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Germany's Steinmeier warns against growing anti-Semitism

February 22, 2021

Celebrating 1,700 years of the Jewish life in Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has lauded Jews' contribution to German society and called for an "honest look" at their history.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
It is necessary to counter the threats of anti-Semitism, says President Frank-Walter SteinmeierImage: Encanto/M. Grande/1700 Jahre jüdisches Leben in Deutschland e.V.

Marking Jewish life in Germany

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday lauded the contribution of Jews to German culture. He said that their history in the country is "one of emancipation and prosperity, but also of humiliation, exclusion and disenfranchisement."

"Whether in philosophy, literature, art and music, science, medicine or business, Jews have been instrumental in writing and shaping our history and illuminating our culture," Steinmeier said at a ceremony marking 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany at a synagogue in Cologne.

The German president said that Judaism has made a decisive contribution to Germany's transition into the modern age.

Centuries of exclusion and persecution

President Steinmeier recalled the centuries of marginalization and persecution of Jews and called for an "honest look" at Jewish history.

"That is the only way we can learn lessons for the present and for the future. That is and remains our responsibility."

The president admitted that Jewish life is threatened in the face of open anti-Semitism. It is necessary to counter it, he urged.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, said Jews will not celebrate the year in view of recent attacks on Jewish institutions and increasing anti-Semitism.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin emphasized the deep friendship between Germany and Israel, saying that "although we will never forget the tragedies of the past, we share a common heritage."

Not just about the Holocaust

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the opening of the festival year was recorded in advance and took place without an audience.

Around 1,000 events about Judaism will take place in Germany in the coming months.

Andrei Kovacs, managing director of the 1,700 years of Jewish Life in Germany Association, told DW what the yearlong festival hopes to achieve.

"We want to show that we have a shared history between Jews and non-Jews … a shared present — with 150,000 Jews living in Germany, and we want a common future as well. To have this common future … it's very important to spend some quality time with each other and build up empathy. And it's only with this empathy that we can fight against anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories," Kovacs said.

Melinda Crane, DW's chief political correspondent, said, that there is a lot more to Jewish life in Germany than the Holocaust . "Jews have been contributing to German culture, German identity and the very fabric of German history for many hundreds of years. The interaction between Judaism and being German should never be reduced to the Holocaust," she said.

"For those people who lean toward anti-Semitism, there is a sense that Judaism is something foreign, and the whole point of this year ahead is to make it clear that Judaism is in no way foreign to Germany but very much an innate part of its identity," she added.

shs/csb  (KNA, AFP, dpa, EPD, DW)