrible crimes that Germans

committed here fill me with profound shame. But it also fills me with

gratitude and humility to be able to participate in this commemoration,

as the first German head of state to do so.

President Duda,

Thank you for inviting me to come. It means more than I can say

for me to be here today together with you and your compatriots, to join

in remembrance together with you, President Herzog, together with you,

Marian Turski, Krystyna Budnicka, Elżbieta Ficowska.

Berlin, 19/04/2023

Page 2 of 4

I stand before you today as Germany’s Federal President and bow

down before the brave fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. I bow down before

the dead in grief and sorrow.

“Steely and ruthless, the first cold days sweep away those who are

already living on the street, who have sold all of their clothing and are

weak as autumn flies. The incredible vitality of Warsaw’s Jews is in vain.

They cry out and defend themselves to the end, to the last hour and

minute, but this hour and minute will come.”

Rachel Auerbach, who was herself forced to live in the ghetto,

wrote these lines in her diary. How much pain fills these few sentences.

How much grief. But also, how much composure. Rachel Auerbach knew

that the Jews of Warsaw were lost. It is to her records and those of the

other contributors to the Ringelblum Archive that we owe our knowledge

of the atrocities the Nazis perpetrated here – and the memory of a world

that they obliterated.

“A city is destroyed and a people is destroyed,” wrote Rachel

Auerbach. It is shocking to read of the horror that was suffered by the

people behind the high walls of the ghetto. It is a report straight out of

hell. But it is also deeply moving to read of the strength, the humanity,

the courage that so many people retained. Even love had its place in the

ghetto, as the great Marek Edelman so poignantly recounted.

The young people around Mordechai Anielewicz, Marek Edelman,

Yitzhak Zuckerman and many others, the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto,

showed unimaginable courage in darkest night. They wanted to send a

message: a sign of unshaken dignity in the face of certain death. They

rose up against brutal injustice, against despotism, terror, murder. Their

courage shone out far beyond Warsaw and encouraged others. Their

courage shines out into our present, too.

Rachel Auerbach and Marek Edelman were among the few

survivors of the ghetto. Their whole life long, they saw it as their task to

bear witness. Rachel Auerbach in Israel, Marek Edelman here in Poland.

“We who survived leave this to you, so that the memory […] will not be

lost.” That is their legacy to us: to preserve and pass on this memory.

So that what happened will not happen again, as the great Primo Levi

said. That is the duty that they leave to us. That is the duty that the

POLIN Museum has taken on. To preserve the memory of Jewish life in

Poland and Europe. Jewish life that has flourished once more and will

continue to thrive.

This is why it is so important for us to remember. This is why it is

so important for us Germans to remember. Gela Seksztajn, Rachel

Auerbach, Marek Edelman, Mordechai Anielewicz, Emanuel Ringelblum

– who knows their names in Germany today? Reflecting on the crimes

that the Germans committed here in occupied Poland, here in the

Warsaw Ghetto, deserves a greater space in our memory.

Berlin, 19/04/2023

Page 3 of 4

That is why it is so important to me to be here today. I am here

today to say to you that we Germans are aware of our responsibility,

and we are aware of the duty the survivors and the dead have left to us.

And we accept it. For us Germans, no line can ever be drawn under the

responsibility imposed by our history. It stays with us as a warning and

a duty for both the present and the future.

Germans invaded Poland. They attacked Wieluń on 1 September

1939. It was the beginning of the Second World War – which we

commemorated together in Wieluń and here in Warsaw four years ago.

A war that was to claim the lives of well over 50 million people, including

millions of Poles. A war that, here and in the east of Europe, became a

murderous war of annihilation. A war that led into barbarity.

Germans meticulously planned and carried out the crime against

humanity that was the Shoah.

Germans persecuted, enslaved, murdered Europe’s Jews, the Jews

of Warsaw, with a cruelty and inhumanity for which we have no words.

The fact that the man primarily responsible for the liquidation of the

ghetto, the brutal and cynical butcher Jürgen Stroop, was from the city

where I was born is a historical coincidence, but one which compelled

me repeatedly to consider the hell of the Warsaw Ghetto, the victims

and the diabolical perpetrator and his accomplices. It is also true that

far too few of the other perpetrators were held accountable after the


I stand before you today and ask for your forgiveness for the

crimes committed here by Germans.

President Duda, President Herzog,

Many people in your two countries, in Poland and in Israel, gave

us Germans the gift of reconciliation despite these crimes, despite the

crime against humanity that was the Shoah. What an unspeakably

precious gift that was! A gift that we could not expect and had no right

to expect. It was this gift that made it at all possible for our countries,

Poland and Germany, Israel and Germany, to now be united in deep

friendship. This friendship between our countries is truly a miraculous

achievement! It is miraculous after the unprecedented crimes of the

Germans – and it is the achievement of the generations before us, the

brave, painstaking work of Israelis, Poles and Germans who reached out

to one another across the abyss of the past – for a better future.

Today, 75 years after the State of Israel was founded, almost 60

years after the Polish bishops’ letter, more than 50 years after Willy

Brandt fell to his knees here in this square, almost 40 years after the

first Israeli state visit to Germany, by your father Chaim Herzog, we

stand here, dear Andrzej, dear Bougie, in this historic place, in

remembrance of those who were murdered and in acceptance of our

responsibility for the miraculous achievement of reconciliation. I know

Berlin, 19/04/2023

Page 4 of 4

that all three of us are bound by the same commitment. We must and

we will preserve the miraculous achievement of reconciliation and carry

it forward into the future.

The most important lesson to be learned from our history is: Never

again! Nigdy więcej! !עוד לא לעולם Never again racist fanaticism, never

again unbridled nationalism, never again a barbaric war of aggression.

Never again – this is the basis of our shared Europe. All of us here joining

in remembrance today believe in our shared future and our shared

values: the respect for international law, the peaceful coexistence of all

human beings in freedom and democracy.

With Vladimir Putin’s illegal attack on a peaceful, democratic

neighbouring country, he has made a mockery of these values and

destroyed the foundations of our European security order. The Russian

President has violated international law, called borders into question,

committed land grabs. This war is bringing immeasurable suffering,

violence, destruction and death to the people in Ukraine.

In Poland, in Israel, you know from your history that freedom and

independence must be fought for and defended. You know how

important it is for a democracy to show that it is vigilant and capable of

defending itself.

Yet we Germans, too, have learned the lessons from our past.

Never again: that means that there must be no brutal war of aggression

in Europe like that waged by Russia against Ukraine. Never again: that

means that we stand firmly by the side of Ukraine – together with Poland

and our other allies. We are providing Ukraine with humanitarian,

political and military support – together with Poland and our other allies.

Never again: that means that we, the liberal democracies, are strong

when we act together and in unity.

This is what I mean when I speak of the responsibility imposed by

our history. We Germans will fulfil this responsibility for defending peace

and freedom. And I am convinced that our countries, our liberal

democracies, have grown even closer in the past months. Our friendship

now rests on an even firmer foundation.

Here in this square, by the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto

Uprising, I stand before you in grief and humility. I affirm our

responsibility for the crimes of the past and our responsibility for our

shared future!

Thank you.


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