German President Christian Wulff to host relatives of victims of far-right murder spree for talks. Germany benefits from its openness to the world and will "expand and defend it against all those who stir up fears of strangers and foreigners". The Federal President was awarded the Leo Baeck Prize 2011 on Wednesday.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany thus honored Wulff's "outstanding commitment, borne of sincere empathy and deep solidarity with the Jewish community in Germany, Israel and the world," as its president Dieter Graumann explained. The Federal President had presented himself as a man of clear words and clear signals. The Leo Baeck Prize is awarded annually and is endowed with 10.000 euros.
Not permitting sweeping defamations
In his subsequent speech, Wulff expressed his shock at the series of attacks by the Thuringia neo-Nazi trio. "We need a climate that does not allow even sweeping defamations," the Federal President stressed. Germany must not be speechless in the face of the bereaved families. The time has come again to organize chains of lights to show what values the majority of society understands, Wulff said.
The wording of Article 3 of the Basic Law, that no one "shall be discriminated against or given preference on account of sex, descent, race, language, home and origin, creed, religious or political views," is "binding on all," he added. Addressing the chairman of the Turkish community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, Wulff said, "Our country – your country – stands by your side!"
The president of the Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called for a "new determination against the right". In view of the "fascist hit squad that massacred innocent people", there must be a range of measures against right-wing extremism, it said. At the same time, Graumann called for more empathy and sensitivity towards the victims and their relatives.
Graumann praises Wulff's speech on German unity in 2010
Graumann praised Wulff's commitment to Jews in Germany and to Israel. The Jews had waited a long time for a German head of state to say that Judaism belonged to Germany without a doubt, Graumann emphasized, referring to Wulff's speech on German unity last year.
Wulff made one of his first state visits to Israel in November 2010. This year he was the first German head of state to give a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the former Auschwitz extermination camp. Wulff also attended the inauguration of the new synagogues in Mainz and Speyer.
In his vote of thanks, Wulff described the award ceremony as an "extraordinary vote of confidence". The prize is a joy and encouragement to him, but also a claim and an obligation. The award's namesake, Leo Baeck, stands "for the millennia-old Jewish culture, which was, is and remains a formative and inseparable part of our culture in Germany.". But his life story also stands for "the unprecedented breach of civilization that Germans committed against their fellow citizens". In view of the endless suffering that this barbarism brought to Europe, he felt "shame and pain," said the Federal President.
Wulff on settlement construction in Israel
At the same time, he expressed delight at the "renaissance of Jewish life in Germany". The country is thus "on the way to finding its identity again". But Germany's responsibility also extends to the Jewish people worldwide "and especially in Israel," Wulff explained. The right of the State of Israel to exist is "non-negotiable for us". He encouraged the Israeli government "to make difficult and unpopular decisions, including on settlement construction".
The Central Council's most important award commemorates Rabbi Leo Baeck (1873-1956), who became a role model of his time through his social and political commitment to the Jewish faith community. The prize has been awarded since 1957. The Central Council honors personalities who have shown outstanding commitment to the Jewish community and who have succeeded in drawing lessons for the future from the dark chapters of German history. In recent years, award winners have included DFB President Theo Zwanziger, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), publishers Hubert Burda and Friede Springer, and former German presidents Richard von Weizsacker and Roman Herzog.