On the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier acknowledged Germany’s responsibility for the extermination of the Jews and asked for forgiveness. At a commemoration event in Warsaw on Wednesday together with the Presidents of Poland and Israel, Andrzej Duda and Izchak Herzog, he also thanked the two states for their reconciliation with the former perpetrators. This is an “infinitely precious gift,” said Steinmeier at the monument to the heroes of the ghetto in the Polish capital. Duda paid tribute to the participants in the uprising as joint heroes of Poland and Israel. Herzog said the “torch of responsibility” must be passed on to future generations.

In his speech, Steinmeier emphasized that the Germans meticulously planned and carried out the Shoah’s crime against humanity. “Germans persecuted, enslaved and murdered Europe’s Jews, the Jews of Warsaw, with unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity,” said Steinmeier. “I stand before you today and ask your forgiveness for the crimes that Germans have committed here.” He stands here “in mourning and humility”.

The Federal President went on to say that the Germans were aware of their responsibility and of the mission that the survivors and the dead had left them. “We accept it. For us Germans, our responsibility in the face of our history knows no bounds. It remains our reminder and our mission, now and in the future.”

Hundreds of thousands in a small space

The Warsaw ghetto was established by the German occupiers in the fall of 1940. Around 450,000 people were trapped there in a very small space. In 1942, the National Socialists began deporting Jews to extermination and labor camps. Between July and September, 250,000 to 280,000 people were abducted or murdered. When SS units marched into the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the uprising of the weakly armed Jewish resistance began. The fighting lasted until mid-May. More than 56,000 Jews were killed or deported to concentration and extermination camps.

The most important lesson from German history is “Never again!” said Steinmeier. The Germans had learned this lesson. Never again, which means that there should be no criminal war of aggression like Russia’s against Ukraine in Europe. “Never again, that means: We stand firmly on the side of Ukraine – together with Poland and with our other allies. We support Ukraine in humanitarian, political and military terms – together with Poland and our allies.”

Poland’s President Duda said the people who rose up against the German occupiers in 1943 were “the heroes of Israel, the heroes of Jews around the world, they are the heroes of Poland and the Poles”. With their courage, the insurgents are a role model for Israeli and Polish soldiers who guard the borders of their countries.

Herzog emphasized the aspect of reconciliation. The Jews who were murdered at the time could not have imagined “that we will be standing here 80 years later, the presidents of Poland, Israel and Germany, honoring their heroism and swearing together in their sacred memory: Never again,” said Israel’s head of state.