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Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse Opens the Holocaust Memorial (May 10, 2005)

In May 2005, the Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse (SPD) opened the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in central Berlin. He welcomed the field of concrete stelae not as a collective alibi, but rather as a persistent challenge to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.

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Speech by Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse at the Dedication of the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” on May 10, 2005, in Berlin

Two days ago, on May 8th, the Federal Republic of Germany commemorated, we commemorated, the end of the war and the liberation of our country and our continent from Hitler’s barbarism.

Today, we are opening a memorial that commemorates the worst, the most heinous crime of Nazi Germany, the attempt to annihilate an entire people. This memorial is dedicated to the murdered Jews of Europe.

This is a memorial at the limits, a memorial in transition – in several respects.

This memorial came about though the highest possible decision that can be made in this republic: a decision of the German Bundestag. The decision, made by parliament with a large, cross-party majority on June 25, 1999, was preceded by an intensive, ten-year-long debate prompted by a group of citizens from within society and carried forth by their unwavering commitment to this day.

The decision to build the memorial in Berlin was one of the last resolutions passed by the Bundestag in Bonn before its move. It was the decision to build the first joint commemorative project of reunited Germany, and an avowal that this united Germany acknowledges its history, namely by remembering the greatest crime of its history in its capital city, at its very center. In the center of the very city which, if not the site of the mass murder itself, was the place where the systematic murder of millions of human beings was conceived, planned, organized, administrated.

No other nation, wrote the American Judaic scholar James E. Young, has ever undertaken to “reunite itself on the bedrock memory of its crimes” or to “place the remembrance of these crimes at the geographical center of its capital city.” – A task, therefore, at the very limits of what is possible for a social community. That might explain and justify the intensity of the debate over the memorial, even some of the resistance. Opposition and debate will no doubt continue to accompany the memorial, which surely is not the worst thing that could happen.

The Holocaust touches “the limits of our comprehension,” it has been aptly said. This memorial operates at those limits. It expresses the difficulty of finding an artistic form that could be in any way adequate to the incomprehensible, to the monstrosity of the National Socialist crime, to the genocide of the European Jews. It does not blur the boundary between a memory that cannot in any way be “coped with” and that memory which must have meaning for the present and the future.

This should be a place of commemoration, it should, therefore, transcend the boundary between cognitive information, historical knowledge, on the one hand, and empathy with the victims, mourning for the dead, on the other – however much the two surely belong together. This memorial – together with the information center – can make it possible for us today and for coming generations to confront the incomprehensible with both head and heart.

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