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Remembrance service in the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament)

70 years since the end of WWII: Warning for all time

The German Bundestag (Federal Parliament) and Bundesrat (German Federal Council) commemorated the victims of National Socialism in a joint remembrance service. The historian Winkler warned all Germans to remember the whole history of the country. Federal Chancellor Merkel also participated in the remembrance service.

Brandenburg Gate amidst the rubble and ruins at the end of WWII (May 1945). The Bundestag (German Federal Parliament) and Bundesrat (German Federal Council) commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII on 8 May 1945 Photo: Bundesregierung

The remembrance service in the Bundestag was opened by Bundestag President Norbert Lammert. The 8 May was a day of liberation for the entire continent. “However, it was not a day of German self-liberation,” emphasized Lammert. “Our thoughts and our respect” today are especially for those who “paid an inconceivable price to end the National Socialist reign of terror, including the western Allies and the Soviet army” said the Bundestag President.

“Respect the dignity of each individual person”

The remembrance speech to commemorate the 70th anniversary was held by historian Heinrich August Winkler. He recalled the philosopher Ernst Cassirer, who described Hitler's political career as “the triumph of myth over sense, and this triumph as the result of a severe crisis”. This myth remains with us always, and awaits its opportunity. Winkler referred to the “outbreaks of xenophobia” experienced by Germany in the last months. Particularly in light of the “oppressive currentness”, the words of Cassirer warn us to “take the real lessons of German history from 1933 to 1945 to heart: the obligation to respect the sanctity of the dignity of each individual person, whatever the circumstances”.

According to Winkler, the victory of the Allies over Germany freed the Germans from themselves. “In the sense of the chance to free themselves from political delusions, and from traditions that separated them from the western democracies”.

Contradictions of the whole of German history

The process of Germany coming to terms with its own history is not complete, “and it also never will be.” Every generation will struggle to reach an understanding of such a contradictory history as that of the Germans. However, the responsibility towards one's own country always includes the willingness to “face up to the whole history of the country. This applies to all Germans, and to all those who have decided to – or will decide to – become Germans,” emphasized Winkler. “One cannot draw a line underneath such a history.”

As “German obligations”, Winkler highlighted the special relationship with Israel, as well as solidarity with the nations that only regained their rights to internal and external self-determination in 1989/90.

The 76-year-old East Prussian Heinrich August Winkler is Professor Emeritus at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where he was Professor Ordinarius for Modern and Contemporary History from 1991 to 2007. The main areas of his research and teaching are the history of the German labour movement, the Weimar Republic, as well as German and international contemporary history.

At the conclusion of the remembrance service, Bundesrat President Volker Bouffier emphasized that 8 May 1945 obliged us to constantly remind ourselves “that there is no place in Germany for those who fight democracy or abuse human rights.

Merkel in Dachau: “a memory that obligates us for the future”

Last Sunday (03.05.2015), Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the former concentration camp at Dachau, to commemorate its liberation 70 years ago, and to remember the victims. There, Merkel emphasized that the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime were a memory that the future is obliged to preserve. As such, we dare not close our eyes to anti-Semitic hate speeches and attacks or terrorist strikes. “We are called upon to make clear to ourselves that Jewish life is part of our identity, that discrimination, ostracism and anti-Semitism can have no place among us, that they must be fought with determination and the full force of the law,” said the Chancellor.

In her video podcast last Saturday (02.05.2015), Merkel warned against wanting to “draw a line” under events. There can be no drawing a line under history. For her, attending remembrance days is an integral part of continuing school education, and also an ongoing means of public education.   

Steinmeier in Volgograd: “Never Again”

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the Russian megacity of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) on Thursday (07.05.2015), where he commemorated the end of the Second World War with his Russian counterpart, Sergej Lawrow. Steinmeier said: “70 years after the endless suffering that Germans caused the city, we are not alone any more in remembering. Russians, Germans and all the peoples of Europe are united in saying 'never again', and in a joint responsibility for peace in Europe.”

Monika Grütters, Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, spoke out against the Nazi crimes on Thursday (07.05.2015). She paid tribute to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin on its tenth anniversary. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is of central importance to remembering the unfathomable. “Above all, the place is one thing: the place is good, it is important, it has become part of us. It has become indispensable.” Previously, Grütters had stated: “Six million people were murdered, simply because they were Jews, amongst them 1.5 million children. Their murder was targeted genocide – this crime against humanity must be remembered forever.”

New culture of remembrance through Federal President von Weizsäcker. On the 40th anniversary, the former Federal President, Richard von Weizsäcker, called 8 May 1945 a “day of liberation” for the first time. “It has freed us all from the inhumane system of the National Socialist regime of terror,” said von Weizsäcker on 8 May 1985. With this aspect of liberation from National Socialism, contained in his speech, the German head of state set the tone for a core element of the culture of remembrance in the Federal Republic of Germany. After the fall of the wall in 1989, and the reunification of Germany in 1990, this liberation also became a reality for East Germany and the states beyond the Iron Curtain – nearly half a century after the end of the war.

May 08, 2015