Speech at Yad VaShem, April 2000
An evening dedicated to my book, Crossing the River, April 10, 2000
Let me begin with a few words of thanks from the bottom of my much-moved heart: first to the organizers of this event, the people at Yad VaShem;
…and already at the start I would like to point out, with wonder, how the world turns—the first of several such marvels that I will certainly mention before the evening is out. In March 1946, during the sixth journey that I describe in my book, I came to Munich, there meeting my father, Israel Kaplan—a teacher, writer, and historian, who was occupied with gathering testimony from survivors and publishing a journal, “Von Letsten Churban.” This material, collected under the auspices of the Historical Committee for the Central Committee of Holocaust Survivors (Sha’arit Hapleita), is now an honored and vital section in Yad VaShem’s archives. The archives also hold songs from the Kovno ghetto, which I brought with me then and gave to my father. And now, here I am, honored to be a guest of Yad VaShem in Jerusalem…
And a word of deepest thanks to my audience of acquaintances and friends who have troubled themselves to gather here from all over the city and country on behalf of my book and me. It is an honor unlike any other; it moves me deeply. And I would especially like to embrace, from where I stand but warmly, my friends from the Kovno ghetto, full partners in the chapters of my book. Your presence here is of special importance for me, showing that in writing what I wrote, I told a little of your story, too. No reward is greater than this. Bless you all for coming.
When the survivor emerges from the abyss—he finds himself alive, his life forever changed. He may not know it yet; perhaps he lacks for the moment the means to grasp the full import of his rebirth, even if it happens to him at an age when he is fully aware.
The meaning of survival comes together for him slowly, in different guises. At first in terms of physical survival — better food, clothing, shelter, a certain degree of freedom to move, and most important of all—removal of the constant threat against one’s physical existence, which underlies all the rest.
Together with this, and later, there is survival of the soul—restitution of the bond with the society in which one lives, locating and becoming reunited with near and dear ones, giving freedom to one’s longings for family members who may be alive here and there. And following all these, yet rising up together with them, an enormous pain engulfs one, deep and lasting, for the dear ones, family and friends, most of whom have disappeared, who are no more and will never return. It is a pain that gathers through the years and strengthens itself, like a mollusk in a conch shell, in an everlasting longing—extended, chronic, never to cease.
And the sense of miracle—the inexplicable wonder that will die only when we do—how is it that I was saved at all, how easily it could have been otherwise. The cold, spine-tingling calculation of the rate of survival—perhaps three in one hundred or even less—why then me of all people, why not the others who were with me? By the tens and hundreds come crowding the situations and scenes where a hair’s breadth of difference lay between life and death, a weak thin line that somehow staved off immediate destruction. And as the years pass, you attribute more and more of the life you are privileged to lead to that slender thread, and the miracle grows ever larger, ever more powerful.
And there is more, together with all this: remembering. A large and complex burden which you shoulder now and forever more, like it or not; it is with you whether you will it or no. It grows ever larger with the years, and heavier; it is a silent partner in all your future deeds, like a shadow you cannot part with.
Some suppress this burden—or seem to; some forget it—or seem to; and some toss it into the air at every opportunity like a juggler with a hot potato—unable to hold it, but equally unable to be rid of it. No matter what, from this point onward, a considerable portion of a person’s energy is consumed in constantly dealing with this many-tentacled octopus of remembering and memories.
And one familiar sign of this octopus-like reality is seen in dates. The year swarms with dates. The milestone dates of the first year, the second, third, and fourth years, all of them crowding into the calendar through the advancing years, one after the other, one atop the other, and there is neither relief nor release from them, as if they marked the granting of the Torah on Mount Sinai, Yom Kippur, or the Ninth of Ab.
It is enough to wake up in the morning and ask oneself, what day is today? Ah, on this day such and such a thing happened.
Nor does it matter that 55 or 60 years have passed since the event. Here we are, meeting on April 10. Why, in just two days, on the 12th of April, I am about to cross the river.
