Chancellor Gerhard Schroder
Speaking at the 60 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz
January 25, 2005
Survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the International Auschwitz Committee for the invitation to speak to you here today.
In my estimation an invitation of this kind is still not something that can be taken for granted. It would be fitting for us Germans to remain silent in the face of what was the greatest crime in the history of mankind. Words by government leaders are inadequate when confronted with the absolute immorality and senselessness of the murder of millions.
We look for rational understanding of something that is beyond human comprehension. We seek definitive answers, but in vain.
What is left is the testimony of those few who survived and their descendants.
What is left are the remains of the sites of these murders and the historical record.
What is left also is the certainty that these extermination camps were a manifestation of absolute evil.
Evil is not a political or scientific category. But, after Auschwitz, who could doubt that it exists, and that it manifested itself in the hate-driven genocide carried out by the Nazi regime? However, noting this fact does not permit us to circumvent our responsibility by blaming everything on a demonic Hitler. The evil manifested in the Nazi ideology was not without its precursors. There was a tradition behind the rise of this brutal ideology and the accompanying loss of moral inhibition. Above all, it needs to be said that the Nazi ideology was something that people supported at the time and that they took part in putting into effect.
Now, sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, I stand before you as the representative of a democratic Germany. I express my shame for the deaths of those who were murdered and for the fact that you, the survivors, were forced to go through the hell of a concentration camp.
Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Maidanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau are names that will forever be associated with the history of the victims as well as with German and European history. We know that.
We bear this burden with sadness, but also with a serious sense of responsibility.
Millions of men, women, and children were gassed, starved, or shot by German SS troops and their helpers.
Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, POWs, and resistance fighters from across Europe were exterminated with cold industrial perfection or were enslaved and worked to death.
Never before had there been a worse breakdown of thousands of years of European culture and civilization. After the war it took some time before the full extent of this breakdown was realized. We are aware of it, but I doubt that we will ever be able to understand it. The past cannot be “overcome.” It is the past. But its traces and, above all, the lessons to be learned from it extend to the present.
There will never be anything that can make up for the horror, the torment, and the agony that took place in the concentration camps. It is only possible to provide the families of those who died and the survivors a certain amount of compensation.
Germany has faced this responsibility for a long period of time now with its government policies and court decisions, supported by a sense of justice on the part of the people.
The young men and women in the photo we see here were freed in the summer of 1945. Most survivors went in different directions after their liberation: to Israel, to North and South America, to neighboring European countries, or back to their countries of origin.
However, some of them stayed in or returned to Germany, the country where the so-called ‘Final Solution’ originated.
It was an extraordinarily difficult decision for them, and often enough it was not a voluntary decision, but rather the result of total desperation. However, hope did return to their disrupted lives, and many did remain in Germany, and we are grateful for that.