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German president honors Holocaust survivor for life's work

July 4, 2022

Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer has received the Walther Rathenau Prize for her life's work in foreign policy. "We cannot change what happened, but it must never be allowed to happen again," the 100-year-old said.

Margot Friedländer stands next to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier while receiving the Walther Rathenau Prize
Margot Friedländer was awarded the prize for her 'decades' of commitment to understanding and tolerance, the Walther Rathenau Institute saidImage: Britta Pedersen/dpa/picture alliance

Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer was awarded the Walther Rathenau Prize for outstanding lifetime achievement in foreign policy during a ceremony in Berlin on Monday.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier honored Friedländer's courage as well as her dedication to sharing her story with young people and commitment to ensuring the horrors of the Holocaust are not forgotten.

A life dedicated to remembrance

Friedländer, who is 100-years-old, was born and raised in Berlin. She and her family were persecuted by the Nazis for being Jewish. Her mother, father and brother were all murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

She went into hiding in Berlin, but was eventually captured by the Nazis and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. She met her husband while in the camp, and the two of them survived.

In 1946, the couple moved to the United States where they lived for decades. After her husband's death, Friedländer resolved to return to Berlin at the age of 88 in 2010.

She began regularly speaking in schools and organizations about life under Nazi persecution and her experiences during the Holocaust.

"We cannot change what happened, but it must never be allowed to happen again," Friedländer said on Monday at the ceremony in the German capital.

German Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer offers one of her books to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Friedländer offered one of her books to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during the ceremonyImage: John MacDougall/AFP

Steinmeier: Antisemitism 'cannot' be tolerated

President Steinmeier praised Friedländer's courage — especially her difficult decision to return to Germany.

"Ever since your return, you have been tireless in telling your life story, in working for democracy and human rights and in fighting hatred and all forms of antisemitism and prejudice," Steinmeier said in Berlin.

He sharply condemned antisemitic violence and discrimination in Germany, saying it had become more apparent during protests against coronavirus restrictions.

"It infuriates me how blatantly antisemitism is once again raising its head in our country, on the streets, in school playgrounds, on the internet. In our country, of all countries," the president said.

"Yes, a liberal democracy needs debate, and it needs dispute. But when hatred and incitement to hatred are sown, or indeed where violence is used, then a line has been crossed. We cannot and will not tolerate this," Steinmeier emphasized in his speech.

What is the Walther Rathenau Prize?

The Walther Rathenau Prize is awarded annually to a public figure for a lifetime achievement in the areas of foreign policy.

The prize is named after Germany's first Jewish foreign minister, who was assassinated in 1922 by far-right assailants just months after taking up the post. Germany marked the 100th anniversary of Rathenau's killing in June.

In past years, prize winners have included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

rs/kb (AFP, dpa)