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Germany

The Past Cannot Be Forgotten

The German government formally marks the 57th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation, while discussions surface on whether a critical relationship to Jerusalem is possible.

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Leading politicians listen to Polish violinist Krzysztof Jakowicz, front, during the ceremony in parliament.

Preserving the memory of the millions who died during the Holocaust can never come to an end, said the speaker of the German parliament, Wolfgang Thierse.

"Hopefully we have finally learned from the bitter experiences of the twentieth century that it is necessary to stand up for the values of civilization and defend them, and to do so in just time," he said at the formal memorial ceremony marking the 57th anniversary of the Auschwitz concentration camp liberation.

The former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, who also spoke at the ceremony, said both solidarity and the willingness to fight were necessary.

"The world should not have been allowed to helplessly stand there when they started burning books in Germany or destroying cultural heritage in Afghanistan," said Geremek, himself a survivor of the Holocaust. "The next in line are always the people."

Remembering can help prevent the past repeating itself

Geremek said a collective will and memory of the past could counteract hatred and fanaticism. These continued to pose a threat all over the world. He added that knowledge of the past and critical analysis were also necessary. "Today's Europe needs a collective memory just like humans need air to breathe."

"The bitter realization of what people are capable of continues to irritate and alarm us," Thierse said. In view of the September 11 attacks, he warned of "a new, unprecedented threat to our freedom".

It was particularly shameful for the Germans if right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism once again found a dangerous breeding ground of ignorance and arrogance, Thierse said. "Memorial days alone are certainly not enough for young people in particular to realize the ideals of democracy and the idea of a united Europe," he said. But he added that the possibilities of such remembrance days should not be underestimated.

Can Germany criticize Israel?

Germany's past has created a very sensitive relationship to Israel. In view of the current situation in the Middle East, German politicians and public leaders face a touchy issue. Can they openly criticize Israel and its actions against Palestinians?

"Of course there can be justified criticism of the government's politics," said Paul Spiegel, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews. In an interview with the Berlin daily "Der Tagesspiegel", he said that had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. "But always bear in mind Germany's special relationship to Israel."

The deputy party chairman of the opposition Free Democratic Party Jürgen Möllemann last week accused Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of being "a warmonger". He said it was intolerable that the community of states watched the Middle East conflict and tolerated Sharon's actions, which were geared towards war.

Germany's historical responsibility required that "we speak up for non-violence and freedom, but not for the politics of a warmonger", said Möllemann, who is also president of the German-Arabic Society in Berlin. He appealed to the German government and the European Union to put economic pressure on Israel and on the Palestinians. Not a penny should be payed to the two parties as long as they do not take steps towards each other, he said.

Spiegel criticized Möllemann's statements. "He's saying everything that Israel should not be doing and I ask myself, why isn't he also talking about what Israel is allowed to do?" According to Spiegel, Israel is obligated to ensure the safety of its citizens. "Why can't we concede a country the right to defend itself, why don't we allow it to fight the terror?"

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