Dear Andreas Wirsching and Frank Bajohr, dear Natalia Aleksiun, Hana Kubátowá and Dorota Glowacka. Ladies and gentlemen.
As President of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, I am delighted to take part in this opening of the first “Lessons and Legacies” conference on European soil. Together with the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Institute for Contemporary History and in association with the Holocaust Educational Foundation of Northwestern University, Ludwig-Maximilians-University and the City of Munich, we are proud organizers of this event.
For four days, we are discussing “research trends, pedagogical approaches, and political challenges” when dealing with the Holocaust and Europe. I think it’s fair to say that there is no shortage of political challenges these days: Just a few weeks ago in the German city of Halle, a man tried to break into a synagogue to murder the gathered Jewish community celebrating Yom Kippur. Failing at this attempt, he went for a Kebab restaurant, killing a customer and passersby. Livestreaming his rampage to the internet, he voiced his blatant antisemitism and racism. I am sure you have all heard of this incident. Less known is his mother’s reaction, which I quote here: "He doesn't have a problem with Jews per se. He just has a problem with the people behind the financial power. Who doesn't?"
It is a devastating statement, and I’m afraid it cannot be shrugged off as “like son, like mother”: Antisemitism, and racism, are realities in Germany and all over the world, widespread and deeply rooted. For an institution like the Federal Agency, whose goal is to strengthen democracy and foster a civil society, it shows that we have a long way to go. One way to counter hatred and stereotypes is through historical education. In Germany, where the Shoah and other National Socialist mass atrocities were planned, and executed all over Europe mostly by Germans, the focus will naturally be on Holocaust Education. This conference offers unique opportunities to learn from educators around the world: How do we teach compellingly about historical events whose witnesses have mostly passed already? What questions do younger – and not so young – learners have, and how do we address them? How do we integrate a growing plurality of perspectives, experiences and backgrounds in increasingly diverse societies? Which connections between past and present can be employed? How do we convey a comprehensible yet sufficiently complex understanding of the Holocaust and National Socialist society, in order to turn the shades of grey between victim and perpetrator into a starting point for taking a stand and the right decisions today?
This level of complexity in education cannot be achieved without a close connection to cutting-edge research. Historians and scholars from various disciplines contribute to an ever more detailed and nuanced picture of the processes and dynamics of the Holocaust. They do so by digging up eye-opening new primary sources, and applying new questions and perspectives to well-known ones. There is still an enormous number of stories to be told and lessons to be learned.
At the Federal Agency for Civic Education, we are constantly trying to facilitate exchange and cooperation between research and education in order to make the history of the Holocaust a valuable resource for a more humane and democratic present. Thus, we are very happy to welcome all of you here in Munich today. I am excited to learn about new research and education methods, discuss, and see collaborations emerge.
Before I hand over to Andreas Wirsching, let me thank a few of the people without whom this conference would not have been possible. First of all, Frank Bajohr and Andrea Löw and their team at the Center for Holocaust Studies. Their excellent reputation, shared conviction to combine research and education, and organizational skill were key for gathering experts from around the world today. Excellent support came from the Organization Committee, let me just name Hana Kubátowá here, which had the difficult task of choosing from more than 700 applications. Furthermore, Sarah Cushman from the Holocaust Educational Foundation for her openness to make a “Lessons & Legacies” conference in Europe possible, as well as for her help and advice. Some of you have already caught a glimpse of public memorial culture and research institutions today, let me thank the City of Munich and Sabine Schalm for providing this opportunity and their support. Tomorrow we will be guests of the Jewish Community, this invitation by Charlotte Knobloch means a lot to us. On Wednesday, the Ludwig-Maximilians-University opens its doors for a public event, Kim Wünschmann was a key figure in facilitating this cooperation. Last but not least, let me thank Hanna Liever and Simon Lengemann from my institution for their dedication.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank all of you for coming to Munich – I’m sure we have three inspiring and memorable days ahead of us!