The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) traditionally invites as guests to its “Annual Meeting” (banquet) members of the local consular corps and leaders of various religious and ethnic groups.
On April 22, when I attended AJC’s annual gathering, I was surprised to see that the keynote speaker was Dr. Christian Stocks, the consul general of Germany. Despite the fact that the German government has long acknowledged the Holocaust and paid substantial compensation to the victims’ families, many Jews still feel uncomfortable dealing with Germans or visiting Germany.
I soon discovered that the German consul general was not only the honored guest, but also the recipient of AJC’s prestigious “C.I. Neumann Lifetime Achievement Award.”
I was not the only one taken by surprise. When the German consul general took the podium, he admitted that he was so astonished by AJC’s invitation that he was “speechless for a few seconds.”
Dr. Stocks’ 45 minute-long empathetic remarks amply demonstrated why the AJC was fully justified in honoring this distinguished diplomat. His words deeply touched those in attendance—many of whom were Holocaust survivors and descendants.
As the only Armenian in the room, I could not help but make a mental comparison between the remorseful way the German Federal Republic has reacted to the Holocaust and the Turkish government’s incessant denials, lies, and distortions of the Armenian Genocide.
I wondered if the day would ever come when a righteous and enlightened Turkish leader would acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and make amends, paving Armenians to similarly honor a Turkish diplomat! Should that day come, Turkish leaders would be the recipients of many accolades, not just from Armenians, but from people around the world.
Ironically, the current Turkish consul general in Los Angeles was also at this banquet. I wondered what thoughts were going through his head as he listened to his German counterpart’s deeply apologetic speech, and whether he wished he could make similar remarks someday to an Armenian audience.
I have reprinted below brief excerpts from the German consul general’s lengthy speech. While reading these remarks, if you substitute Germany and Germans for Turkey and Turks, and Israel and Jews for Armenia and Armenians, you will get a sense of how I felt, on the eve of April 24, when listening to the representative of one repentant government, while the representative of another unrepentant and denialist state was sitting just a few feet away.
“Yesterday, on Yom Ha-Shoah or Holocaust Memorial Day, Jews all over the world commemorated the victims of the Holocaust. They remembered the attempt to eradicate an entire people; they remembered the murder of six million European Jews, murdered by Germans, at German hands, on German command. Millions of people were humiliated, defrauded of their rights, persecuted, and murdered because they were born Jews…
“The Shoah’s cruel effects continue to this day. There is almost no Jewish person anywhere in the world unaffected by it. And because it was Germans that committed or instigated these crimes, I simply cannot begin my speech without paying my profound respects to the Holocaust survivors and their families, and to those who have not survived, to those who have perished, and to those who have no graves where we can mourn them.
“And I join the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who said in her speech to the Knesset last year, celebrating the 60th birthday of the state of Israel, and I quote: ‘The Shoah is a source of great shame for us Germans. I bow before the victims; I bow before the survivors and before all those who helped them to survive…’
“Former Israeli ambassador to Germany, Avi Primor, once asked: ‘Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalize its own shame? Only the Germans had the bravery and the humility.’ Let me add on a personal note: The crime itself was so horrendous, that not a million memorials would be sufficient to constantly remind us of the past…
“Last year, in his message of greeting on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, Federal President Horst Köhler said: ‘We accept this responsibility for the past and for the future. This means that the citizens, politicians, and leaders of society must raise their voices against denial or trivialization of the Shoah and against intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism. It means we must not look away; rather we must see and act. And it means we preserve and pass on the memory so that future generations also will remain vigilant… Only those who take responsibility for the past can gain trust for the future.’
“Synagogues that had been gutted by fire during Kristallnacht have been restored or received extensive makeovers. New synagogues and cultural centers like those in Munich and Dresden are now centers of flourishing Jewish life. You again find Jewish schools and colleges.”