For many years now, we have been gathering here in this place to commemorate the Soviet prisoners of war murdered by the SS during the period 1941/42. More than 4,500 of them were killed here – soldiers who had been defending their homeland against the fascist aggressor. Without the efforts of the Soviet people and of the Red Army, the Allies would have found it difficult to prevail over the German armed forces. The prisoners subsequently liberated from the concentration camps, ghettos and the POW camps might not have survived.
The extermination camps at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and elsewhere would have continued their "programme of work" until the entire Jewish race had been wiped out.
The reign of terror in the German Reich and the occupied territories would have continued. The federal constitution as we now know it would never have come into existence.
How important is it to commemorate all of this today?
We know: Immediately after power was transferred to the Nazis in 1933, they began putting into effect the anti-Semitism they had espoused in the Weimar Republic. Jewish citizens were attacked, and Jewish businesses were boycotted and destroyed. Regulations and laws were enacted that increasingly excluded us Jews (more than any other group) from society.
Democratically elected representatives – first the Communists and then the Social Democrats – were dismissed from office and their parties were banned. As political opponents, they were arrested, frequently tortured and sent to prison or to one of the newly built concentration camps. Steps were taken to build up the German army in preparation for war.
The Nazis were able to push these measures through not only as a result of their campaign of terror against the socialist movement but also because they were increasingly successful in inculcating the majority of the German population with their inhuman ideology of anti-communism, racism and the inherent superiority of the master race.
In their propaganda against the "Jewish-Bolshevik menace", the Nazi regime and their helpers had created the spectre of an internal and external enemy, which not only justified but also demanded a policy of merciless extermination. It is this dehumanising ideology and its concomitant strategy of violence that is so dangerous. It can become so firmly rooted in the mind that it robs people of their critical faculties and of the will to resist. They become spectators, yes-men and ultimately accomplices.
After the liberation of Germany and the founding of the Federal Republic, relatively little was done to combat this ideology. On the contrary: As we have recently discovered in connection with the investigation against 50 surviving former guards at Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp which has encountered delaying tactics for more than half a century, "the prosecution of Nazi criminals at that time could not have carried majority opinion". Up to two-thirds of civil servants employed by the federal government had previously worked for the Nazi authorities, which meant that even the intelligence unit in Ludwigsburg could not share its findings with the "normal investigative channels". This is all well known to the current ruling elite, both in parliament and in the civil service.
So how can it be possible: that neo-Nazi and other racist movements can spread their misanthropic ideology at demonstrations and rallies virtually unhindered, while organisations and individuals who oppose them are put under surveillance and demonised as left-wing extremists and enemies of the constitution? that the federal government refuses to sign up to the ban on the NPD imposed by the regional governments – a move that would send out a clear signal? that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has totally failed in the prosecution and prevention of crimes by neo-Nazis, and has promoted the development of Nazi-like structures by funding and other means? that the majority of applications by asylum seekers are rejected, and if they manage to arrive here at all, they have to live under such inhumane conditions? How is it possible that politicians so often express the same sort of racist views against people who seek protection and justice here as was customary all those years ago?
It is absolutely beyond my comprehension that the judiciary has halted proceedings against those war criminals who murdered 560 people at Sant Anna in Italy in 1944. You don't need to be a student of Nazi crimes to recognise, oppose and condemn the same behaviour as such in our own times. But the knowledge and our experience of where anti-communism, anti-Semitism and any form of racism or warmongering will lead shows how vital it is to defend against these influences.
And so we have to keep returning to this place where such appalling Nazi crimes were committed to complain that the role played by the Soviet Union and by the Red Army in the defeat of fascism hardly features in the collective memory of Bavaria or of the Federal Republic.
As ever, it is anti-communism which gets in the way of an objective, worthy and historically accurate account of history.
This also means that the federal government still refuses to accord the few surviving former Soviet prisoners of war a humanitarian gesture in recognition of Nazi injustice.
27 million Soviet citizens lost their lives as a consequence of the war of annihilation waged by the Nazi regime. Starvation of civilians and prisoners of war was a deliberate part of the overall planning.
Of 5.7 million Soviet prisoners of war, 3.3 million fell victim to the racist ideology that underpinned the Nazi tyranny.
An appeal was issued by the KONTAKTE organisation on the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism (27th January 2013) which bears the signatures of some prominent figures. One of the points this document makes is as follows:
"These so-called Russian camps were death camps. The conditions for prisoners were at times even harsher than in concentration camps. Why is this fact ignored?
We call on the federal government to no longer disregard former Soviet prisoners of war and to make a gesture of atonement."
In an article published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 25th April, the question is asked: "Why is there no memorial to Soviet prisoners of war in Germany?"