Opening speech at the Panel Discussion “Universal and Educational Lessons from the Holocaust”, Nanyang Technological University Singapore, 27 January 2021


Dean Prof. Liow,
Distinguished panelists,
Representatives of the Jewish Congregation in Singapore,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today 76 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. By then, Auschwitz had become the largest of the killing centers of the Nazi regime. Of the approximately 1.3 million people who were deported to Auschwitz - most of them Jewish people - 1 million were murdered or died there.

The United Nations General Assembly has named 27 January the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The International Day is an opportunity to reach to the public to commemorate the victims and their legacy.

It is also an opportunity to alert young people around the world about the

danger of racist and fanatic ideologies targeted against ethnic or religious groups.

This is also the reason why we have come together here today. Thank you for joining us here in the Auditorium or via live-stream.

The Holocaust refers to the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its colaborators. And this also must be said: The perpetrators were human beings. They were Germans! The worst crime in the history of humanity, it was committed by my countrymen. This heavy, historical burden of guilt brings about a responsibility that does not expire. There remains only one answer: ‚Never again! Nie wieder!’

From the horror of Auschwitz, the world learned lessons. The nations of the world built an order of peace, founded upon human rights and international law. Germany is committed to this order and determined to defend it, together with people across the globe and including Singapore. Germans are humbled and grateful that, today, once again some 200,000 Jews are part of German society. But sometimes it seems as though we understand the past better than the present. Of course, our time is a different time. The words used or the perpetrators’ deeds are not the same. But it is the same evil. This is why commemorating the Holocaust also brings about a call to action in the present.

The Holocaust is a shared heritage of humanity. Studying the history of this genocide means taking responsibility for the future. Teaching and learning about the Holocaust provides an opportunity to inspire critical thinking as well as societal awareness - elements needed to build true global citizenship. In a global context we can learn to welcome and appreciate differences and diversity on the basis of respect and tolerance.

Let me highlight just one year-long-initiative, kicked of this week during the German Chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance: Together with the European Commission, the United Nations and UNESCO, the global campaign ‚Protect the Facts‘ was launched. This year-long initiative seeks to raise awareness of the importance of recognising and countering Holocaust distortion among policymakers, Holocaust-related institutions, civil society and the general public. This campaign highlights what remains essential: Society must not stay silent when its very fundamentals are under attack – be it truth, or democratic institutions. These are global challenges.

Countering them requires as much an international response as on the spot. Everyone can and should help build bulwarks against Holocaust denial, intolerance and hatred.

Let me thank those who have helped us and contributed to make today’s event possible:

  • above all the panelists for taking their time to join the discussion today
  • the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences of NTU, particularly Dean Prof. Liow who is going to moderate the session,
  • the German Language Department of the Centre of Modern Languages,
  • the group of musicians and everyone else who has been working behind the scenes,
  • and, of course, our colleagues and friends from the Israeli Embassy in Singapore.

    Now, I am looking forward to an inspiring discussion, which will hopefully leave us all thinking far beyond today’s event.

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