And only two weeks have gone by, for the 56th time—and there hasn’t been a year when it escaped me—since the most horrific Aktion of any I have lived through, the Aktion against children on March 27 and 28. Their voices echo still within me and around me no matter where I go. No part of the book was harder for me to put down on paper than the one describing the spring of 1944. The repeated attempts I made to write about it were, for me, small Aktions in themselves, so much so that I reached a point of exhaustion and weakness where, with a certain literary irresponsibility, I closed the subject by writing, “And I feel that I shall never finish this chapter.” Truth be told, [at first] I ended several chapters of the book this way.
But let me try to balance this picture—in the same month of April, April 26th, several years later, the ship Champollion (and what a fabulous and splendid name that is for a grand ship, one weighing 18,000 tons) reached the port of Haifa, with me on deck. This, too, is told in the book.
And so we walk about, we survivors, our bodies filled to the brim with memories, associations, and dreams without end. And from time to time the oppressive question returns—who to tell, and how? Who still wants to hear? How to pass it on? So complex and painful are these questions that the individual succumbs to what seems to be the easiest immediate solution—to be silent.
So this is the many-dimensioned, multi-layered result of survival, with all its various meanings for me, to this very day—a long and intricate wake that will apparently stay [with me] forever. I call it the “long, 50-year-old shadow.”
It is the nature of a shadow never to let go. It finds expression in the course your life takes, in the setting up of your home and family, in the raising of your children and children’s children, in all your walks and ways, your preferences, your sacrifices, at all times and in all places.
And still the great question returns, this demanding question that never lets up: what have we done with the second chance we were given? Does our life justify this great, this infinite privilege granted us, that of remaining alive?
Much remains hidden from sight, whispering and insistent. It cannot be ignored. It is important that society be aware of the presence of these difficulties. I feel that they have not found expression, nor received enough attention over the years, not in the literature and not in public discussion.
In my book I mention a fictional movie I saw in which an alien baby lands on the earth inside a capsule made of a special metal. A farmer finds him, takes him home, and raises him as his own child, but the hands of the child grasp a piece of the same metal that comes from out of this world. The scrap is in his pocket always, attesting to his special identity. Thus are we, we surviving children, who, unlike 97% of our friends, came back and were launched into the world where we now live. We carry within us something that sets us forever apart from those around us. This something, moreover, is even in some measure an inheritance, to our sorrow, for our children. Even if you try—try very hard—to “be like everyone else”—you will never again be “like them,” in spite of all your efforts.
For one does try hard, and one’s efforts are many—but at any given moment, each one of us is, in fact, a kind of secret agent, living a double life in the full sense of the word. There is the outward life, the normal one seen in the office, on the street, in the family; the other life is hidden deep under seven seals; you do your best to look upon it only in the dark of night, making it as little a part of you as possible, for the sake of your sanity and the ability to carry on.
In my own case, it was only after 30 years of silence and dedication to building a career, raising a family, and running after every lofty ideal of those days (the kibbutz, settling the country, taking a typically Israeli name, cultivating the desert, and others) that I began to discern the nature of the piece of metal in my hand—how it wounds, and burns, and cuts. It was only then that I decided—and I owe deep gratitude to those who encouraged and supported me in those attempts, most of all to my wife Miriam—to take apart that agonizing scrap, to turn it into separate details and scenes so that I could perhaps live with them and find them, perhaps, not dangerous to touch. It was a long and painful process, and it took more than twenty years. The result is before you.
It may seem that I told my own story, that I saved my own soul. But I want to encourage other “children” like myself. Each of them, by virtue of being saved, has his own tale—for else he would not be with us. And I want other “children” to learn from my story—to express themselves, to tell, to write. To stop being silent. In this connection, a word to Yad VaShem—along with all the honorable and important goals that you struggle for—I find missing one more venue in your institution, a unit that would aid and encourage survivors to write down their memories. Not only to erect a memorial, not only to record and document witnesses, but also to extend a hand to those who hesitate, who grope in the dark looking for help writing the first draft; to prepare them for the enterprise of writing, even if the result is not at first intended for publication. First and foremost, help them write. (For after all, the number of those in need of such aid, in the way of the world, is dwindling and disappearing, which calls for haste…). And every additional personal testimony is an additional weight on the scale against the evil of those who deny the Holocaust in various ways; and after all, the command “you shall tell your son ” is doubly urgent.
