Members and guests of the Hayden Family,
Ladies and gentlemen,
we can be guilty because of our actions, but equally due to our inaction. We humans are responsible for our decisions and we also have a duty of responsibility for their consequences.
Germany society has not always found that as easy as it should have done when it came to facing the monstrous crimes against humanity committed in the Nazi period.
That led the Jewish publicist Ralph Giordano to accuse Germany in the 1980s of a “second guilt”. Because the German Society deal with its past in an inappropriate way.
Meanwhile we have built up a culture of remembrance that enables us – in ever-changing ways – to breathe life into the moral imperative of the post-war years, summarised in Kurt Schumacher’s cry of “Never again!”.
And that is necessary, because today we are still engaged in remedying enduring injustice.
This is not only a moral and legal responsibility. It should also lay the foundations for positive future relationships.
Against this backdrop, it’s absolutely obvious that we should be returning this Kiddush cup, also referred to as the “Jacob Cup” because of its motifs, to you, the Hayden Family.
But doing the obvious thing is really important. It reminds us of the crimes that have been committed. And it can help to keep us vigilant in a society where, more and more often, others are disparaged or even threatened.
Professor Hayden, 80 years ago your family was subjected in Germany and in Hamburg to immense injustice and unimaginable suffering.
I can only ask your forgiveness for these crimes on behalf of the Senate of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
I hope that the fact that we are gathered here in the “Museum of Arts and Crafts” to return your grandparents’ Kiddush cup to its rightful owners is not just an individual case of doing the obvious thing but will go towards proving that we now live in different times and a very different country from the one that caused your family so much suffering.
Thank you so much for coming here to Hamburg today.
On the so-called “Reichspogromnacht”, or Night of Broken Glass, from 9 to 10 November 1938 – Professor Hayden, you didn’t leave the date of this return to chance – Nazi henchmen raided the Göttingen home of your grandparents, Gertrud and Max Raphael Hahn. They humiliated and robbed them, and threw your grandfather into prison for over half a year, thus eventually thwarting their plans to flee from Germany. Their children, including your father, were got to safety abroad, however.
Following your grandfather’s release from custody in 1939, your grandparents spent some time in Hamburg – in the vain hope of emigrating from here. But instead they were deported to Riga and murdered.
Your grandparents are commemorated by two “Stolpersteine” outside their final home in Hamburg at 43 Werderstraße. Literally meaning “stumbling blocks”, these are small brass plaques set in the pavement.
The “Jacob’s Cup” joined the other silver items seized and looted from Hamburg’s Jews. About 20 tonnes in total was amassed in Hamburg alone. Among them were valuable family heirlooms as well as countless everyday items.
The suffering represented by this gigantic figure is scarcely imaginable. It’s precisely the mundane nature of many of the items – cutlery, candlesticks or even a small silver cup – that reflect the “Banality of evil”, as Hannah Arendt put it. They give us a tangible sense of what humans have done to other humans, and clearly could do again once cracks begin to show in the veneer of human civilisation.
Many of the looted items found their way into museum storerooms. Today there are still more than 3,000 items here in the “Museum of Arts and Crafts”, in most cases with no hope of identifying and returning them.
Thus we are particularly pleased that we can give back at least one of these items. There is a lot of debate about how we should treat these artefacts that have not come into the hands of the museums legally but that cannot be assigned to any rightful owner today.
And so we have decided to shoulder the responsibility that possession entails, curating the items and making them available to researchers, in other words facing up openly to the crimes of the past.
“We have to overcome our speechlessness and tell the story of humiliation, persecution, deprivation of rights and annihilation,” wrote Sabine Schulze on the occasion of the 2016 symposium on looted art. “It is our moral duty towards the owners of the silver items who were robbed then and can no longer be identified today.”
That is exactly the case: Today’s return of the “Jacob Cup” is part of that responsibility. It also shows the importance of provenance research and that it is worth not giving up, even after all these years.
In addition, it is an example of the huge commitment of the provenance researchers. Given the almost total absence of any indication of who the previous owners of the Jewish silver were, the reliable identification of a single item represents a big achievement by all those involved.
However we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re a long way from our goal, even though we’re on the right track. Moments like today’s should spur us on not to let up.
This is true not just of the greatly overdue critical reappraisal of Nazi injustice through provenance research that has now begun, but also of other injustices, such as that reflected in the collections from our colonial period. Here, too, we are still largely just beginning.
Reappraising and critically addressing our own history is a social and moral responsibility that spans the generations.
Central to it is remembrance.
Obviously in a personal sense for those present from the Hayden Family, but also in a wider sense.
Initiatives such as the “Stolpersteine”, but also the outstanding exhibitions on Jewish artists such as Eva Hesse, Gego and most recently Anita Rée in the “Hamburger Kunsthalle” are important contributions. They show us painfully clearly what a huge hole we ripped in the fabric of our society with the Nazi machinery of annihilation.
For, as the historian Cordula Tollmien, the author of the German edition of the book “Das Vermächtnis des Max Raphael Hahn – Göttinger Bürger und Sammler”, said in her speech at the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on the wall of the Hahn Family’s former home in Göttingen, Jewish heritage was “once German heritage, too”.
We must remember the circumstances that led to its being expunged from the collective consciousness of our society.
We must try to pick up the threads of its important, defining traditions again.
And we must remain vigilant in the face of recent threats that are sadly becoming far too prevalent again in our societies.
in your address during the “Germany Israel Brain Alliance” in Göttingen in 2015 marking the restitution of Judaica that belonged to your grandfather, you said that Germany should be seen as “a prism through which we can all think harder about the danger of stereotypes and the difference between us and them”.
In his “Minima Moralia”, Theodor W. Adorno, who fled to the USA from the Nazis, encouraged the Federal Republic of Germany to envisage the better state of an emancipated society as “one in which one can be different without fear”.
I very much hope that we succeed in living in such a free and open society. And I’m glad that today we’ve willingly accepted the responsibility for our earlier actions and inaction.