Fotos courtesy of Tower Hamlets Council
taken by Kois Miah
Ladies and Gentlemen,
thank you very much for inviting me today
to speak on this very special and important occasion.
My name is Fr Andreas, and I am the parish priest of St Boniface,
the only German Catholic Church in the United Kingdom
situated here in Whitechapel for nearly 200 years.
When the Nazis came into power in 1933
it had a major impact on our congregation for years
as it was welcoming refugees form Germany and Austria
fleeing for political, religious and economical reasons.
Some of their stories are truly heart-breaking,
but they are fading away, cannot but fade away
in the context of the Nazi persecution against Jews,
which we have come to know as the Holocaust/Shoah.
So I am standing here before you
as a representative of a once proud nation,
responsible for planning the annihilation
and mass-murdering of the Jewish people
on an industrial scale for purely ideological reasons.
Growing up in post-war Germany
I remember being confronted with those dark days of our history,
not only in school, but also in church and all sorts of public events.
If I am honest, I recall getting a bit tired of it all – until …
Until I was standing in the grounds of Auschwitz
some years later as a university student
trying to grasp the inconceivable scale of the horrors –
and failing of course.
It was then, that for the very first time I felt ashamed to be German.
I wanted our guide to shut up, because his language gave us away,
for everyone to hear and to see: my people created this place.
My shame was followed by utter sadness, and then by deep silence.
Sometimes I still believe the only appropriate response
is sorrow and silence – if only for the victims.
There are no words facing the Holocaust –
especially when you are German.
But then I remember Eli Wiesel,
who was taken to Auschwitz himself,
survived and received the Peace Nobel Prize in 1986.
He said regarding the Holocaust:
“To speak about it is impossible –
to keep silence is forbidden.”
That´s why I try not to hide,
but to speak about the impossible.
But in recent weeks the conversation has changed.
Talking about the Holocaust, Israel or Jews in general,
somebody sooner or later will come up and say:
“That is your `German Guilt´ talking.”
As if the history of my people
disqualifies from any meaningful point of view.
It´s meant to sound understanding,
but it only tries to end the argument.
Of course there is a feeling of shame and guilt.
I sure hope so. For every German.
But `guilt´ is not the end of the story,
as the Jew Jesus of Nazareth taught us.
When guilt leads to insight
it can become a constructive force
and seriously help to do good.
Germany regarded herself as a civilized country.
She was famous for her poets, her musicians, her scientists.
But when she felt humiliated and unjustly oppressed
she became blind and morally corrupt,
capable of unimageable atrocities.
The Holocaust never meant to happen.
But it did happen.
Coming to terms with our history is an ongoing process.
It hasn´t come to an end – how could it possibly?
But from our own shameful experience as tormentors
we know how Antisemitism looks like,
how it starts and which shapes it takes,
– and we know where it can lead to.
`German Guilt´ shouldn´t be a lazy excuse to end the discussion.
We all need to continue the conversation and learn from it.
Remembering the Holocaust is the least we can do
to ensure, it doesn´t happen again.
We owe it to the victims – and future generations.
Thank you for listening.