I wish to close here with a few lines from my book (page 95), where I an my friend Ruti, a baby born in Tel Aviv who was thrown in with us in the ghetto and emerged thence without parents and almost without an identity. We went to the Museum of the Diaspora to comb through the collection of photographs by Kadish, a unique man thanks to whom we have much visual documentation from the ghetto:
In silence we leafed through the albums that they brought to us; taking us back in time as through a tunnel – dozens and dozens of photographs from the ghetto. In entrances, on the way to work, seated at table, or in cultural assemblies, so many faces—smiling faces, faces shedding light, eyes bright and trusting; people I didn’t know in the ghetto looked out at us with piercing gazes, like the matrons in the paintings by Yossl Bregner. Ostensibly strangers to me, nevertheless I felt immensely close to them. […]
But no, neither of us found anyone we knew there. […] The collection of photographs we left behind us like a stack of unidentified bodies, and they call after us, don’t leave us alone; call us by name.
This is what I have tried, in some small measure, to do.
An address in Berlin. 10.5 16
Shalom Eilati, a child survivor of ghetto Kovno, Lithuania, presents in Berlin the German edition of his literary autobiography “Crossing The River”(*)
To all the good people that are summoned here to celebrate the birth of my book – my deepest gratitude.
My gratitude for the warm and generous words by the respected Prof. Monika Grütters, Minister of Cultural Affairs and Media. Her words are more meaningful for me than I can express; Similarly the Lithuanian message ( it appears as a foreword in my book), is similarly significant, a country that caused so much harm to my people, but also includes noble and most brave individuals like the six women and men, Righteous among the Nations, to whom I owe my life.
Thank you all and be blessed.
I try to look back on my life’s path, and am unable to comprehend it. I, the tiny random splinter, a chased lonely Jewish child of 8 to 11 years of age of ghetto Kovno, one of the two survivors of our 27 members of the family in Lithuania, one of the 250 surviving children of the 5,000 children that entered the ghetto, who passed so many whirlpools, deadly bottlenecks, stand here, in Berlin, recalling the past source of evil and death, on a day after the 71st Victory Day, and present my memoir in the German language.
I say in my book;
“…One could look at what happened in terms of energy: a mighty evil invested tremendous energy in a system to produce death, conflagration, and slaughter, and left behind survivors with crippled souls and distress for them and their children, unto the third and even the fourth generation. So great was the destructive energy concentrated there”.
I was dragged by Tyche or Fortuna, and found myself at last inconceivably, on the shore of life.
My attitude to Germans and Germany is complicated. My mother was born and raised in Kurland – a North Western corner of Lithuania, that was under German cultural influence. During WW I she finished a German oriented public school. She liked literature and poetry from her younger days. She read to me about the frightening Erl Kȍnig, (Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind) and sang with pleasure fragments from the opera Faust.
In the cinema we enjoyed the legends of the Brothers Grimm. ” Zieglein, Zieglein, bist du satt? – ich bin so satt, ich mag kein Blatt!« Later in the ghetto I sometimes dreamed to possess the magic Tischlein , Tischlein deck dich!…
But one day, on the 22nd June 1941 , all that was destroyed. German troops marched into our city, singing their military hymns. Oh Li la lo la la…and everything collapsed totally.
Once in the ghetto mother came back from her daily toil of cutting trees, with a rare shining face.” I had a word with our older guardian” – she told – “and we found much in common. At the end we found ourselves singing together “Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum, wie grün sind deine Blätter”.
My other memories about German and Germans are sadder. The Big Aktion in our ghetto in autumn 1941, that consisted in sending of a third of it – ten thousand children, men and women to their death – was regulated by two simple German words: Links – Rechts, Links Rechts…
The daily routine of the ghetto enriched our vocabulary. We, the children of the ghetto – 5,000 in the beginning and only 250 after the liberation – we got another kind of linguistic lessons. Please excuse me for the following several expressions of vulgarity.
Achtung; Raus; Donnerwetter; Verfluchter Jude; et cetera
But an extraordinary German lesson I did receive during the first day of the most dreadful of my ghetto experiences – the Kinder Aktion. I was temporarily rescued in the dark cellar where I lay hidden under a laundry vessel. Luckily, the hunters had entered without a flashlight. When some divine garbage fell on their heads they gave up their search by using an expression so vulgar that I prefer not to repeat it. You can read it in my book.
