Speech of the Minister for Culture Monika Grütters at the presentation and reading of “Crossing the River” by Shalom Eilati
Date: 10th May, 2016
During the reading of Shalom 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.
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”.. nevertheless found the strength to
Dear Shalom Eilati, you have shared your memories with us. 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 !