Dear former citizens of Hamburg and relatives,
Dear Vice President and members of the Hamburg Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to Hamburg, welcome to our town hall.
Many of you have travelled a long way to join us here today. On behalf of the Senate – the government of our city state – I thank you all for responding to our invitation.
Your coming to Hamburg is no ordinary journey. Some of you are returning to the home of your childhood, among you Mr. Goldschmidt, Mr. Davisse, Mr. Jacobsohn and Mr. Leser. You and your families experienced first-hand the cruelties of the Nazi dictatorship.
Segregation, oppression, persecution and inhuman violence are painful memories. Coming here and facing this past, requires courage. And it takes an extraordinary openness of mind, to be able to also see Hamburg for what it is now: a cosmopolitan, liberal metropolis where people from over 180 countries are living together in peace and harmony.
Most of us here today – including myself – have not experienced the Nazi era themselves. But you are here, because you are interested in the lives of your parents and grandparents. You want to see the place they came from.
For many of them, it was difficult or even impossible to talk about the horrors they experienced. And so, for many of us, the stories we were told by our parents are incomplete, fragmented and maybe confusing. We hope that this visit is an opportunity for you to find some missing pieces, to bridge some gaps and to talk to people whose families have similar stories.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
in the mid-1930s, Hamburg had a Jewish population of about 25,000. By 1945, it was down to 300. The others, were forced to flee, were driven away or murdered by the Nazis.
Many places in our city tell the story of those thousands of Jewish citizens, who did not survive the Third Reich. Some central memorial sites such as the “Hannoversche Bahnhof” show, how the genocide of Jewish people was organized. From there, more than 8,000 Jews, Sinti and Roma were deported to ghettos and concentration camps.
In addition to memorial sites such as these, we have over 5,000 so called “Stolpersteine” [stumbling stones] in Hamburg. These stones give the names of individual victims and remind us of the fate they suffered. Their personal histories tell us, what words like “persecution” and “deportation” actually mean.
But there is no medium in the world better than talking face to face to a survivor of the holocaust. This is why I thank you very much, that you took the time to talk to the students of the “Gymnasium Buckhorn” school. There are fewer and fewer survivors left and so we use video records and interviews to capture their stories, to preserve their memory.
Every generation has to discover and understand for themselves, what the value of democracy is.
Therefore we want our young people to know the Jewish history in Hamburg and Germany, and the history of the holocaust. Your visit and willingness to speak about your own history is an important contribution to our other programmes, like the cooperation with Yad Vashem and visits of former concentration camps.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
today the Jewish Communities in Hamburg have about 2,400 members. With the visiting program for former citizens and their relatives we want to show: There is a vibrant Jewish community in this city again. The Jewish faith and culture have made their way back into our society. We are very thankful for this.
Today, Hamburg is an international metropolis with citizens from over 180 countries. We have friendships with every part of the world and almost 100 consular representations in our city.
Today, Hamburg is a great place to live, with a high standard of living and a vibrant cultural scene. We are the economic center of northern Germany, leading in areas such as aviation, maritime logistics, Life Sciences, renewable energy, media and digital industries. There is an abundance of job opportunities and a great number of innovative, international companies.
Our constitution guarantees every person the right to live a life of freedom and dignity.
We are opposed to anti-Semitism and proactive against hate crimes: with governmental bodies, with education, dialogue, counselling services, on many different levels of politics, such as the “Federal Commissioner in the Fight against Anti-Semitism” and preventative programs in the different states of Germany.
I hope that after your visit, you will be able to say: “It was the right decision to come to Hamburg and to build new bridges.” You are welcome here anytime!
I wish you all the best and a good stay with us in Hamburg.
Thank you very much.