At the same time my father was incarcerated in the worst KZ lagers of Latvia (Kaiserwald) and ended , at the age of 42, as a “Musselman” weighing only 30 kg, in the Lager of Dachau. In his diary he describes the euphoria that gripped the half dead people around him during the first night after salvation. People were hysterical. They wept , laughed, prayed. Some began to sing the “International” or “Hatikvah”. At last, in bed after the lights went out, some people began to express their hyper-emotions by shouting mockingly the daily commands and curses of their persecutors:
Gong; Aufstehen ! Kaffee holen ! Antreten! Schneller In die Reihe !
Block 1,2 , Mützen ab ! Mützen auf ! Stillgestanden !!
Kommandos antreten ! Haver-Bau! Holzmann! Zammer-keller! Moll Nachtschicht !!
Links, zwoh, drei, vier ! Arschloch – Bewegung ! Zoo-Bande – Schneller, Kurzschritt vornehmen !
My mother’s perfect German helped her sometimes during Aktions. Several times it worked, but not always. On the last night of the clearing of the ghetto, she apparently decided not to join the evacuation to Germany, but to try to remain in a hidden bunker. When the explosions began, she may have approached one of the many guards, and pleaded with him to let her cross the barbed wire fence. She might have tried to explain to him in her excellent German, that she has two little hidden children in the city , beyond the river. Had she the chance to finish her plea, or did a single shot cut short her plea and life forever?
A year ago, at the end of my lecture at the University of Maastricht, a German student asked me what I thought about the present German generation. My answer was not unequivocal. I don’t have anything against the present German generation, which has no part in the awful acts of its people of the past. But when I meet a young German I can’t escape of immediately wondering who had been one of his ancestors. Was it by chance the one that killed my mother at the fence, or shot at the curly head of my little innocent sister of seven? An unsolved question that will always haunt me, will never fade away.
A word about my book. After 30 years in Israel I began to retrieve and write my memories. It took me 20 long traumatic years. A kind of Auto-scripto-therapy. I see myself an unchosen messenger by my youthful friends who did not survive, to tell about the last chapter of their short lives. In Israel my book “Crossing the River” has already gone through 4 consecutive editions, and in the USA two editions. I was inundated by hundreds of telephone calls and personal letters, not mentioning feedbacks on the Amazon. Teachers recommended the inclusion of the book in the syllabi of the middle schools, with the argument that it is a rare report of events, as observed and described through the eyes of a sharp eyed young boy with a remarkable memory. The Education Division of Yad Vashem prepared a series of educational lessons, based on the book, to be used in schools.
And now, the unbelievable paradox, oxymoron – my book of peril, appears in German, in Berlin…..
So, somehow, the ring closes. Could I try again to sing Oh Tannenbaum Oh Tannenbaum or to cite Ver reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Might be. I doubt.
At the end, let me share with you a most [lunatic] fantasy. .
After my escape from the ghetto, crossing the river, noble and brave Lithuanians saved my life. Different was the fate of my young sister Yehudith, almost seven. For 6 months she was sheltered by people. And then, a month before the liberation, they called the Gestapo.
While preparing this talk, suddenly the following thought crossed my mind. Might it have been, that the Gestapo man, instead of taking my schwesterl, almost at the age of seven, to the cellars of the headquarter, and seeing how sweet and cute she is, he put her in a temporary shelter, and on the first occasion he delivered her to his family in the Fatherland. To the frightened child they explained that all the Jews, including her family, disappeared, will never come back. So she grew up as an ordinary German girl. Although she might have recalled something of her dim past, with time it melted away .Having grown up in a devoted warm family, she had never enough motivation to check her earlier memories.
Now, being a grandmother at the age of 79, she might even live somewhere around. Who knows, even in Berlin…
A fantasy that is constantly with me.
