“Who am I? I’m a Jewish girl from the Baden village of Kippenheim,” Inge Auerbacher begins her speech in the Bundestag. Her father, a textile merchant, had fought in World War I and received the Iron Cross for it. “We were a happy community in Kippenheim until the peace of our village was disturbed.” This is how the 87-year-old remembers the Night of Broken Glass in 1938. That night, the National Socialists threw bricks into the windows of Auerbacher’s family; all Jewish male villagers over the age of 16 were deported to Dachau concentration camp. Auerbacher soon realized that Jews were no longer allowed to move freely. At the age of six, she had to take the train to Stuttgart to school alone every day with a Jewish star sewn on. When her father returned from the concentration camp weeks later, it was already too late for the family to emigrate from Germany.
“We were 15,000 children in Theresienstadt and only a few survived”
In 1942 Auerbacher’s family had to arrive in Göppingen without knowing where they would be taken. “A guard tore off my wooden brooch and shouted, ‘You don’t need that anymore where you’re going’https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/.” It took two days for the family to reach the Czech Republic in a crowded train. Inge Auerbacher impressively tells the deputies about the conditions in the Theresienstadt ghetto: “Everywhere it was swarming with people. Theresienstadt consisted of huge brick barracks. The concentration camp was closed off from the outside world by high walls and barbed wire.” Theresienstadt served as a transit point for Jews before they were deported to Auschwitz. This also applies to a girl who Auerbacher befriended. The friends promised to meet again, but Ruth didn’t ten years old.”Ruth, I’m here in Berlin to visit you,” Auerbacher calls to the top of the plenary hall. “We were 15,000 children in Theresienstadt and only a few survived, including me, miraculously “, she says.
“Hatred of Jews is still commonplace in many countries around the world”
In 1945 she was liberated from Theresienstadt with her family, and the following year they emigrated to the United States. “America was like a magical land for me,” she says, but she was shattered from this dream when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. “I couldn’t believe I was locked up again,” she said. For two years she had to stay in the hospital to recover from the illness she had acquired in the concentration camp. “Finally, when I was 15, I went to school and graduated from high school in three years instead of four.” After graduating, Auerbacher studied biochemistry and worked as a chemist in medical research for 38 years.
“Three years in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, four years in bed because of the serious health consequences, eight years without school, four years of stigmatization for wearing the Jewish star,” sums up Auerbacher – and laments that racism and anti-Semitism have reawakened. “Hate against Jews is still commonplace in many countries around the world, including Germany. This disease must be cured as soon as possible!” she appealed to the applause of her audience.
Auerbacher ends her speech with warm hugs
At the end of her speech, the old lady hugs the Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the President of the Bundestag Bärbel Bas and the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament Mickey Levy, who is visiting Berlin. They are not fleeting, symbolic hugs, but intimate ones that last a few seconds and end with a deep look into the eyes of the politicians.
Mickey Levy also gives an emotional speech. He tells how he stood in front of the villa on Wannsee the day before with mixed feelings, the glittering of the water in contrast to the atrocities that the National Socialists planned in the villa 80 years ago. “Historically, 80 years and seven days is nothing and not enough to heal all wounds,” says Levy. That is why the work of remembrance that connects Israel and Germany is so essential. “The eternally serious admonition of the Holocaust to the Jews of Europe is: Never again, never again!” he shouts into the hall.
Levy thanks Angela Merkel for working tirelessly for the relationship between the two peoples. In the past few decades, Germany and Israel have succeeded in creating something new, in standing up for democracy, freedom and tolerance together. “The State of Israel is counting on you and that you will continue this relationship,” says the Speaker of the Knesset, and ends with a tearful reading of a prayer in memory of the Jews who were killed. According to him, some of the guests in the plenary hall also wipe tears over their masks.
“Today is a day of shame”
When Bärbel Bas opened the event at 10 a.m., she recalled how leading figures in the Nazi regime turned unprecedented injustice into supposed law at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, and emphasized the joint responsibility of the population: “This state was supported by people. People who became murderers and accomplices. Today is therefore also a day of shame for what previous generations of Germans did.” The President of the Bundestag appealed to continue to cultivate the culture of remembrance, which “cannot be decreed from above.” A third of the German population still believes that Jews have too much influence in Germany. “Anti-Semitism is there and not just on the fringes,” says Bas.
Musicians play songs of the Jewish resistance
The memorial event will be musically accompanied by seven musicians. They play two pieces by composers who were interned in Theresienstadt and two songs of the Jewish resistance against the National Socialist reign of terror. Then Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz hooked Inge Auerbacher down and escorted her out of the hall. It was the 27th celebration of the “Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism”, which former Federal President Roman Herzog had introduced as a nationwide day of remembrance and set it on January 27th. On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated the two concentration camps in Auschwitz and the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.