Written by: Philipp Lenske; photographer: Katharina Roggmann
Hamburg, 30 January 2018
State rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky signing the visitors' book of the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College
Michel Friedman: "Where does the culmination of violence begin?"
The Commandant of the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College giving an introduction to the topic
Colonel Prof. Dr. Matthias Rogg talking to Colonel (ret.) Stratenschulte
High-ranking guests from the academic world, the business sector and society following the fascinating exchange of ideas
Courage and strength of character
Admiral Stawitzki encouraged his audience to face history in order to adjust their own compass—not just on this occasion, but on every day. In the lecture hall of the Manfred Wörner Center, which was filled to the last seat, the Commandant called upon everyone in the audience to show decency, courage and strength of character, to share thoughts about fundamental values and to determine their own personal position. With these comments, Admiral Stawitzki started the panel discussion chaired by Mr. Jörn Thießen, head of the Faculty of Political/Strategic Studies and Social Sciences. Professor Michel Friedman joined the discussion as a special guest. Colonel Prof. Dr. Matthias Rogg, head of the Think Tank Steering Group at the BwCSC, participated in the discussion as well.
Understanding history with the help of stories
"Where does the culmination of violence begin?"—this was Friedman's key question. "In order to prevent those culminations of violence from happening again, we must understand the origins of those deeds and do everything in our power to counteract similar developments." A descendant of a Polish-Jewish family, Michel Friedman has personal knowledge of the gruesome crimes committed by the Nazis. "What is the first step towards murdering other people? People doing terrible things to others is not the first step towards murder; it starts even before that—when people turn a blind eye on what is happening around them. Turning a blind eye, refusing to listen, keeping silent—that is the wrong way. We must talk openly and honestly about what has happened in the past and about what is happening right now", Friedman stated.
A changing society
In his contributions, Friedman focused on the question of what general signs, what kind of human behavior or political circumstances could lead to such extreme culminations of violence. In this context, he referred to racism and homophobia, saying: "These days, I am observing a fundamental change in society's substance—spiritual arson. When will this lead to real arson?"
Knowledge is the prerequisite for understanding
The former Director of the Bundeswehr Museum of Military History, Colonel Prof. Dr. Matthias Rogg, elaborated on the role of the armed forces in terms of dealing with remembrance. "If we don't know how things came about, how are we supposed to prevent similar events from happening in the future?" According to Colonel Rogg, it is very much up to ourselves to learn how to understand and to pass on what we have learned to others. To this end, a delegation of thirty Polish, French and German officers recently travelled to the former concentration camp in Auschwitz in order to develop a better understanding of the background circumstances, to engage in discussions and to be able to put what they have learned into context. For further information, see the report in "Bundeswehr aktuell" of 22 January 2018 (in German).
Each and every one of us counts
"Nobody must feel responsible for someone else's actions, but every one of us must take it personally if others become victims of injustice or cruelty", Friedman continued. In his opinion, all of us have the obligation to act in order to safeguard the greatest good of our democracy—the inviolability of human dignity. History will always repeat itself unless we remember it. "And yet, what are we willing to do to protect the democracy we live in?", Professor Friedman asked the 150 listeners in the rotunda of the Manfred Wörner Center. "We all depend upon each other, just like the coming generations depend upon us."
Reflecting before acting
Friedman ended most of his statements with questions. These questions will remain with the participants of the event, and all of them will have to find their own answers. Because each and every one of us has the obligation to reflect and to analyze things in order to understand, to grasp knowledge and also to figure out how to improve our understanding in order to act in a better way in the future. To enable this discussion to continue, the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College has established a number of special formats of commemorative events to keep history alive—and to demonstrate how it concerns all of us in the here and now.