(*) Shalom Eilati, Crossing The River, The University of Alabama Press, 2008; 2013
__________, Ans Andere Ufer de Memel, Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten JudenEuropas, Berlin, 2016
Speech of the Minister for Culture Monika Grütters at the presentation and reading of “Crossing theRiver” by Shalom Eilati
10th May, 2016, Berlin
During the reading of Shalon Eilati’s autobiographic novel the German minister for Culture Monika Grütters was especially impressed by the Holocaust survivor’s strength at sharing his memories. “It’s the voices of the witnesses who give the most vivid insight into the effects racial fanaticism of the Nazi regime which are much more powerful than any history textbook or museum could ever be”,says Grütters.
“When a survivor speaks, he speaks from his heart, and this hurts.” These are words by Uri Chanoch, he himself also a Holocaust survivor and at the same time the person to whom you dedicated an acknowledgment in the beginning of your book. I remember my moving encounter with him in January 2015 during a witness discussion here in Berlin, about half a year before his passing. I was deeply moved by his open, kind-hearted presence, his wisdom and vital energy.
But especially the strength of the survivors in talking about the horrors of the Nazi reign of terror is touching and impressive – just like you did, dear Shalom Eilati, in your book called “Crossing the River”. How hurtful it is to find words to describe the unfathomable, how painful it is to carry the weight of all that you went through and suffered – this is something that we, who never had to endure this, can only guess. For example your description of your feelings regarding your father’s silences, his inability to speak in the face of grief and the aftermath of his agonies. I quote:
“He never spoke even one word about my mother and sister; he never mentioned them at all. He never spoke to me about his grief, his yearning for his wife and daughter he had lost. Fifty years passed before Father was able to admit in front of his granddaughter that he was simply not able to mention but the names of his beloved during the Yizkor prayers at Yom Kippur. (…). He struggled to think that I, his son, might believe he had forgotten them, but even talking to me about this was
impossible for him.”
Dear Shalom Eilati, you have nevertheless found the strength to share your memories with us. We thank you with all our hearts, because this is the least we can do for the survivors: To listen to you and not leave you alone with your memories, and to be thankful, because we know that the remembrance of the victims of the Nazi regime can only have a future if the individual is made visible and remains visible behind the horrible, stark balance of the murder of millions.
The open and merciless examination of the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis and the broad social awareness for the responsibilities that derive from it today are part of the hard-won moral characteristics of our country – not least because of the narrations of contemporary witnesses.
“It’s the voices of the witnesses who give the most vivid insight into the consequences of the Nazi racial fanaticism and the atrocious excesses of a totalitarian State – insights that are much more powerful than any history textbook or museum display.
It’s the voices of the witnesses who give names, faces and life stories to the monstrous abstractness of the victim numbers.
It’s especially the voices of the victims who help young people find an answer to the question: What do I have to do with that today?
For these reasons, contemporary witnesses are and have been almost indispensable for political education, especially for the mediation work in memorials to the Nazi terror in Germany. But we all must find a way to face the incredible crimes without their support. Firstly, this means to take all necessary measures to ensure that their voices will never fall silent. The Berlin Holocaust Information Centre has been performing exemplary work for several years, for example with the project “Sprechen trotz allem”. Under this motto the foundation, which is being sponsored by my ministry, has conducted a variety of touching interviews with survivors of National Socialist persecution, among other, with Uri Chanoch – with the aim to provide as many victims as possible with a face again and make their identities visible. I am very grateful to Mr Neumärker and his team for their dedication towards a vivid culture of remembrance.
The federal countries of Germany are united in their efforts to preserve authentic memorials from Nation Socialist times that are also facing enormous challenges because there are ever more people who immigrated to Germany and never experienced the National Socialism as part of their family history. That’s the reason why the memorials today need to find a way to communicate with people of different educational backgrounds and cultural heritages and be able to reach them within their own realities.
Their work is of course being supported by my ministry. Because – and this is what I’m hoping for – those who studied Germany’s national socialist past extensively also see the present with different eyes, are unable to avert their eyes from events that today remind us of the beginnings of antisemitism, racism, atiziganism and racial exclusion which back then led us to war and destruction.
Thank you, dear Shalom Eilati, that we can place trust upon your powerful memories you gifted us with your book.
