German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was honored by the Leo Baeck Institute on Thursday, 18 November, with its highest award, the Leo Baeck Medal, for his extraordinary efforts to preserve the memory of German-Jewish history and for years of friendship to the Jewish people.
“At a time when too many world leaders are silent, there is a man who speaks clearly and with great moral clarity – and that is you, Mr. President,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder in his laudation introducing President Steinmeier. “I cannot imagine a better person Germany could have as president than you. “Thank you for being the man you are.”
In his speech accepting the award, President Steinmeier emphasized Germany’s commitment to Holocaust remembrance and to ensuring the secure permanence of Jewish life in Germany. “For me and for us Germans, reconciliation is an eternally valuable gift. However, it remains fragile, it can be attacked, and indeed it is attacked every single day. In Germany of all places, the evil of antisemitism has manifested itself far more openly and blatantly in recent years once again. Not only does this pain me, it also shames and infuriates me!”
President Steinmeier also expressed his admiration for Amb. Lauder, saying:
“I would like to thank you, my dear Ronald Lauder, for your efforts to foster reconciliation and to combat antisemitism. It is of particular importance to you that new Jewish life develops in eastern European countries. I am impressed by that. I am equally impressed by your delight in art and your passion for collecting it! And you have another passion, one I have seen for myself each time we met, namely transatlantic relations. I know what a great friend Germany has in you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this!”
President Steinmeier concluded by declaring: “Our responsibility to history is part of our identity. History knows no closure and our past will never be downplayed. We cannot, and we will not, tolerate antisemitism in Germany! As a Head of State and as a human being, I will continue to fight for that. It is my profoundly held conviction that only when Jews feel completely at home in Germany again, when they feel completely safe, only then will Germany be completely at peace with itself.”
Also participating in the program were Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (by video), Dr. David G. Marwell and Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, respectively President and President Emeritus of the Leo Baeck Institute, and Dr. William H. Weitzer, the organization’s executive director.
The Leo Baeck Institute is named after Rabbi Leo Baeck, one of the foremost German-Jewish personalities and thinkers of the 20th century who refused to abandon German Jewry during the Nazi era was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Past recipients of the Leo Baeck Medal include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former German Presidents Joachim Gauck and Johannes Rau.