I.Dachau Concentration Camp: The academy for SS murderers
"As we crossed the track and looked back into the cars, the most horrible sight I have ever seen met my eyes."
These are the words of a deeply shocked First Lieutenant William Cowling in a letter he wrote to his family some time during April 1945. The American soldier is unable make sense of what he is confronted with. The scene that presents itself to him and his comrades on liberating Dachau concentration camp is simply too disturbing and beyond human comprehension.
68 years have passed since that day. And yet this place never fails to reduce us to silence. The sheer incomprehensibility is still too appalling: how could people have been capable of such hatred and such cruelty? Dachau, the first of the concentration camps set up by the Nazis, commenced operations 80 years ago on 22nd March 1933. This was a mere matter of weeks after Hitler had seized power. The Nazis used Dachau to lock up the sort of person who did not fit into their model of society: first the communists and socialists, then the Jews, Sinti, Roma, devout Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals. The Nazi thugs running the Dachau camp regarded anyone with a different outlook as inferior and would murder them in cold blood. Dachau became the model for all later concentration camps, the prototype of the Nazi extermination machine.
At this "academy for SS murderers", tens of thousands of people were humiliated, tortured and killed. And even after the liberation by American troops, the dying was not over: in May 1945 alone, more than 2,000 of the freed prisoners succumbed to the after-effects of their inhumane incarceration. As the co-founder of the International Auschwitz Committee, Hermann Langbein, put it, all of these people lost their lives "for the sole reason that they came into the world as Sinti, Roma or Jews". This is the hardest of indictments, according to Langbein, and one that must never be forgotten. And that is why we are here today:
so that we don't forget, and to keep reminding ourselves. We owe it to the victims. We owe it to our future. II.Thanks to the Comité International de Dachau and to the survivors
Herr Pieter Dietz de Loos, President of the Comité International de Dachau (CID), Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank the Comité International de Dachau with all my heart for your invitation.
It is an honour for me to join with you in commemorating the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp 68 years ago. Ladies and Gentlemen, You witnessed the day of liberation 68 years ago yourselves. You survived the horror. Just how painful it must be for you to return and to remember what happened here, we cannot even begin to imagine. I admire you all the more for your willingness to expose yourself to such agonising memories,
to speak freely about the fate that befell you, and to work to ensure that the young people of today understand why our past must never be repeated.
Ladies and Gentlemen, As witnesses of these events, you are simply irreplaceable for us and for our young people. You have all left your mark – in our record of history and in our hearts. I express my greatest respect and my heartfelt thanks for the magnitude of your spirit.
III."Never again!" – a duty from the past for the future People like you show us the way: for our democracy and our freedom to survive, we need to remember our past. "Never again!" – this is our duty from the past. "Never again!" – this is our duty for the future. And I assure you, we take this duty very seriously. The NSU trial opens in Munich tomorrow. This brutal neo-Nazi murder spree has shocked us all to the core. We look at the crimes that have been committed with embarrassment and disgust.
It is understandable that the reaction in Germany to these monstrous events is primarily an emotional one. And it is absolutely appropriate that this should be so. However, our response must not stop here. We have to follow up on our legitimate feelings of disgust by taking a long hard look at the situation. We need to analyse the current symptoms of right-wing radicalism. We need to explore the causes and investigate the connections.
We need to gather evidence and establish perspectives.
And last but not least, we need to equip our young people even better to resist the radical ideas espoused by extremists – whether from the right or from the left.
We need a young generation who subscribe to our shared values, who are prepared to make a stand, who will say a clear "No!" to racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and any form of violence. The recent attack on this memorial site shows just how important it is to remember the past and to learn democratic values. Not long ago, three plaques commemorating Jewish victims of Nazism were damaged by unknown perpetrators. Whatever their motives may have been, I condemn this shameful act of destruction in the strongest terms.
This cowardly attack shows that our work to keep the memory of the past alive must continue.
Even now, 68 years after the war, we must still make a stand together against all enemies of democracy and seek to nip any recidivism in the bud. In our society, there can be no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism, xenophobia or extremism. This is a message that needs to be drummed into our children. Critical appraisal of our past is the central task to be performed by schools, youth work and adult education – here in Bavaria and throughout the whole of Germany. We must carry on working to reinforce a sense of responsibility and an awareness of democratic values amongst our teenagers and young adults.
Places of remembrance such as the Dachau museum and memorial site are key locations in raising awareness and educating each new generation. This is why we have made it a mandatory part of our school curriculum that every student is to be taken on a school visit to such a site at some point during their education. This is where young people can see for themselves that our democracy needs democrats.
IV.Freedom and humanity: Our aim for the future Dr Mannheimer, You are one of those who survived. For many years now, you have spoken out tirelessly to remind us about the past and to caution us for the future. In February this year, you celebrated your 93rd birthday. When someone asked you what your greatest wish would be, you replied:
"In the future, I hope that people will treat each other with greater humanity. Freedom and humanity – these are the two goals that we should always pursue, even though the world may not look that way now." Upholding peace and freedom, justice and democracy: that means we have to live these values every day – at this ceremony of remembrance and everywhere we call home. It depends on each and every one of us.
We all have a responsibility: Dehumanising ideologies, xenophobia and right-wing extremism must never again be allowed to establish a foothold in Germany. We must all stand together to protect our democracy and our freedom. Let us therefore keep our hearts open and be on our guard – for the sake of our freedom and of our future.