“It hurt” – these are the words which describe your work. “It hurt to take off old bandages which had long grown together with the flesh. But when the book was finally finished, my body was able to breathe again. All of us are thankful that you did not spare yourself the pain and are able to breathe again today, even here in Berlin, a city you got to know 70 years ago when it was still completely destroyed, Back then you were but a twelve year old boy, and completely alone with all the suffering which you and your family had to endure in Germany’s name. Thank you for being here with us today! I hope your book will find many readers, also young people, who want to listen to the voice of
such an impressive contemporary witness!
Rede von Kulturstaatsministerin Grütters bei Präsentation und
Lesung des Buchs “Am anderen Ufer der Memel – Flucht aus dem
Kownoer Ghetto” des Zeitzeugen Shalom Eilati, 10. Mai 2016, Berlin
Bei der Lesung der Autobiographie Shalom Eilatis zeigte sich Kulturstaatsministerin Grütters beeindruckt von der Kraft des Holocaust-Überlebenden, seine Erinnerungen zu teilen. “Es sind die Stimmen der Zeitzeugen, die die Folgen des nationalsozialistischen Rassenwahns eindringlicher als jedes Geschichtsbuch und jedes Museum vermitteln”, so Grütters.
Zeitzeuge: Shalom Eilati schrieb mehr als 10 Jahre an seiner Biografie.
“Wenn ein Überlebender spricht, dann spricht er von Herzen. Das tut weh.” Diese Worte stammen von Uri Chanoch – auch er ein Holocaust-Überlebender, dem Sie zu Beginn Ihres Buches eine Danksagung gewidmet haben. Ich erinnere mich gut an die bewegende Begegnung mit ihm im Januar 2015 bei einem Zeitzeugengespräch hier in Berlin, etwa ein halbes Jahr vor seinem Tod: Er hat mich mit seiner offenen, warmherzigen Ausstrahlung, seiner Weisheit und seinem unerschütterlichen Lebensmut tief beeindruckt.
Immer wieder bewegend und beeindruckend ist aber vor allem die Kraft der Überlebenden, von den Schrecken der nationalsozialistischen Terrorherrschaft zu erzählen – so wie Sie, lieber Shalom Eilati, in Ihrem Buch “Am anderen Ufer der Memel – Flucht aus dem Kownoer Ghetto”. Wie weh es tut, um Worte für das Unfassbare zu ringen, wie schmerzhaft es ist, die Last des Erlebten und Erlittenen zu tragen, das können wir Nachgeborenen nur erahnen. Zum Beispiel, wenn wir in Ihrem Buch lesen, wie Sie selbst das Schweigen Ihres Vaters empfanden, seine Sprachlosigkeit im Bann der Trauer und der durchlittenen Qualen. Ich zitiere:
“[Ü]ber Mutter und meine Schwester sprach er kein einziges Wort, nie erwähnte er sie auch nur. Nie sprach er mit mir über seinen Schmerz, die Sehnsucht nach seiner Frau und seiner Tochter, die er verloren hatte. 50 Jahre vergingen, ehe Vater seiner ältesten Enkelin gegenüber zugab, dass er ganz einfach nicht in der Lage war, auch nur die Namen seiner Lieben beim Yizkorgebet zu Jom Kippur zu nennen (…). Ihm machte der Gedanke zu schaffen, dass ich, sein Sohn, vielleicht glauben könnte, er hätte sie vergessen, doch selbst darüber mit mir zu sprechen, stand nicht in seiner Macht.“
Sie, lieber Shalom Eilati, haben trotz allem die Kraft gefunden, Ihre Erinnerungen mit uns zu teilen. Dafür sind wir von Herzen dankbar: dankbar, weil es das Mindeste ist, was wir für die Überlebenden tun können: Ihnen zuzuhören und Sie
mit Ihren Erinnerungen nicht allein zu lassen; dankbar aber auch, weil wir wissen, dass die Erinnerung an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus nur dann eine Zukunft hat, wenn hinter der schrecklich-nüchternen Bilanz des millionenfachen Mordes der einzelne Mensch sichtbar wird und sichtbar bleibt.
Die offene und schonungslose Auseinandersetzung mit den Menschheits-verbrechen der Nationalsozialisten und das breite gesellschaftliche Bewusstsein für die Verantwortung, die daraus erwächst, gehören heute – auch dank der Schilderungen persönlicher Schicksale durch Zeitzeugen – zu den hart erkämpften, moralischen Errungenschaften unseres Landes.
