Romanian President Klaus Iohannis gave the address, the first time that a non-German guest had done so.
At the start of the ceremony in the Schlüterhof courtyard of the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) in Berlin, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière took Joseph von Eichendorff ‘s poem "Mondnacht" to look back at the cultural heritage of expellees. The cultivated landscape of Silesia and Eastern Prussia left its mark on Eichendorff, as it did on Kant and Herder. And that is what shapes a country and its people, he continued: cultural space, landscapes, religion. Memories, correctly understood, are an important component in addressing displacement and expulsion, said Thomas de Maizière. Only people who have experienced peace are able to pass it on.
Memories of camps and rootlessness
Thomas de Maizière described the fact that Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis was the first foreign dignitary to speak at the ceremony, the third of its sort, as a "beautiful and great gesture". In his address Iohannis firstly looked back at the Second World War, as a result of which 30 million people were deported or expelled, thus losing their homes.
The German minority constituted a large percentage of those who were expelled. Many are "prisoners of their own memories" said Klaus Iohannis. In this context he quoted from the excellent novel "Atemschaukel" written by the German Romanian Herta Müller and translated into English as "Everything I Own I Carry with Me". "How do you walk about in the world when you have nothing more to say except that you are hungry".
Romanian policy on minorities an example for Europe
The Romanian President spoke of the many Germans who were victims of deportation to Russia. After the Second World War 70,000 members of Romania’s German minority were deported to Russia. 10,000 people died. This historical reality helps us to appreciate better "who we are and what we need to do in future" stressed Klaus Iohannis.
This is why Romania supports the German minorities in the country and encourages them to play an active part in Romania. Not only have important steps been taken to remember the victims of Communism. Compensation has been paid and restitution carried out on a broad scale. That makes Romania’s policy on minorities an example for Europe, declared Klaus Iohannis.
Praise for Germany’s humanitarian engagement
"We hope that history will not repeat itself," said Klaus Iohannis – even if things unfortunately look different in reality. The current challenges can only be mastered, he warned, "if we show that we have learned from history". In this context, the Romanian President pointed to the many crises in the world, including Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria, where people are forced to flee their homes. Europe offers refugees a place where they are safe. No refugee risks his own life and that of his family if he can live safely in his own country, underscored the Romanian President.
He also spoke of the fear of terrorism in Europe. "We are witnessing growing nationalism in Europe." And that, he said, is why Europe must defend its own values, including tolerance and cultural diversity, and demonstrate solidarity in resettling refugees. Klaus Iohannis praised Germany’s "extraordinary humanitarian efforts" in the face of the refugee crisis. He closed on a positive note, saying that the day of remembrance itself shows that the world has learned from its mistakes.
Thank you for a home
Ghifar Taher Agha, a Syrian refugee, and participant in the Integration through Sport Programme sponsored by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) then reported on what he had experienced as he fled his home and headed for Germany. It took him ten months, and during that time he experienced many things that he cannot forget. He left his pregnant wife and 18-month old daughter in Turkey, and initially tried to make his way to Germany alone.
In March 2015, the doctor finally arrived in Germany, and took his first steps towards integration in the Saarland. In April 2016 his family was finally able to join him. They are now "very happy" in their new home. Agha stressed that all refugees hope that following displacement and expulsion they will arrive and find a home. "Thank you for allowing me to arrive in Germany, and thank you for a home," he ended his address.
Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Displacement and Expulsion
20 June is the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Displacement and Expulsion. The German government links this day of remembrance to the United Nations World Refugee Day, but expands the scope to include the fate of expellees.
Eye witnesses talk to students
In the morning, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière met at the Federal Ministry of the Interior with students from the Carl-Bechstein-Gymnasium secondary school in Erkner near Berlin and the German-Polish House in Gliwice in Poland. He spoke with the students and with three eye witnesses, Germans who were expelled from the eastern territories of the former German Reich and the Volga region at the end of the Second World War. The students asked them about their experiences as they were forced to flee. They then discussed with Thomas de Maizière the political importance of the day of remembrance in terms of keeping memories alive. They also drew parallels and made distinctions between the expulsion of Germans in the wake of the Second World War and the current refugee movements.
Thomas de Maizière stressed that the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Displacement and Expulsion is not a backward-looking day for an elderly generation who are gradually vanishing. It is part of a vibrant culture of remembrance for the young generation. "A generation who has been spared war and expulsion will only be able to find the will and the strength to build a Europe based on reconciliation and to live together in a free society in the long term, if they regularly take the time to look at what displacement and expulsion really mean both in a historical context and today. Nothing can do this quite so effectively as speaking with people who are themselves victims of displacement and expulsion," declared the minister.
Displacement and expulsion
Displacement and expulsion have left their mark on 20th century European history. The German government supports steps to address and come to terms with this history and to remember the victims. Displacement and expulsion generally means great suffering for those directly affected. Around the world, 65 million people are currently displaced, about 10 per cent more than in 2016. These are the figures given in the latest annual statistics published by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. The causes are mostly wars, conflicts and persecution. Given that the world’s population is about 7.3 billion, statistically one person in 113 is either seeking asylum, internally displaced or a refugee – more than ever before.