In memorial hour for Nazi victims, historian Saul Friedlander ies strong warning against anti-Semitism and nationalism. The Holocaust survivor sees Germany today as a bulwark against the dangers to humanity and freedom.
What was going on in his parents’ minds when they had to leave him behind? Did they know what awaited them in Auschwitz?? Were they able to stay together during the transport? For historian Saul Friedlander, whose Holocaust research brought the Nazis’ crimes to the world’s attention, personal questions about the time of horror will probably remain forever unanswered.
Parents murdered in Auschwitz
Friedlander gave a moving account of his family’s story during the Bundestag’s hour of remembrance on Thursday. While he survived the Holocaust in hiding in France, his parents were murdered in Auschwitz. He urgently warned his audience against new hatred of minorities and nationalism.
In 1942, the family of Friedlander, who was born in 1932, fled to France. When it soon became clear that it was no longer safe for Jews there either, his parents decided to try to escape to Switzerland. They found this too risky for their son, who was not yet ten years old, and hid him, ultimately in a Catholic boys’ seminary. Arriving in Switzerland, the parents were sent back and eventually deported to Auschwitz.
Parents with children would have been allowed to stay at that time, Friedlander reported: "In those days, rational decisions were senseless for Jews." Friedlander spoke before the parliament in German, apologizing at the beginning for the "insecurity" in the language he grew up with but later forgot it. Friedlander went to Israel in 1948. The land meant home and belonging, he said: "For Jews like me, and for Jews everywhere who needed and longed for a state of their own, its creation was vital."
All the more urgently, Friedlander warned in the Bundestag against questioning Israel’s right to exist today, against anti-Semitism and new destructive forces. "Anti-Semitism is just one of the scourges now insidiously afflicting one nation after another," he said. "Xenophobia, the lure of authoritarian rule practices and, in particular, an ever-worsening nationalism are on the rise all over the world at an alarming rate."
Bulwark against dangers
He described Germany as a strong bulwark against all the dangers and called for remaining steadfast for tolerance, humanity and freedom, "in short, for true democracy". The audience, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), members of parliament and many visitors in the stands, honored his 25-minute speech with a standing ovation.
Bundestag President Wolfgang Schauble (CDU) had earlier called for the victims of National Socialism not to be forgotten.
He described the obligation to respect the dignity of every individual, as laid down in the Basic Law, as an essential lesson from the crimes of the Nazis. It was "the response to the experience that human dignity was violated, desecrated millions of times," he said.
The Bundestag traditionally commemorates the millions of victims of the Nazi regime on Holocaust Remembrance Day. On 27. January 1945 soldiers of the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz death camp. More than a million people were killed there alone.