Es sind die Stimmen der Zeitzeugen, die die Folgen des nationalsozialistischen Rassenwahns und die grauenhaften Auswüchse eines totalitären Staates eindringlicher als jedes Geschichtsbuch und jedes Museum vermitteln.
Es sind die Stimmen der Zeitzeugen, die der monströsen Abstraktheit der Opferzahlen Namen, Gesichter und Lebensgeschichten gegenüber stellen.
Es sind die Stimmen der Zeitzeugen, die gerade jungen Leuten helfen, eine Antwort auf die Frage zu finden: Was geht mich das heute an?
Aus diesen Gründen waren und sind Zeitzeugen auch für die politische Bildung, insbesondere für die Vermittlungsarbeit der Gedenkstätten zum NS-Unrecht in Deutschland beinahe unentbehrlich. Und doch müssen wir einen Weg finden, uns dem Unfassbaren künftig ohne ihre Begleitung zu nähern. Das bedeutet zunächst einmal, Sorge dafür zu tragen, dass ihre Stimmen nicht verstummen. Die Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas leistet hier schon seit Jahren vorbildliche Arbeit, so zum Beispiel mit dem Projekt „Sprechen trotz allem“. Unter diesem Motto hat die von meinem
Haus finanzierte Stiftung für ihr Videoarchiv in der Dauerausstellung eine Vielzahl berührender Interviews mit Überlebenden nationalsozialistischer Verfolgung, darunter auch mit Uri Chanoc, aufgezeichnet – mit dem Ziel, möglichst vielen Opfern wieder ein Gesicht zu geben und ihre Identität sichtbar zu machen. Für Ihr Engagement im Dienste einer lebendigen Erinnerungskultur danke ich Ihnen, lieber Herr Neumärker, und Ihrem Team sehr herzlich.
Authentische Gedenkorte aus der NS-Zeit, um deren Erhalt sich Bund und Länder in Deutschland gemeinsam kümmern, stehen aber auch deshalb vor enormen Herausforderungen, weil es immer mehr Menschen gibt, die – da jung oder nach Deutschland eingewandert – die Verstrickung in den Nationalsozialismus nie als Teil ihrer Familiengeschichte erlebt haben. Die Gedenkstätten müssen deshalb heute eine Sprache finden, mit der sie Menschen unterschiedlicher Herkunft, Bildung und kultureller Prägung ansprechen und in ihrer Lebens- und Erfahrungswelt erreichen können.
Dabei können sie selbstverständlich auf die Unterstützung der Bundesregierung, auf die Unterstützung meines Hauses zählen. Denn – das ist meine, das ist unsere Hoffnung: Wer sich intensiv mit der nationalsozialistischen Vergangenheit Deutschlands beschäftigt, der sieht auch die Gegenwart mit anderen Augen – der schaut nicht weg, wo Antisemitismus, Rassismus, Antiziganismus und Ausgrenzung heute an die Anfänge eines Weges erinnern, der damals in Krieg und Vernichtung geführt hat.
Ich danke Ihnen, lieber Shalom Eilati, dass wir dabei auch auf die Kraft Ihrer Erinnerungen vertrauen können, die Sie uns, den Nachgeborenen, mit Ihrem bewegenden Buch geschenkt haben. “Es tat weh”, schreiben Sie darin über die 20 Jahre, die Sie daran gearbeitet haben, “es tat weh, alte Verbände herunterzunehmen, die längst mit dem Fleisch verwachsen waren. Doch als das Buch schließlich fertig war, konnte mein Körper endlich wieder atmen.” Wir alle sind dankbar, dass Sie den Schmerz nicht gescheut haben und heute wieder atmen können, selbst hier in Berlin, das Sie vor 70 Jahren in Schutt und Asche liegend kennen gelernt haben – als zwölfjähriger Junge, mutterseelenallein mit all dem Leid, das Ihnen und Ihren Lieben in deutschem Namen zugefügt wurde. Danke, dass Sie bei uns sind! Möge Ihr Buch viele interessierte, vor allem auch junge Leserinnen und Leser finden, die der Stimme eines so beeindruckenden Zeitzeugen lauschen!